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What I Ate During Chemo

Cancer, Cancer, Cancer!

There is so much to learn for anyone going through cancer treatment, and one very important topic is nutrition.

Fighting the beast is a complicated journey, but the best foods to eat while on chemo, shouldn’t be complicated.

What I Ate During Chemo

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

~snort~

Chances are if you know someone going through chemo, you know someone who is having a hard time eating.

Graphic: what i ate during chemo

My dearly departed Aunt Mimi and FIL ascribed to the philosophy that if you can eat, even when sick, you’re going to be okay.

So, what foods should a patient eat during chemo (and radiation)? 

What did I eat?

ANYTHING I WANTED!

Well, that’s partially true. 

While nutrition is important for overcoming chemo and offering fuel to repair cells, sometimes, a chemo patient simply needs calories.

Read that again.

No shaming folks into what’s good for them, if all they can do is simply get something down.

The time will come again when they can eat nutritionally sound meals; until then – whatever it takes to get calories.

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

Foods for cancer patients can vary wildly.

Follow their lead.

Gently offer a variety of foods, but listen to their needs.

What follows is my experience and what I called my chemo diet.

For the first couple of days after my first chemo treatment, I was good.

Eating, napping, hydrating.  Repeat.

About three days post treatment, I developed chemo mouth.

Let’s see if I can adequately describe chemo mouth sores:

* 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 that 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?

[Tweet “What I ate during chemo.”]

Is there a cancer diet that comes in a handout at your doc visits?

That’s a big fat no.

Most docs have very little training in cancer patient nutrition, so you’re left to your own understanding or research.

Which sucks – cause you’re sick and now you gotta educate yourself – or have someone in your corner taking care of this piece.

Here’s how I approached what I ate during chemo:

#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. 

Calories are as needed as fuel to make sure my body had the energy to heal from chemo.

When I was at my sickest, when I could barely eat anything, when I was losing a pound a day – all that mattered was that I ate something.

My top list of foods I ate during chemo:

These foods not only nourished my body, but they also fed my soul:

1: Strawberry smoothies.

Strawberry Smoothie with red straw

This smoothie could also have added nut butters or anything else high in nutrition, including other fruits, as long as there were no chunks or even the hint of a chunk.

Chunk = pain. 

No chunks, pls…k…thx.

Using cold frozen strawberries helped ease my pain, and ensured nutrition and much needed fiber.

If you are lactose intolerant, use almond milk.

2: 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.

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.

3: 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!

4: Prunes, when I could stand them.

Moving your bowels during chemo treatments can be difficult because of the drugs they give you, and high fiber prunes got the job done.

You’d be surprised at how much attention is given to poo when you’re going through treatment.

Ewwww! and YAY!!!!

5: Pudding

Some folks will develop an aversion to sweets while on chemo, but if they don’t: pudding!

This cake filling is made with pudding and could be ideal!

cake filling in a blue bowl

It’s extremely light, has lots of milk protein (build those cells!), and you can adjust the pudding to whatever flavor you prefer.

Or Jello, which I can’t stand regardless of chemo.

With lots of whipped cream!

6: Milk

Milk has easy protein. Protein is essential for building cells.

Chemo kills dem cells, so you need an easy protein to rebuild.

7: Scrambled eggs

Scrambled eggs 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.

8: Oatmeal

Oatmeal is another meal high in fiber.

Throw in fruit puree and it’s comforting for body and soul (if you’re an oatmeal lover).

9: Easy meals that didn’t work for me, but have for others:

* Ice cream bucket and one spoon.

* Pureed soups.

* Veggies pureed into soups.

10: My favorite go-to meal after chemo was homemade mac and cheese.

Mac and Cheese in bowl

Hold the crunchy breadcrumb topping.

The week prior to each chemo treatment, I would feel pretty good – on the upswing – so I’d make a few meals that could be eaten after chemo.

We lived on mac and cheese.

Lots of protein and carbs, but mostly it was a love hug that assured me I’d get through this storm.

What about supplement drinks?

I tried both Ensure and Boost supplement drinks, but found them difficult to get down.

The texture was fine – it was the taste I found hard to stomach.

Vanilla is least offensive when it’s cold.  Really Cold.  Very cold.

graphic: What I Ate During Chemo

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.

What about fruits and veggies?

This is such a personal choice. I found it hard to eat salads or anything crunchy, but you should try and find a way to include them in your diet.

* 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.

IIIEEEEEEEEE!

* Plain baked potatoes, cut into small bite-sized pieces.

You can try butter or sour cream, if you’re feeling bold.

I couldn’t handle pepper or any seasonings.

* Smoothies are a great way to incorporate fruits and veggies.

If you can handle a smoothie, here are a few to try (you can omit any offending ingredient and add soothing yogurt or bananas).

CAVEAT: Blend the holy hell outta that smoothie! No chunks!

Berry Smoothie

Berry Smoothie in glass

Green Smoothie

green smoothie in a glass

Strawberry Blueberry Smoothie

Strawberry Blueberry Smoothie with a red straw

Eating through chemo mouth proved to be almost the most difficult challenge I faced during chemo. 

I lost weight quickly simply because I couldn’t tolerate anything in my mouth.

I looked at eating as my job – because it became clear early on that if I didn’t eat, my health was going to suffer immensely.

I tried to eat something every two hours, and every two hours I fought with myself to EAT. 

Cause you know, if I ate, everything was gonna be okay. I wanted to be okay, so I tortured myself to EAT.

While experiencing chemo mouth, most days it would take me an hour to eat one scrambled egg. So you can see why I say there is NO SHAME in getting anything into your body during treatment.

Obviously, this list is not exhaustive and is only based purely on my experience.

I know some of you probably have great suggestions to add to this list. 

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

Get to it!

Tell us!

#thefightison

 

Original Post: July 3, 2015 ~ Updated Post: January 16. 2020

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Jennifer

Tuesday 13th of October 2020

I just started chemo treatment yesterday October 12, 2020. Thank you for the food advice.

Patti Tucker

Wednesday 14th of October 2020

You are so welcome. May God go with you in treatment!

Marian

Tuesday 29th of September 2020

I don't really suffer from a sore mouth but just don't feel like eating much, period. I realise I must so do at least try to eat as much as I can, esp comfortfood. The thing I find difficult is drinking enough to stay hydrated. I hardly drink water, loath tea and coffee just 3 cups a day, so don't drink enough. Do you have any suggestion for me? Oh I also loath milk, but do like buttermilk but not too much too often.

Patti Tucker

Tuesday 29th of September 2020

Lots of folks drink protein drinks like Ensure, to help meet their needs, but I was never a fan (they come in different flavors). If you can't stand to drink anything, try eating foods with a high water content. Watermelon comes to mind, but really, anything with lots of water (applesauce too). Hope this helps. God luck and welcome, Marian!

Vickie Sonderman

Sunday 13th of September 2020

Dairy was my friend- yogurt and cottage cheese(I would put peaches in the cottage cheese, like out of a can). My oncologist and her nurses wanted me to eat whatever I wanted(which, unfortunately, was not much). I could stomach the dairy products. Plus, for some odd reason, ham! Like lunch meat ham.(we have Frisch’s in our city and I could eat their Buddy Boy sandwiches which has ham and their tarter sauce.) I too, could not stomach Ensure or Boost. And my husband, God bless that man, tried making every smoothie out there, to no avail on my part. I just couldn’t drink them. I was told to eat 70 to 95 grams of protein a day. And unlimited calories. I never could eat that much of the protein during chemo. And I was lucky if I ate 1000 calories each day. It was rough.

Patti Tucker

Wednesday 16th of September 2020

Chemo makes it rough. And you are like so many: eat what you can when you can.

Gina C

Thursday 3rd of September 2020

My 15 year old daughter was diagnosed with luekemia ALL B cell on August 17th after a month long battle with doctors to trust my 'mom intuitions. We have a long 3 year chemo road ahead of us and while the prednisone (steroids) she is on until September 17th have turned my ballerina into an eating machine its always a concern that she will develop lesions/sores in her mouth/mucus membranes, and your article was helpful. Have any of you been able to eat mashed potatoes or mushy peas?

Patti Tucker

Wednesday 9th of September 2020

yes, to both! EEEAAAATTTT 'EM!

Nicole

Friday 21st of August 2020

I was recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I am through my surgery which involved removal of a 15 lb germ cell tumor with mixed teratoma and yolk sac cells! Yikes I lost 20 lbs over night and can move so much better even though my incision is from upper abdomen to below my belly button! I will be starting 4 cycles of BEP chemo this coming Monday. This is a rare ovarian cancer and most germ cell tumors are found in testicular cancer so there are less people to talk to with my specific type, but any survivor experiences are helpful to me! I appreciated your knowledge and humor. I have been relying on my own sense of humor to deal with each stage of this journey so far—I know it is the only way for me to survive mentally!

Patti Tucker

Saturday 22nd of August 2020

Oh, Nicole - I ALWAYS hate to know when folks are struggling with cancer (F-CANCER!). Our prayers go with you. May you enjoy a long life filled with love and happiness.