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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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Tabitha

Monday 26th of July 2021

Hi there! I know This post is old you might not see this but wanted to thank you for all these tips. My mother was just diagnosed with breast cancer and I want to put together a diet/ list for her to help her out. This will be very very helpful and I appreciate this. I hope You’re doing well and beat cancers butt!

Barbara

Wednesday 11th of August 2021

@Patti Tucker, Hi Patti-I’ve just been diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer, and am really scared. I’m going to need 12 weeks of chemo, radiation and targeted therapy for a year. I’m most worried about the chemo side effects. Do you throw up day and night? How do you take the anti nausea medicine when you’re already nauseous? Thank you for your time, and your encouraging post.

Patti Tucker

Monday 26th of July 2021

You are welcome! Your momma is a lucky duck to have you in her corner. I am 6 years post cancer - hoping the very best for you and your mom.

Thank you so much for the great comment.

Linda Daniels

Saturday 24th of July 2021

Thanks so much my son 29 recently diagnosed and starting chemo and radiation Aug 2 looking for anything to help

Patti Tucker

Monday 26th of July 2021

I'm so sorry for the diagnosis. Prayers that he remains strong and comes through treatment with little issues. He's blessed to have you in his corner!

Kim

Saturday 10th of July 2021

We are on the exact same page. Its such a struggle the first 10 days after chemo to find something I can eat. Its usually bread and water. I cant tolerate any dairy anymore. I've lost about 25 pounds since starting chemo but good news is that I had my last round thursday! Thank you for posting.

Patti Tucker

Sunday 11th of July 2021

LAST ROUND!!!

I pray your recovery is swift and complete. So happy you're done.

Pat Rusthoven

Tuesday 11th of May 2021

OMG what an excellent article! Hit every nail on the head! So hard to stay positive when just eating and pooping is so incredibly difficult. Thank you for sharing your journey!

Patti Tucker

Thursday 13th of May 2021

Thank YOU for coming and sharing. It is such a difficult journey and I'm hoping to be a voice of encouragement.

Maureen

Tuesday 4th of May 2021

I so agree about having trouble eating during chemo. What I found very helpful was before I went to chemo I made sure I had made a fresh dish of good old fashioned baked egg custard. Main ingredients are eggs, milk, a little sugar and vanilla and baked it. It makes a smooth custard that slides down easy with good calories.

Patti Tucker

Wednesday 5th of May 2021

That sounds amazing and easy to eat. Thank you for this tip!