<< Back

4 Ways You Can Prepare for Chemotherapy

March 14, 2024

More than half of people diagnosed with cancer will undergo chemotherapy. But the side effects can be intimidating to navigate, especially if you’ve never experienced them before.

“Chemotherapy uses powerful chemicals to kill the cancer cells in your body,” says Todd Alekshun, MD, a hematology and oncology specialist with Hartford HealthCare’s Cancer Institute. “There can be multiple side effects, but there are ways to help mitigate them to make the treatments less stressful for you and your body.”

Dr. Alekshun offers these tips to prepare for chemotherapy and handle the side effects afterwards.

Struggling with a cancer diagnosis?

Start hereCall 855.255.6181

1. Fuel your body with healthy food and plenty of fluids.

A balanced and healthy diet can go a long way in helping with side effects during chemotherapy. Try these 4 tips from Dr. Alekshun to keep your body in cancer-fighting shape:

  1. Don’t skimp on the calories — your body needs them to keep up energy levels and combat tissue breakdown. Snacking or eating smaller, more frequent meals can help you keep up your food intake while not upsetting your stomach.
  2. Increase your fiber intake before and during chemo (think fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, etc.) The extra fiber can help with issues like constipation caused by anti-nausea drugs that your doctor might prescribe.
  3. Avoid processed foods, along with acidic foods like dressing or certain fruits or vegetables, which can irritate sensitive taste buds.
  4. Stay hydrated, whether it’s with water or electrolyte drinks. But hold off on high-sugar drinks, along with diet drinks and alcohol.

> Related: These 4 Foods Can Decrease Your Risk of Cancer

2. Exercising can be hard, but worth it.

Finding the motivation to exercise during chemotherapy can be challenging, but there are plenty of benefits.

“Exercising improves endurance and reduces fatigue that can happen as treatment progresses. It also improves emotional well-being and mood and decreases risk of depression,” says Dr. Alekshun.

It can even help with side effects and improve sleep quality, he adds.

But that doesn’t mean it’s time to start a boot camp class at your gym. For those who didn’t exercise before, try walking or gentle yoga. If you were already working out, you may need to scale back or simplify your regimen.

“There are many forms of exercise so choose one that you enjoy,” he says. “Physical therapists can be excellent resources and adjuncts to treatment.”

3. Stay comfy (and occupied) during long chemo sessions.

Chemotherapy sessions can last hours, depending on your treatment protocol, says Dr. Alekshun. But your infusion team will do everything they can to make you comfortable during each appointment.

Dr. Alekshun recommends wearing comfortable clothing to chemotherapy.

“Bring a sweatshirt or sweater, as well as socks in case the room is cold,” he says, “though often infusion centers have extra blankets.”

And since most infusion centers have wifi, says Dr. Alekshun, feel free to bring your phone, tablet or laptop to keep you occupied. Reading materials and headphones are also a good bet.

Want more health news? Text StartHere to 85209 to sign up for text alerts

4. Have support, seek support

Navigating cancer treatment can be challenging, so make sure you know who to call if you have questions, Dr. Alekshun advises. Many teams include a nurse navigator who can help guide you through he entire process.

And most importantly, don’t be afraid to lean into your support network. Friends, family or even cancer support groups can make a world of difference.