What Do You Eat When You’re Trying To Survive Chemo?

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It has been a little bit over two years since my breast cancer diagnosis and there are two things I think of regularly:

#1: I am grateful to be alive.

#2: It took a lot of effort to eat while going through chemo.

This post was written in the throes of that terrible time.

It remains a popular article, so I thought I’d share again with updates.

If you know someone about to walk this road, share this with them – they will be grateful for the reference.


Cancer Cancer Cancer!

Omgosh, it hasn’t even been that long since my diagnosis and even I’m tired of hearing about it.


Chances are if you know someone going through chemo, you know someone who is having a hard time eating. My dearly departed Aunt Mimi and my FIL ascribed/ascribe to the philosophy that if you can eat, especially when sick, you’re going to be okay.


What Do You Eat When You're Trying To Survive Chemo?

So what should a chemo patient eat? What did I eat?


Well, that’s partially true. While nutrition is important for overcoming chemo and offering specific fuel to repair cells, sometimes a chemo patient simply needs calories.

Casseroles and huge meals are fine for caregivers and family, but chemo patients need something altogether different.

For the first couple of days after my first chemo treatment, I was good. Eating, napping, hydrating. Repeat.

Then came chemo mouth. Let’s see if I can adequately describe it.

* When my mouth was empty, it was sore and tender to the touch, but not horrible.

* When I drank water, my mouth let me know I best trod carefully. Don’t be swilling stuff willy-nilly, yo.

* When I ate anything from tiny oyster crackers, that dissolved quickly, to mashed bananas and applesauce, my mouth protested by throwing kerosene around and lighting a match while running around knifing all the raw surfaces.

Yep, like that.

So what the hell to you feed someone going through chemo?

How I approached it:

#1: Everything that went in my mouth had to be nutrient-packed fuel to build new cells. Period.

#2: When #1 failed, I went with high calorie, soothing, foods. Cause calories are as needed as fuel to make sure my body had the energy to heal from chemo.

My running list of foods that were not only helpful for me, that fed my body, but also fed my soul:

* Strawberry smoothies. These smoothies could also have added nut butters or anything else, including other fruits, as long as there were no chunks or even the hint of a chunk. Chunk = pain. Dear God in heaven – no chunks. Using frozen strawberries ensured nutrition and much needed fiber. If you are lactose intolerant, use almond milk.

* Mashed bananas covered in cold applesauce. Hello, baby food! If you know me, you know I despise a ripe banana. I like ’em on the green side. So, in order to eat a banana, and partake of its nutritional goodness, I had to let it get spots before mashing. Still – they were hard to get down. I looked at it in the bowl and thought I’d hurk, so I covered it in cold applesauce. While not particularly delish, it worked. I got it all down.

* Naan. Yes, this flies in the face of “it needs to be mush” before I can eat it. Yet, the softness of Naan allowed me to chew very small bites at the front of my mouth, before I swallowed. It did produce a fiery pain, but it was worth the carbs!

* Prunes, when I could stand them. Fiber is so important when going through chemo and prunes got the job done.

* Pudding. Some folks will develop an aversion to sweets while on chemo. If they don’t: pudding! Or Jello, which I can’t stand regardless of chemo. With lots of whipped cream!

* Milk. Has easy protein. Protein is essential for building cells.

* Scrambled eggs. These were my BFFs during chemo mouth. Easy to digest. Easy to make. No chewing required. If your patient can stand it, throw a bit of cheese in the mix, or some milk.

* Oatmeal. High in fiber. Throw in fruit puree. Comforting for body and soul (if you’re an oatmeal lover). If it’s too textured, give it a spin in the food processor or blender.

* Ice cream bucket and one spoon.

* Pureed soups.

* Veggies pureed into soups.

* Mac and cheese.

* Ensure or Boost supplement drinks. Vanilla was the least offensive. Cold. Very cold. While my docs and I were on the same page about supplement drinks (eat real food first), if you’re not getting your nutritional needs met, have a can.

* Nothing acidic, like the Cuties I love so much. You think your mouth is trying to kill you now, throw in some salad dressing or BBQ sauce and see what the hell happens. Yep, speaking from personal experience.

* Plain baked potatoes, cut into small bite-sized pieces. You can try butter or sour cream, if you’re feeling bold.

Eating through chemo mouth proved to be difficult. I lost about a pound a day in the beginning because I couldn’t tolerate anything in my mouth. Chemo was terrifying enough, but add that kind of weight-loss into the mix and you have to figure out how to sustain the health you have.

I made it my job to eat something every two hours and every two hours I fought with myself to EAT, PATTI.

I cried every stinkin’ time, but my will was stronger than the pain.  I held on to the idea that if I ate, everything was gonna be okay (according to my beloved auntie and FIL).

I wanted to be okay, so I tortured myself to EAT.

Obviously, this list is not exhaustive and is only based on my experience. I know some of you probably have great suggestions to add to this list.

Please share in comments for all who are walking this tough path.

I pray you never need this list, but if you do, hang on and eat something, would ya?

If you’re interested in having the Top 10 OMT! Recipes in one place (no searching!), click anywhere on the image below ▼

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