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Cancer Trek: Chemo Brings Lifestyle Changes
Jerry Emery

In addition to the in-house, and more personal, changes I described in the last article, there are several lifestyle changes you have to make outside your home for the duration of your chemo treatments.

The most serious of these involve your weakened immune system, which is the norm for over 75 percent of patients. You must be vigilant about this, as catching a cold could be life-threatening if not addressed immediately. I take Astragalus Extract, an immune booster, and my white blood cell count has actually gone up during the first half of chemo! It can be found at health food stores and is not expensive, at all.

More germs are found on other people’s hands, door handles, menus, silverware, counter tops, public restroom handles, and grocery carts than most people realize. Anti-bacterial wipes are an absolute necessity in order to clean these surfaces and your hands.

Buffets are strictly forbidden, as serving utensils are replete with germs. In fact, dining out and eating from fast-food restaurants is not advised; as lettuce, tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables may not be thoroughly washed. Drinking on-tap liquids is also frowned upon, as the spigots and hoses may not be cleaned and sterilized regularly.

Your diet will change! Some items that you have always liked may not be tolerable after chemo begins. What tasted good after the first or second chemo cycle may sound abhorrent after the others. Coffee and tea might lose their enticement. You might have to switch to plastic forks, as silverware might taste like tin.

Mingling in large crowds is not recommended, either. Yes, masks can be worn to reduce possible infections but those are not 100 percent successful. Close physical contact, like shaking hands and hugging should be avoided, and my handshakes have been replaced with elbow bumps. This is important at church, as well, as many faiths share “the sign of peace” during services. Personally, I refrain from this activity now and sit alone in the choir nook to further distance myself from the others. I also show up early and stay afterwards until most of the congregation is gone. If attending one of our grandkids’ sporting events, I sit alone. I have also avoided holiday events, birthdays, anniversaries, retirements, and the like.

I keep bacterial wipes in my car and in my golf bag. No matter what activity you might enjoy, it is imperative that you wipe down all the substances others might have touched. While I don’t wear a mask on the golf course, if I go into the clubhouse afterwards, I will don the mask. A bottled soda is the drink of choice and a salty snack to replace the loss of salt through perspiration is recommended.

Keeping hydrated is an absolute must! Not only is dry-mouth a side effect of the chemo treatments, but hydration also helps with one’s blood pressure. Without enough fluids, I have experienced light-headedness and some vertigo.

Additional changes I have had to make include: the cessation of golf lessons I give Charter School students; only attending matinee movies to avoid crowds; scrambling all breakfast eggs; and, refraining from processed meats. It should be mentioned, that if you have pets, someone else in the house must clean up after them.

The side effects from chemo lengthen with each cycle. Mine are mainly an upset stomach, dry mouth, and tiredness; pretty mild by most standards. After the first cycle, I slept for about two and a half hours. After the second cycle, I slept about 16 hours a day for two and a half days! The third cycle resulted in the queasiness and tiredness that lasted for a week. Nap whenever possible!

“Chemo brain” is a reality. I more regularly forget names and must write a list of things I want to accomplish on any given day. I suggest games such as “RummiKub”, cribbage, and crossword puzzles to help keep the mind sharp and working at top capacity.

Additionally, “chemo cough” is also common. While not contagious, keeping hydrated and using over-the-counter cough syrups or drops assist. I just developed, after the third treatment, a lactose intolerance, which is also quite common and will last throughout the treatments. There goes grilled cheese sandwiches and ice cream!

Again, it is my hope that this series of articles might give you or your loved ones some inkling of what to expect should cancer, and the use of chemo, ever become your reality. The next article will include suggestions regarding tracking your medical progress.


 (Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of special articles submitted by Jerry Emery, a longtime resident of Escalon and educator, sharing his journey through cancer treatment. He at one time served as principal of El Portal Middle School, as well as being involved with a number of community service based organizations.)