Coping with chemotherapy, my advice to a friend

Hi Liz,

Sorry to hear that your dad has been diagnosed with cancer and will undergo chemotherapy soon. Please send my well wishes to him and your family.

How well a patient cope with the effect of chemotherapy depends a lot on his/her age, health, diet, and most importantly mental and emotional status. Without knowing anything specific about your dad’s condition i.e., his health condition, his dietary pattern, and the cancer that he is suffering from, etc. I can only share from my experience as a caregiver nursing my wife through her cancer treatment last year.

Here are some advices I can offer:

1.      Cautious towards taking supplements/alternative medicine

During this period, there will be many friends or relatives, who would make recommendation on supplements, herbs, treatments etc., that they heard/thought/read about, that may be effective towards treating cancer. Although, they all mean well, you should exercise caution.

Chemotherapy is the use of very lethal drugs to attack and destroy cancer cells in the body. During the treatment period, a patient’s liver is working extremely hard to try to detoxify and remove the drugs from the body.  Therefore, it is very important not to take any alternative treatment, detox program, or Chinese or Western herbs, or even supplements that may counteract with the chemotherapy drugs; these things may add on to the burden of the patient’s liver.

My wife was very fortunate to have met an Oncologist, Dr. See Hui Ti of Parkway Cancer Centre, who was very open to traditional and complementary treatment. We consulted her on the dietary supplements that were suitable for my wife during her treatment. She candidly gave her advice to help us narrow down to only a few that were natural and safe.

Therefore, in term of taking any supplement to boost the immune system or help the treatment, it is best to consult and work with a Naturopath who has experience in helping cancer patients during chemotherapy.

2.      Watch the diet

Environmental and lifestyle factors are the most important determinant of cancer growth. With the fact that the cancer has grown, there is a need for the patient to review his/her lifestyle, especially the diet and stress level.

It is important for the patient to take a nutritionally balanced diet – i.e. One that contains all the macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and water.

Ideally, a Whole-food plant-based diet is the healthiest choice one can adopt. My wife was determined to switch to become a vegetarian upon her diagnosis. (Please read my previous blog posts on these two topics: “Plant-based Food – A Complete Diet” & “My wife’s diet plan during chemo treatment”)

However, for most people who undergoing chemo, it will not be easy or even possible to adopt a major change in diet overnight. Nevertheless, the following general advice for diet will definitely do well to the body:

  • Eat more fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains,
  • Reduce added oil, sugar, and salt
  • Avoid processed food, and
  • Drink plenty of water

For people who resist to a vegetarian diet, they should still avoid red meat, and take only lean chicken or fish. Also, avoid dairy products if possible.

Any change in diet has to come from the patient’s willingness to try, not to be forced by family and friends. The last thing you want is to create even more tension and stress for the patient.

3.      Relax, take a lot of rest, but remember to exercise

Scientists have found out that stress can affect tumor growth and spread, the stress hormones released by the body can affect the growth of the cancer cells directly. For this reason, it is important for the patient to RELAX! If possible the patient should take a break from work, or at least cut back his/her workload.

My wife was fortunate that her employer allowed her to work from home most of her time during her chemo treatment period. After she completed her chemo, she was given a 6 month paid leave from work to recuperate. This substantial period of time to relax and unwind the mind and body was very helpful for her.

Chemotherapy will do a lot of harm to the body; the patient will get weaker and weaker after a few cycles. It is very important for the patient to get plenty of rest throughout the day especially the week after each cycle.

Nonetheless, it is also equally important to exercise the body. The patient should pick up a low intensity exercise such as brisk walking, swimming, Qigong, Taichi, yoga, etc. And do it regularly.

Going to park or the nature to have a good walk is also important. Be close to the nature and let the Mother Nature do the healing. My wife often commented that when she was depressed after her chemo treatment, going to nature to enjoy the sunshine was one of the best ways to uplift her mood.

4.      Drawing the support from family, friends and the divine

Scientists have also discovered that psychological factors such as feeling helpless and suppressing negative emotions can impact on the cancer growth.

Therefore, family support for the cancer patient throughout the chemo period is important to keep the patient emotionally balanced. With the weakening body, the patient may sometime feel depressed and groom.

Love and care from the family can help them to uplift his/her emotion to a positive state. In addition, this is also the time for the patient call for spiritual help.

We only have each other in Singapore while my wife was going through her chemotherapy, since our family members are all abroad. However, we are not alone. Our family members were always giving us their well wishes. We also had a group of Buddhist friends here and abroad who provided their support to us physically and in their prayers. It was their support and the blessings from the Triple Gems that my wife had a smooth journey to her recovery!

Here is a quote to share with you:

Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze you; they’re supposed to help you discover who you are.

– Bernice Johnson Reagon

Feel free to email me should you need any clarification.

With Love,

Soo Liang

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