Another colon cancer survivor contacted me the other day with a question, “How do you recover from chemo?” A question I’d just been discussing with several friends just the other day, voicing my frustration over the lack of clear instruction for survivors. Recovering from chemo and the other treatments that fight fire with fire is a tough one to answer. Not because it’s impossible, but because it’s new territory for us all. Our Oncologists are bombarded with the question as more and more of their late stage patients are surviving, but their job pretty much ends at “Congratulations, you’re in remission.” Other than follow up to make sure we stay in remission, of course. Our GP’s are there to tend to our general needs, thus the title General Practitioner and more often that not, meet the question with an expression not unlike a deer in headlights as if to say, “well….eh…we weren’t really expecting anyone to actually survive…haven’t thought that far ahead really.”
On this bumpy road to recovery, with limited funds and energy I have been my own guinea pig for the most part. I try to follow my own rules of: drink like a fish, sweat like a pig and to nurture with nature by eating whole foods, unprocessed and supplements to help replenish what’s been drained from the body, but I struggle, I admit, to remember and to do so while celebrating the fact I’m alive and able to celebrate.
If I could go back in time. I would have repeated the recovery regimen I went through on the first (of 4) remissions. Looking back, I’m sure I would’ve bounced back faster and gained less weight (60+ lbs since 2010, ouch), but I was deterred by foggy brain and financial strain. I could’ve made it work if I’d really focused and put my pride on the shelf, so hear me now on that one. It far better to have a trusted guide in unfamiliar territory than to fumble through it on your own.
When I talk to other survivors, the most common complaints I’ve heard and experienced myself are:
- Aches, pains and general stiffness
- Low energy (often coming on suddenly)
- Digestive system out of wack (bloating, cramps, multiple food sensitivities, skin breakouts)
- Edema (swelling of the arms, legs, face and body in general)
- Loss of muscle
- Chemo brain/brain fog (difficulty staying focused, remember or retain new information)
- Mood swings, irritability, easily overwhelmed
I’m almost afraid to go out to dine when I’m in a state of disrepair because I just never know what will trigger a bloat attack. And when I say bloat attack I mean that my belly bloats up to the point my pants can’t stay zipped up and my hiatal hernia in my stomach squeezes up into my diaphragm and I’m sitting there desperately trying to discreetly push it back down or rush off to the ladies to jump it back into place. Lovely.
There are experts out there who can help, but the question is often “Yeah, but can I afford it?” Many late stage cancer patients are facing a mountain of medical debt and just can’t see past it to get to the holistic, healing arts. One day, I hope that recovery will be covered under our insurance, but for now, it’s up to us.
If money isn’t an issue then the first call I’d make is to Frank Jasper of Osani Holistic Health. He and his equally talented wife/partner are based in LA, but he doesn’t let a little thing like geography get in the way of helping people become healthier. His help was most effective and frankly, I’d trust him with my life. I went to him during my first (of 4) remission after 18 cycles of chemo and a few zaps of radiation. I think all in all it cost about $1,500 for the face to face appt, testing, acupuncture and all the 4-6 week regimen (probiotics, digestive enzymes and more) he put me on, but I felt great, almost normal within a few short weeks.
Do we ever get back to normal-normal after long term cancer treatment? Who knows, but at the very least we don’t have to feel nearly as crappy as we do when we’re asking “How do you recover from chemo?”
If money is really tight then start with the basics in addressing recovery. Frank offered up some great free advice in a guest post on colon health as well as his top 10 list of foods that heal, and Dr. Dierenfelt, who is a GI specialist and also offered up some free advice on gut health here, has an excellent program called “Six Weeks To A Calmer Stomach” for under $40.
You have to detox the chemicals out of the cells of your body. Hydrate. Sweat. Pee. Repeat.
For aches and pains I swear by Antler Velvet. I’ve tried a few brands, but the most effective and best value for money I’ve found so far is from LuRongLiving.com. They’ve added a few new products since that I haven’t tried, but if you do, let us know what you think. I’m taking the slow road, no shortcuts, which was my previous MO. It also helps with energy and muscle repair. In the beginning, I took 2 in the morning, 2 at night for a couple weeks, until I noticed a difference and the frumpy mailman was starting to look really attractive (you’ll see), then switched to 1 in the morning and 1 at night until the aches were nearly gone and then 1 a day (that’s important to keep it up for at least 6 months- a year or the aches may return). Hot yoga and basic stretching morning and night also helps with the stiffness.
For stomach issues, it takes a basket of goodness to get this one right. The gut is the epicenter of our body’s health and yet, so misused. Here’s where you really don’t want to skimp, because as many healers will tell you, your gut is the center of your well being. If it’s out of wack the rest will be too. Frank tells it best in his guest post on colon health, but I will add, do NOT skimp on probiotics. Get the best quality with a minimum of 50 billion (to start) and as many strains and you can get your hands on. Your gut has been stripped clean. It needs to be reminded how it works again. This has been my hardest lesson. Same thing with digestive enzymes. Your food isn’t being properly digested right now. Enzymes help with that until your gut can pick back up where it left off before chemo.
For edema and general swelling I’ve found that the simplicity of hydration and daily movement helps the best. Also, get rid of table salt and replaced with sea salt. Swimming too. I usually drop a few lbs of water weight every time I go and swim for a good hour. Magic pills like lasix only work for a couple hours and it’s not natural and we’re trying nurture with nature at this point, right?
I could go on for hours and pages, because there are lots of options out there. Some work better for some than others.
Here’s what’s in my repair kit.
- Ultimate Flora Intensive Care Probiotics (80 billion and 14 strains) in the beginning
- Ultimate Flora Intensive Care Probiotics (50 billion and 10 strains) once I’m starting to feel normal
- Probiotic Pearls (1billion and 2 strains) when I’m feeling normal (I can eat a slice of bread and my body doesn’t freak out)
B Complex drops (energy) – every morning under tongue
Oregano oil caplets (helps repair digestive tract) – 1 mid day
Turmeric (anti-inflammatory) – 1 before every meal
Digestive enzymes (helps breakdown foods you eat) – 2 before every meal
Morning shakes (Invest in a Nutri bullet or better) with:
- Almond Milk/Mineral water or Keefer/Mineral water
- Splash of Just Cranberry juice
- Organic Frozen Fruit
- Scoop of Plant protein powder (no whey, gluten, fructose or other hard to digest stuff)
- Dash of organic all spice (whole foods has Jamaican that smells amazing)
- Scoop of L-Glutamine powder (Jarrow is my favorite brand)
- 1/2 tsp of organic honey (if you like a little sweet)
- 1/2 tsp Macha (green tea) powder
- Raw egg
I also get a half gallon of fresh organic green juice (Frazier Farms, Costco) weekly and take a few gulps from it before every meal to make sure I get enough veggies in each day.
Whatever steps you take, do it with patience and kindness towards yourself. You and your body have been to hell and back. If anyone and I mean anyone tries to make you feel bad for choosing any particular life saving treatment, mentally flip them the bird and move on. What you need now is acceptance and healing, not judgement or shame and Remember this, you are alive. There’s no guarantee you would be if you hadn’t taken the path you did, so look ahead and cheers to you and all the best on your road to recovery~