WHAT TO EXPECT: We actually found the pre-surgery chemo to be quite manageable. Well, given that it was chemo and we were in a state of shock about receiving such a devastating diagnosis.
The oncology clinic pushes, pulls, and cajoles you through the experience. Modern anti-nausea drugs seem to have reduced much of the extreme nausea that we used to hear about. Gary actually felt fairly good at least part of the time. And then there was a recuperation period of 4-6 weeks after chemo and before surgery. A last bit of normal life.
Post-surgery chemo is a whole other story. It is very difficult. Most of this is probably actually due to the surgery. But you can make it through the post-chemo surgery as well. See the webpage on After Surgery for more on this topic.
WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT: In our experience, there is a lot of support available during chemo treatment. You are seen very frequently at the oncology clinic and phone help is available. There is a lot of printed and online information available about getting through chemo. And almost everyone knows someone who has been through chemo; these folks are more than happy to provide suggestions and support. They also help you realize that while it is not how you would choose to spend your time, you can get through this.
TIPS AND TRICKS:
Enjoy food and life as much as possible: Our advice is to grab all the good moments and the pleasurable eating experiences during pre-surgery chemo that you possibly can. At this point, you don’t really know what the future holds.
Eat healthy: This probably goes without saying, but you do want to go into surgery as healthy as possible. Eat protein foods and fruits and veggies to nourish your body. Don’t pig out on junk foods.
Increase calorie intake as much as possible: These weeks before surgery are an opportunity to put on a little weight. Maintaining weight after your surgery will definitely be a challenge so you want to start at a good weight with maybe a little extra.
Many people lose weight during chemo because of loss of appetite and nausea. But, if you have been eating a low or moderate fat diet as we were, this might be a good time to increase the fat content of your meals and possibly gain a little.
See the webpage on Maintaining Weight for ideas. By switching from skim to whole milk, enjoying lots of high butterfat ice cream, and a few other tricks, Gary was able to put on about 5 pounds before surgery.
Important: If you are currently overweight, do not follow this advice! And if you have significant cholesterol problems or cardiovascular issues you might want to check with your cardiologist before changing the fat content of your diet.
Consider acupuncture: Studies show that acupuncture can lessen the side effects of chemo. Gary had weekly acupuncture treatments during his chemo and went directly to his acupuncturist after his cisplatin and epirubicin treatments.
Because of the medical complexities of stomach cancer treatment, it is good to find an acupuncturist who also has western medical training. Gary’s acupuncturist is an MD.
Handling the cisplatin/epirubicin jolts: OK, so if your treatment is based on the MAGIC trials, those jolts of cisplatin and epirubicin every three weeks are the pits. We called those the “big chemo.”
You feel sort of OK for the first day or two because of all the anti-nausea drugs you get. But then the effects of those start to taper off, and you feel really lousy for the next two or three days. You will probably have difficulty eating. Gradually you start to feel better.
Keep a log the first time so you know what worked for you and what to expect the next two times.
Drink as much water as possible for a couple of days prior to your clinic day and as you are able to take in after you receive the chemo agents. And have some bran cereal or add a little bran to your oatmeal the day of your chemo and maybe the next day. These drugs are very drying.
Stock up on lots of soft, bland foods–cottage cheese, applesauce, canned peaches, ice cream–for the worst days. We also found that a soup made of chicken broth, spinach and orzo (very small, rice-shaped pastas) worked well. This just slithered down, and the saltiness seemed helpful.