Before I start, it’s disclaimer time. I am not a doctor, and I don’t play one on the internet.
The information that I’m going to provide in this article is based on my personal experience during chemotherapy treatments. It is not a substitute for actual medical advice from medical doctors, your oncologist, and your care team.
Chemotherapy affects each patient differently, so before you make any changes to your diet while on chemotherapy, please consult with your physician.
Now, on to business.
Since we’re at the end of breast cancer awareness month, I thought this would be a good article to round out the month.
In June of 2019 I was diagnosed with breast cancer, following a routine mammogram.
That, right there, is some heavy shit!
Just prior to this diagnosis, Jason and I had committed to really working on building Brews Food Travel, so it was quite the disappointment (to say the least) when cancer changed our plans, and frankly our lives for the better part of a year.
Obviously, cancer sucks, and it really does a number on your body, your mind, and honestly messes with just about every aspect of life. I was very fortunate that I caught my cancer early.
It was small, and turned out to be fairly “easy” to treat. But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t have to deal with the grossness that comes with pumping your body full of cancer death juice (yes, that’s what I call it).
For me, the worst part of chemotherapy was managing food. I read a ton of articles, on all the cancer websites, about nutrition during chemotherapy.
They all tout making sure you have a balanced diet, and that you get plenty of nutrient dense foods, and don’t alter your diet too much, and all that crap.
That’s right I said crap. Because frankly, that is what that advice is. And if you ask just about any cancer patient, that advice is clearly written by someone that has never been trying to kill cancer in their body with huge doses of medicine.
So, here are my words of wisdom about eating and drinking during chemotherapy, from a person who has actually gone through chemotherapy.
Take the Meds. They Really Do Help
My first bit of advice about eating and drinking during chemotherapy, is to take the anti-nausea medications that your doctor prescribes, and follow those instructions, to the letter.
And if they aren’t working, ask for something else, because they help, and they allow you to manage foods even during the worst days of your chemotherapy cycle.
Now, I’m not saying that they are going to help you feel well enough to suck down a steak dinner, but at least you can keep down broth, crackers and other bland foods.
Keeping the food in your body is the first step to staying strong, and healthy. And every bit of nutrition you can put in your body will help with the inevitable fatigue. You’ll still feel exhausted, but it won’t be as bad if your body has some fuel.
Hydrate Like You’ve Never Hydrated Before
Funny thing about chemotherapy that most patients don’t hear from their oncologist, until after the first cycle, is that chemotherapy sucks the moisture out of every part of your body.
Chemotherapy medicines are incredibly drying. You’ll find, like I did, that there isn’t enough lotion to make up for how badly chemotherapy medications dry out your body.
With that said, the best way to keep your body hydrated is from the inside. Don’t skimp on drinking water. Drink lots of water. And just when you think you’ve had enough water, drink some more.
Not only will drinking plenty of water keep you from shriveling up like a raisin, but it also helps move the chemotherapy medications through your body. Not only does this make your days of grossness shorter, but it also protects your liver and kidneys, which take a beating when you’re on chemotherapy.
You Need Fuel, So Just Eat
True story – when we first met with my Oncologist, and asked about eating and foods during chemotherapy, she told us that it didn’t matter what I ate, just so long as I ate something.
She told Jason, my Dad and me that if it tasted good and I could keep it down, that is what I should eat. Even if it meant I only ate ice cream for every meal.
We laughed at that. We had this plan where Jason was going to juice fresh fruits and veggies and I was going to fill my body with nutrient dense, amazingly healthy foods.
Thinking about that now, I laugh. We were so optimistic. That plan didn’t last long. Actually, it didn’t even make it through the first round of chemotherapy.
I ate ice cream. And yogurt. Almost exclusively for two weeks after each chemotherapy treatment. They were the only foods that actually tasted good. Chemotherapy messes with your taste buds. It will royally screw with how your favorite foods taste. This can be a total bummer, if like me, you love to eat.
Eating Food is Tough During Chemotherapy
You’ll quickly learn that chemotherapy creates a metallic/bitter/sour taste to most foods. This odd taste is compounded for many people, by metal silverware. Chemotherapy can change the way foods feel in your mouth.
And, for some people chemotherapy causes painful sores in the mouth and throat. All of this combined, makes eating, well, miserable.
By my third round of chemotherapy, I was really down in the dumps about food. All my favorites tasted horrible. This was also bad for Jason, because I didn’t want to cook what I couldn’t or didn’t want to eat.
It was tough. I had an emotional melt down over veggie burgers, one night. I love my homemade veggie burgers, they are delicious (find the recipe here), but during chemotherapy, they tasted like I was eating a shoe.
They were horrible. And I cried, because I just wanted to eat food, and enjoy food.
That is how we got to ice cream and yogurt. After that I committed to only eating foods that tasted good, and made me happy.
This experience isn’t exclusive to my cancer journey. This is much of the reason that many people lose a lot of weight during chemotherapy. Food, when it stays down, just doesn’t taste good. And when it doesn’t taste good, you don’t want to eat.
Find foods that taste good and eat. Fill your body and fuel your battle. Even if it’s with ice cream.
Even if it Sounds Good, Your Body Probably Doesn’t Want a Beer
We had to ask about drinking a beer when we started this journey, because honestly, I love beer.
The advice from my oncologist – Chemotherapy and beer don’t go together. Also, you probably won’t find beer terribly appetizing or tasty.
However, if you want to indulge, keep it to the few days just before each treatment, and moderate.
I would say, this was pretty damn amazing advice.
First, don’t drink alcohol of any kind when you’re not feeling well. Second, adding more stuff for your liver to process when it’s trying to manage the huge doses of the chemicals that are used to kill cancer cells, is just a sucky thing to do to your body.
I quit drinking alcohol almost completely during chemotherapy. I did have a glass of champagne to celebrate my birthday (it tasted awful), and when I did have a beer it was just before a treatment.
My experience was that cheap beer tasted best, if I was going to have a beer. Coors Banquet and light lagers or pilsners were the most enjoyable.
In general however, I found that alcohol (wine and beer) tasted wrong, and wasn’t that enjoyable.
However, some people have different experiences during their cancer treatment when it comes to beer and wine (I would just avoid the hard stuff), so do choose wisely, and limit your consumption, for the sake of your liver.
Most importantly, do communicate with your oncologist and care team if you want to enjoy an alcoholic beverage during chemotherapy.
When You Feel Good, Indulge
You will have good days during chemotherapy. They come near the end of each cycle when all of the medicines have been processed by your body.
During this time, you’ll also find that foods start to taste just a little bit better. This is pretty exciting, even if it is only for a few days.
When you have these moments, don’t be afraid to pig out. Eat the foods you love, have an extra helping. Order the fries. Make sure you eat some veggies. Give your body good nutrients when you feel well, and when foods taste good.
This will provide the energy you need, and a bit of a reserve for the days during your chemotherapy cycle when you feel miserable, and just don’t want to put much in your body. Or when nothing will stay in your body.
Find Support, Then Give Back
If you are reading this because you’re about to start your own cancer treatment journey, or know someone who is, do know that you aren’t alone.
There is a huge community of people that are out there to support you. It may seem overwhelming now, but when you are knee deep in treatments and you’re down in the dumps, it is great to have a support system.
Don’t be afraid to find patient support groups or a counselor that can give you extra encouragement when you need it. And don’t forget about your family.
It was my family that really made my cancer journey a little less miserable. You don’t have to journey alone. Find your crew.
When you are done with your treatments and are healthy again, we encourage you to give back, and support cancer charities that are making life easier for patients.
This year, we donated to SilverMoon Brewing’s F* Cancer program. Each year SilverMoon Brewing brews a limited-edition F*Cancer IPA. A portion of the profits from the sales of the beer and F*Cancer merchandise is given to cancer related charities.
These are smaller charities that help provide comfort and support to individuals battling all types of cancer. They also have an opportunity to donate more through their website.
The campaign starts in the spring and runs through October. This year their F*Cancer program raised almost $44,000 for cancer charities.
Honestly I can’t think of a better way to enjoy a delicious beer, and give back at the same time. I love this opportunity, but it isn’t right for every cancer survivor, so do find the right way for you to give back, and support other cancer patients.
So, there it is. My advice for eating and drinking during chemotherapy treatments. Cancer sucks, and enjoying food and beverages during treatments can be tough.
Remember the basics – Take your meds, hydrate, and fuel your body with foods that taste good. If you stick to these three simple ideas, eating and drinking during chemotherapy will be just a little more enjoyable.