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How To Survive Breast Cancer Chemotherapy Side Effects

February 24, 2020

Let’s talk about chemotherapy side effects, which any cancer survivor will reveal is a challenging part of the journey.

But in this post, we share a few tips (physical, mental and emotional) that can help you cope during chemo sessions while your body is fighting breast cancer.

Woman's sillhouette against the setting sun - life expectancy after cancer

What is Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy, or chemo is medicine to treat cancer. Cancer treatment may be a single drug or combination of drugs.

The fear of what can happen during chemotherapy is common and reasonable.

They are especially toxic medicines whose side effects can be distressing.

Hair falling out, metallic taste, appetite loss are only some of a few. You may require regular blood monitoring.

This ensures the chemo does not kill off normal cells including blood cells that you need to survive.

Chemo can be taken as daily tablets over a period of time.

But it could also be taken as fluid medicine through a drip into your vein.

Whichever the case, side effects are a common occurrence and dealing with an important part of the cancer recovery journey.

How to Survive During Chemotherapy

Chemo is usually given in such a way that your body can recover after each dose.

You should learn about your chemotherapy and possible side effects before you start.

Your clinicians will ensure that you are fit enough to withstand the drug before you start it.

However, after you begin there are some practical steps to take which can boost physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

Physical Steps

Regular meals, meal shakes or supplements. Appetite may go very quickly when you start chemo.

But food is necessary to nourish the cells. So, it may be useful to consider having meals prepared ahead that can be heated up easily when you are too tired to cook.

If you feel unable to stomach ‘proper food’, meal replacement shakes are available. You can talk to your oncology team about the diet most appropriate for your needs.

Healthy eating combining different food groups – proteins, fats and carbs – as well as water remain as important as ever.

Next, getting rest including regular sleep especially during chemo is important.

You may think of having a bedtime routine, and making it a special event that encourages relaxation.

Dedicated sleep space, free of distractions with comfortable furniture.

Bath, warm drink, meditation or journaling before bedtime.

Mental Steps

This is just as important as physical – chemotherapy can be a lonely experience.

Your mental state may be trying to cope with the cancer diagnosis and its impact.

At the same time, here you are, about to experience multiple, often distressing side effects due to chemotherapy.

It’s not so hard to imagine there can be several periods of melancholy, anxiety and low mood.

Being open about the diagnosis with yourself and being unafraid to ask questions from reputable sources can be very helpful.

In addition to understanding the diagnosis, you may also receive clarity on what to expect during treatment.

Sometimes, you may require antidepressant therapy; or sessions of talking therapy to proceed if you experience challenges with mood at this time.

Emotional Steps

Support is important during this time. From your place of work, if this applies, to friends and family.

They can be what you need from one day to the next, to help with shopping or cooking, or manage financial issues for example.

Help with those practical aspects could make it easier to manage or take some weight of your shoulders.

Journaling is a good way of exploring your feelings during treatment.

It prevents the emotional build up, which in itself adds more strain.

Old hobbies may no longer be possible (or of interest). So there may be opportunities to learn new ways to engage your mind and hands, when possible.

What Determines Chemo Outcomes?

Certainly, we know the best outcomes from chemotherapy will result from:

  • starting treatment as soon as possible,
  • using the best possible combination of treatments to eradicate cancer such as surgery, radiotherapy
  • If the person was in a reasonably good state of health at the onset of the illness

Despite all this, sometimes cancer will come back – which is why we advocate regular monitoring to promote life expectancy.

Monitoring is performed for instance with scans for early detection so that treatment can be resumed, targeting any new cells.

Predicting If Breast Cancer will Come Back

Sometimes scientists use computer programs to predict life expectancy.

In other words, they consider factors that can affect life expectancy like the number of years before recurrence of cancer.

For instance, this depends on factors like age, post-menopause, family history, hormone treatment, the general state of health and wellbeing of the individual, etc

Regardless, it’s not possible to be sure that breast cancer will never come back.

And, this is why we say predictions are not an exact science.

Treatment for breast cancer will be successful for most people who are treated early, and the risk of early is less as well.

Cancer Recurrence, unfortunately, can happen even many years after treatment, so no one can say with certainty when it may come back.

Summing Up

Above all, managing breast cancer relies on early detection through monitoring and early treatment.

In other words, this monitoring begins with knowing your family history and carrying out regular breast self-examination.

This can help promote life expectancy, too.

But coping with chemotherapy side effects is also key as that is one part of a journey with so many other aspects.

Let us know what was the most challenging aspect of chemotherapy for you in the comments below.

Learn about how genes are involved in breast cancer development in the next article on this topic.

More Reading


Edited by AskAwayHealth Team


All AskAwayHealth articles are written by practicing Medical Practitioners.

The advice in our material is not meant to replace the management of your specific condition by a qualified health care practitioner.

To discuss your condition, please contact a health practitioner or reach us directly

Credit – Photo by Miguel Bruna on Unsplash

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