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What to Eat During Chemo

Sunday, October 03, 2010

©Brenda Coffee. All rights reserved.

Just the thought of chemotherapy sends shivers down the spines of most of us. Before I started chemo, I considered super gluing my lips shut in an all-out attempt to prevent the infamous side effect, nausea. My reasoning was nothing “in,” nothing “out.” Fortunately my chemo nurse gave me some sound advice about what to eat the morning of chemotherapy: Eat light. An egg, a piece of dry toast and a little juice. It’s better to have a little something in your stomach than nothing, but don’t overeat, and don’t eat anything greasy or fried. During chemo you may be offered juice, water or peanut butter crackers. If you begin to feel nauseated, tell your nurses. Some saltine crackers or ginger ale may help. I followed my nurse’s instructions to the letter. That’s not to say everything was always peachy keen with my stomach, but I never threw up. <PREVIEWEND>

When I got home from each chemo, I ate a bowl of low salt chicken or beef broth, whole wheat crackers and drank copious amounts of water. I also began taking anti-nausea drugs my oncologist prescribed. For the first few days, I continued to eat light and drink plenty of water to flush the chemo out of my body. Ginger ale or ginger tea helped if I was nauseated. Eggs became my favorite food during chemo. Scrambled eggs, omelets, hard-boiled eggs—they gave me the protein I needed, plus they were more filling than broth and crackers.

Since eggs played such a prominent role in getting me through breast cancer, I think it’s fitting that Eggland’s Best eggs has chosen me and my blog as one of their “Pink Dozen” Ambassadors during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I am honored to be part of their campaign because Eggland’s Best eggs are produced by hens fed an all-natural, all-vegetarian diet, and this month, Eggland’s Best is donating $50,000 to Susan G Komen. Each carton, and every egg, is stamped with “EB” and Komen’s pink running ribbon logo. While I want you to know this post is sponsored by Eggland’s Best, and I have received monetary compensation for my participation, have no doubts that my review and my opinions are my own. When are they not?

Don’t go overboard with food before, during or after chemo, even if you think you can handle it, but again, a little something in your stomach is good. After chemo, add more foods to your diet as you can tolerate, but stay away from things like cheese enchiladas and chicken fried steak. Fruit smoothies—fresh or frozen blueberries, peaches and low-fat yogurt in a blender—are great ways of introducing liquids and nutrition. If you’re losing weight, don’t buy low-fat yogurt. If you’re not nauseated, but just not hungry, eat anyway. Your body needs nutritious foods to fight your cancer. You don’t want to gain a lot of weight during treatment, but you also need to take care you don’t lose weight.

Ask your oncologist to recommend a dietician who specializes in cancer and make an appointment early in your treatment. This service was provided free of charge at my cancer care center, and the dietician helped me tremendously, plus I made a friend. Registered dietician Barbra Swanson, ND, RD, LD, and Doctor of Naturopathy, not only helped me with my diet, but she wrote the nutrition section of The Breast Cancer Sisterhood, my book for newly diagnosed patients. You can also view her smart nutrition videos on the’s website.

I’m one of those people who prefers to dot all the “i’s” and cross all the “t’s.” However, I’m equally skilled at charging a bear, armed with nothing but my grit. Chemotherapy calls for a combination of both: Have an eating plan and follow it, but if it goes astray… Get up and keep charging. Keep fighting.

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Previous Comments
Anonymous commented on 04-Oct-2010 04:45 AM
Hi Brenda, oh how I remember those days like yesterday. I developed mouth sores so eating was much more difficult. Drinking cream of mushroom soup made with water was one of my favorites and peach jello. I also buy Eggland eggs today!
Anonymous commented on 04-Oct-2010 11:33 AM
Great post, Brenda. I just finished chemo a week ago today. I get what I call 'the punies' about four days afterward and getting good nutrition and lots of water takes discipline. I find my taste preferences change - even day-to-day, so I'm always on a hunt for something that works. Eggs work! Peach yogurt, peanut butter, mild mac & cheese (from Panera). During these days, it sometimes feels like I'm chewing on a spoon that was buried in the yard. Blecchh. But! We need the nutrition to keep healthy. Thank you for this blog and thank you to Eggland's Best.
Anonymous commented on 04-Oct-2010 11:50 AM
I have two more chemo sessions to go! Yeh, I'm almost done! I, too, have been eating a lot of eggs. I actually seem to crave them. I still have trouble getting all the water down, this reminded me to keep trying. Good advice here. Thanks.
Anonymous commented on 04-Oct-2010 06:36 PM
Brenda not having had chemo this is a difficult one for me. I do know though, that all the 'bad mouthing' on eggs has now finished and we are being encouraged to eat more eggs. They do not raise cholesterol as suggested previously, and provide the essential protein we need.
As usual, well written!
Anonymous commented on 05-Oct-2010 01:41 PM
Your right about finding a dietician. I started losing lots of weight after a few chemos my doctor had a fit. The dietician explained the food pyramid and what I should eat. To gain back some of the weight i'd lost I drank Ensure. Eggs were one of the few things that tasted good and sat well on my stomach.
Anonymous commented on 06-Oct-2010 03:04 PM
Great topic! Funny how such simple advice can make a huge difference.
Anonymous commented on 06-Oct-2010 03:24 PM
I noticed your blog and I feel I can help you out. I'm a doctor who treats cancer naturally. My medicine is food not drugs or radiation. Did any of your doctors address food as a cause or treatment? I have a new website up (still a work in progress) if you and your family are interested in seeing what we have to offer. This is not meant as spam, just an honest attempt to help. thank you for your time, dr.gbh ps-eggs are not part of a cancer prevention/reversal diet.
Anonymous commented on 08-Oct-2010 04:01 PM
This was awesome reading and learning!!!
Brenda, this weekend after the fantastic Houston SGK for the Cure Race, I received this e-mail and was heartbroken because I am not in a position to help this poor woman. I am sending it to everyone on my contact list with the hope that someone somewhere can help Martina! Please see the attachment and advise me what to do?

Thank you and please, keep up the good work, you make us, survivors and all so proud!!!
Philippa Kibugu-Decuir
16 yrs survivor/Founder BCIEA Inc.
Anonymous commented on 01-Nov-2010 11:04 PM
Please excuse me, I have not yet signed in, because I do not want to commit to yet another site until I find out if it benefits me. My mother died of Ovarian cancer in 2004, in 2005 my father was in my care for Prostate, and during that time (age44) I was diagnosed and had a full hysterectomy/oopherectomy. I had just moved, busy husband, lost my mother, had a child and sick father, no sisters, family, friends and no resources. It was not hard at all to find breast cancer support groups while nothing for the hidden,deadly female cancers. I went through medical menopause for several hellish years. As a result I lost my marriage, I have a preexisting condition, and no support. When is the sisterhood going to support all female cancers? It's hard not to feel left out, and misunderstood. It's hard to not feel that of course men care about women's breasts as well as their own prostates. The past five years have left me unsympathetic with a cancer I am now at risk for. Help! Real help! sincerely
Anonymous commented on 01-Nov-2010 11:23 PM
Dear Doni-Marie,
You've been through so much in such a short period of time. That kind of stress can take a toll on you, as well as your marriage. I'm so sorry. I realize there aren't any websites for all women's cancers that have the depth of information the has.

Have you been tested to see if you carry one of the breast cancer genes? Your last comment makes me think you have. If not, I urge you not to wait & see if you develop breast cancer but to consider taking the BRCA genetic test. Please don't turn a deaf ear to breast cancer, but consider taking a defensive approach by becoming your own health advocate. After all you've been through, I know the thought of a mastectomy may be hard to think about, but if you do carry one of the BRCA genes, you may be able to prevent breast cancer.

When I found out I was BRCA2 positive, I had my other breast removed & thank God, I beat breast cancer to the punch. The fact you've already had a complete hysterectomy is a good thing if you do carry the gene.

I hear your pain, but you're not forgotten. You are in my prayers. Please let me hear from you again. I'd like to continue our conversation if you'd like.

Anonymous commented on 05-Dec-2010 03:32 PM
I have never been in the shoes of one to recieve the news that I have cancer, but I have had the scare. After giving blood for the third time iof the year, a letter was mailed to my home informing me and my mother that there were concerns about what was found in my blood. I was only 13 at the time and I can't remember what the doctors had suspected, but I knew what the whole picture was about. For weeks I was being taken to all sorts of doctors offices and being ran through so many test. I was confused and just wanted answers. But I never really got one. They insured me that I would be fine, but still after 6 years it is stuck in the back of my head.

I am in my freshmen year of college now and I got here because of the head softball coach Donna Newberry. Coach Newberry was a strong women who had battled her cancer two times, but needed her rest by the third round. No matter where my college career ends, it started because of her. She was so strong through out her treatments and made sure to tell her players that she was fine. It's hard to think that she is gone because she was a tough women, but seeing her during her last few months was heart breaking. I am happy to know that she is now at rest, and still watching the game from above. Event though she will not be in the coaches box, I know that she will still be heard.
Anonymous commented on 05-Dec-2010 08:50 PM
Bailey, I wish you could have been spared that scare at such a tender age, and I know it's still with you. It's also given you a wise and mature empathy many young women your age don't have, and that will only draw good things into your life. And yes, Coach Newberry's voice will still be heard, because it lives on in you. Best, Brenda

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