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Topics > Healthy Outlook > Coping with Cancer Treatment

Coping with Cancer Treatment

Published by Contra Costa Times
Posted on Wed, June 06, 2007

By Marianne Bunce-Houston, RN

"I HAVE CANCER." These are three words no one wants to say, nor to hear from someone they love.

Unfortunately, though, almost one in three people in the United States will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime.

The good news is that cancer treatments are becoming more effective, and survival rates for many cancers are good. But coping with cancer treatment is not a simple experience for either the patient or their loved ones.

Work with your oncology nurse (nurses who specialize in cancer treatment), and use the following tips and community resources.

Managing side effects

Nausea and vomiting can be serious side effects of chemotherapy, but can be managed. Usually your cancer doctor and nurse will prescribe an anti-emetic (anti-nausea) course of therapy using different medicines that work on different areas of the brain or stomach.

Some tips

  • Take anti-nausea medication as prescribed. Different chemotherapies cause different severities of nausea.

Nausea is divided into two categories: immediate and delayed onset, depending whether the nausea starts during the chemotherapy or a day or two later.

The anti-nausea treatment depends on its category and expected severity. There are eight types of anti-nausea medicines, and more than 20 different anti-nausea medicines that can be used in various combinations. Those wanting details can find them at

  • Snack on crackers in bed at night and before getting out of bed in the morning
  • Eat small, frequent meals throughout the day
  • Avoid spicy foods or meals with strong odors
  • Maximize your protein intake by eating eggs, fish, meat, milk and/or high protein supplements.

If nausea and/or vomiting persist, call your oncology nurse for suggestions. Don't wait until the next clinic appointment.

Alopecia (hair loss) also is another possible side effect of chemotherapy and radiation. Hair will usually grow back after finishing your treatment. You can minimize the effect alopecia has on your life by using a variety of head coverings.

The local chapter of the American Cancer Society has ongoing "Look Good, Feel Better" educational programs on skin care during treatment and provides free scarves, wigs and make-up.

Fatigue, loneliness and confusion may accompany cancer treatment. Support from family and friends is vital. Loved ones or friends can:

  • Call for information and appointments
  • Drive the patient to and from appointments
  • Help with paperwork associated with bills and insurance
  • Communicate health status, plans and needs to family and friends to reduce daily phone calls to the patient, but keep important people informed and get help where needed
  • Make sure the refrigerator is stocked with easy-to-prepare, healthy foods, and help with household chores
  • Just be available to listen, to take notes at the doctor's appointment, to keep a list of concerns and questions for the next doctor's appointment, to just be present.


In addition to your doctor and nurse, the following are organizations that provide referrals, support groups, classes, and/or information:

  • The Women's Cancer Resource Center, Oakland at 510-420-7900 (Spanish 510-601-4044)
  • The Wellness Community, Walnut Creek at 925-933-0107
  • The American Cancer Society at 925-934-7640 or 800-4-CANCER (800-422-6237) or
  • The Oncology Nursing Society at for free information on cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis, and treatment, and specific types of cancer.

Bunce-Houston has worked in the field of oncology for 20 years, and is the oncology clinical nurse specialist in the Cancer Center at Contra Costa Regional Medical Center.

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