Nausea from cancer treatment is one of the most difficult side effects to handle, and can be grueling for both the patient and their carers. Here are some tips to help you manage treatment-related nausea:
- If you experience nausea, don’t suffer in silence, speak to your medical team about anti-nausea drugs. There are some good ones you can take pre and post chemo that can really cut the misery, but unless your insurance pays for them they can be expensive. Make sure to take the drugs they give you correctly to get the full benefit. Many drugs will not work if they are taken too close to meal times, so be prepared.
- Speaking of being prepared, when you are feeling well, cook and freeze ahead of time the foods you like to eat, or know you can eat when feeling unwell. Or if you can, have someone else prepare and bring your food to you, so that you avoid the smells of cooking. Cooking odors can cause real distress. It’s important to stay nourished so never be afraid to ask caregivers or friends for what you need. They won’t know unless you tell them. Make sure they know what you like and are sensitive to your needs.
- Remember the BRAT diet. It is often recommended for nausea. BRAT is the acronym for Banana, Rice, Applesauce, Toast, all foods that are known to help nauseous patients. Make sure you have them in the house. If you feel queasy when you wake up, snack on some dry crackers before getting out of bed to settle your stomach.
- Consider trying new tastes and avoiding your favorite foods. This may seem counterintuitive, but trying to eat a favorite food when you feel nauseous can turn it into something repellent, a feeling which can stay with you long after treatment is over and spoil your enjoyment of it for the rest of your life. Instead, try new foods. You may develop a taste for them during treatment. You won’t know unless you try!
- Forget the idea of three square meals per day. It’s too much when you feel ill. Instead, focus on having 6-8 small nutritious meals or snacks throughout the day. Try to avoid getting too hungry or too full, both of which can make you feel more nauseous. Check out this menu of small bites for small meals that won’t feel overwhelming. And sit upright while you eat and for a period of time after eating. This will take pressure off your stomach and allow your body start to digest.
- Eat foods which are cold or at room temperature, such as chilled soup or sandwiches. These will taste and smell much milder than hot food.If this seems like too much, nibble on plain foods like crackers, noodles, yogurt, oatmeal or ice chips.
- Try drinking cold liquids, sipped slowly. If you are having taste issues, try adding additional flavors like mint or make lemon and ginger lemonade, which will be refreshing to your taste buds, and keep a supply ready in the fridge. Sip on drinks at mealtimes to help the food go down, but avoid drinking too much. Too much liquid can fill you up and prevent you from eating enough.
- This is one time when I recommend using sugar to sweeten food and drinks. Sugar can help with nausea, in fact historically, before it became commonplace as a food, sugar was only used medicinally in Greco-Roman culture, and to treat nausea. The banana and applesauce in the BRAT diet are an example, rice pudding is another.
- Try to avoid foods with strong odors, and heavy, fatty, greasy foods. Use different cooking methods such as poaching or baking in parchment paper to reduce smells that may aggravate your nausea. Both of the recipes linked above use fish, but you can also use these cooking methods to make wonderfully juicy chicken, which will provide your body with protein for recovery.
- Easy to say I know. Sometimes just thinking about treatment may make you feel sick to your stomach, referred to as anticipatory nausea. You can decrease this feeling with relaxation techniques – ask your healthcare team about this. Many hospitals and cancer organizations such as Gilda’s Club organize free meditation or gentle yoga programs for cancer patients. Consider joining a support group too. It helps to hear others’ experiences and to share your own. You’ll get great tips and info there too. The group members understand what you’re feeling, and you can speak with an openness that you cannot have with friends and family. It helps.
- Don’t forget mouth care – be sure to rinse your mouth often to get rid of nasty tastes.
We’ve compiled a menu of our favorite nausea-busting recipes for you to try. Everyone is different, so try out a few different things and find out what works for you. Be sure to keep your medical team updated if you are vomiting continuously. It is very easy to become dehydrated, particularly now in the hotter weather.