March 27, 2023
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Photography by Gabriela Cardona/Stocksy United
Keeping yourself nourished during breast cancer treatments can be a challenge due to side effects like loss of appetite and nausea. But there are several ways you can ensure your body gets the nutrients it needs.
Breast cancer treatments can affect your appetite on many fronts. Between treatment side effects, mental and physical exhaustion, or mental health conditions like anxiety, keeping yourself nourished can be a challenge.
In my experience, I was hit hardest with appetite issues due to chemo and anxiety.
Being aware of side effects and how to cope with them can help reduce fear when entering the unknown with cancer. I’m not a medical professional and can only share my experiences, but I do know that not keeping your body nourished and hydrated will only exacerbate physical and mental health symptoms.
Surprisingly, nausea from chemo had the smallest impact on my appetite. Any breakthrough nausea I had was quelled with medication my oncologist gave me or by vaping cannabis. If you’re experiencing bad nausea, talk with your oncologist. A medication adjustment may be all it takes to settle things down.
Some folks get weird tastes in their mouths from chemo that can last a while. I only had taste interruptions while I was actually receiving chemo — a metal or chemical taste. If you experience this, keep on trying foods and don’t give up until you find what tastes good.
What really got me during chemo was mouth sores and feeling like I had a bad flu with body aches and exhaustion. Even chewing and biting hurt.
During this time, swallow-only foods were great. I found that eating guacamole like it was pudding was a great little meal, as was peanut butter on very soft bread or eggs. I got creative with making smoothies (this pineapple green smoothie is one of my favorites). Thankfully, the mouth sores stopped after my first few chemo sessions.
I also figured out that if I ate some hearty meals on the day of chemo and the day after chemo, this would set me up to take on my chemo sick days that hit about 48 hours later when full-on aches and exhaustion set in. On chemo sick days, friends dropped off meals, and I nibbled when I felt like it.
For me, hands down, the bouts of acute anxiety I experienced on and off from the day of my diagnosis onward were terrible times. I knew I would feel worse if I didn’t eat, yet I often had to force myself to eat just to keep my body fueled.
Under my doctor’s guidance, I used medication to quell my anxiety. Even then, eating could be near impossible some days.
What worked for me were small, frequent snacks that I could eat quickly. I kept myself going on bananas, Siggi’s raspberry Icelandic yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, instant oatmeal, string cheese, nut mix, and peanut butter with crackers.
If you’re experiencing acute anxiety that’s killing your appetite and causing upset stomach or diarrhea and more, I know it’s a harrowing space and urge you to ask your doctor for help. Don’t endure it in silence. Many people I’ve talked to in the breast cancer community haven’t experienced severe anxiety until cancer and didn’t know that’s what was happening.
A side effect of breast cancer treatment that isn’t often talked about and nobody prepared me for is steroid munchies.
Steroids may be given during chemo in pill form or intravenously. I did both. Side effects include increased appetite.
Between bouts of no appetite from chemo and anxiety, I also had a few days each chemo cycle where I would be hangry for things I didn’t regularly eat: sugary breakfast cereals, ice cream, steak, and chips.
My only advice is to be mindful of keeping low calorie healthy snacks around if you get the steroid munchies. The struggle — and bloating — is real.
Do the best you can to nourish your body when you can, and remember to stay hydrated. Focus on what nourishment you and your oncologist deem appropriate for wherever you are in your cancer journey.
Feeling alone in all of this? There’s a beautiful breast cancer community to connect with at Bezzy BC. I’m your community guide there, and I host live chats four times a week on topics like steroid munchies and more. Come lean into the experiences of others and feel connected.
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