Although chemotherapy drugs are known for their potency to kill cancer cells, this toxic therapy can take its toll on one’s body as it also kills healthy cells, resulting in adverse side-effects such as nausea, fatigue, hair loss, appetite changes and infections that can leave one depressed.
Doctors advise that if you are undergoing chemotherapy, you need to stay as healthy and equipped as possible in order to survive the terrible side-effects.
Dr Judy Bentley, a psychiatrist at Life Vincent Pallotti Hospital in Cape Town, says the effects of chemo on emotions differ from person to person, depending on the cancer being treated and type of chemo drugs used.
According to Bentley, the first step to managing your emotions is to manage your expectations and learn to open up about your feelings.
“It’s important to give yourself permission to have bad days and accept that you will not be able to continue to do everything you were doing before your cancer diagnosis. Chemo can cause or exacerbate depression and anxiety because of the effects it has on the brain.
It can also cause difficulties with memory and concentration, which is also known as ‘chemo fog’.
She advised cancer patients who are undergoing chemotherapy to seek support to minimise the feelings of loneliness.
“Being part of a support group means you get to share your experience with others who will understand because they’ve been there too. It enables you to learn from their experiences too”
Hair loss is one of the best-known side-effects of cancer treatment. According to Cancer Research UK, cancer drugs can cause mild thinning of your hair, partial hair loss, and complete hair loss (alopecia).
“Hair loss does does not happen to everyone it depends on factors such as the type of drug or combination, the dose and individual’s sensitivity to the drug and previous drug treatment.”
According to Bentley, any movement can help improve your mood during chemotherapy.
And exercises such as yoga, stretching or gentle Pilates can work magic in improving not only your fitness levels but also cuts your risk of the cancer coming back after remission.
As much as exercise is important when undergoing chemo, just be cautious if you experience shortness of breath, pain or tightness in your chest, and you should contact your doctor.
If your immune system is compromised, it’s advisable to try to avoid public gyms, yoga studios, and other public places until your white blood cell count is at a safe level.