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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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Kelly

Tuesday 19th of May 2020

Love this post & made me laugh (thanks for that)! 😂 I’m on my 5th chemo treatment now and identify with everything you said. I love how you described Chemo mouth. I tried to explain it to my kids saying everything tastes like sandpaper & chemicals. Basically I found I can eat most things mushy and bland. I especially love mushy scrambled eggs, spaghetti (all mixed up with sauce and noodles cut up tiny, no chunks and top with a bit of melted shredded cheddar), mushy potatoes and cooked veggies like carrots. I have gone through a ton of Ensure on the days I can’t seem to eat much of anything but chicken broth. I basically hold my nose and suck it down to get the nutrients. The chocolate is more tolerable in my opinion, but they have a vanilla one that has fiber if you can stand it. Maybe try before you buy in bulk like I did... Thanks again for the tips. Sounds like I have a few new options to try out. Hugs to you & here’s to kicking cancer’s butt! 🙌

Patti Tucker

Wednesday 20th of May 2020

Kelly - GAA! I'm so sorry you are going through this (and chemo mouth - terrible), but so happy you have found solutions. It's a lot of trying and OH, HELL, NOOO-ing, isn't it!

Thanks for offering what works for you, as others will surely try a few of these as well.

Now, go and keeeeel some cancer!

Dee

Thursday 30th of April 2020

Thank you for the info. I just started chemo for breast cancer and it is brutal. I have found the apple sauce, jello, and soups is all I can tolerate.

Dannie

Friday 10th of April 2020

I haven’t laughed this hard since learning I’ll be going through chemo and radiation. My cancer decided to pack it’s bags and migrate around like a white collar scam artist heading for the Mexican border. Thx so much for making my week. I sent this to my husband so he can prepare the fridge and freezer. I told him to “stock up buddy.” Hugs to you my darling!

Patti Tucker

Sunday 12th of April 2020

#1: I'm so sorry you will endure treatment (although, may it kill dem cells!)

#2: I LOVE when I can make folks laugh, so really you just gave me the best gift - thank you!

#3: STOCK UP, BUDDY!

Vickie Wiggins

Friday 20th of December 2019

My husband is going through throat cancer right now. In addition, he had to have most of his teeth pulled prior to chemo/radiation. This has presented a BIG problem with his eating. I am at my wits end. He is sick of the Ensure/Fortify nutrition drinks, sick of pudding, sick of jello, sick of blended anything. He fought the metal taste and I suggested he use plastic utensils, which has helped a lot. But He still does not eat enough to withstand the treatments he has to take for his cancer. He has lost so much in the short 2 weeks since his treatment began, already down by 35 lbs. Since he started at over 300 lbs, it isn't drastic yet, but it is noticeable and I still worry about his surviving the treatments.

Patti Tucker

Friday 20th of December 2019

Vickie, I’m so sorry to read this. Treatment is not only difficult to endure, it’s scary as hell for everyone.

Can he stand eggs? I practically survived on scrambled eggs made with milk. Lots of protein.

I’d try every high calorie anything, just to get the calories in him.

Susan Lanier

Thursday 18th of July 2019

I had BC 5 years ago and wish i had known this recipe i got from Mayo with my latest cancer,liver and bile duct). It is: 1quart water, I Tablespoon Baking Soda, 1Tsp- Salt. Swish in mouth especially after meal and DO NOT SWALLOW. So simple and works wonderful. My son in law used it when he had strep throat and said it was the bomb. Sometime i mix up just smaller portions.

Even when you have had a clear diagnosis insist on always getting a follow up CT, MRI or Pet Scan yearly. I found out last year i have advanced liver and bile duct cancer(cholanchiocarcinoma). Wish some one had advised me and this might could have been found sooner. My tumor is inoperable and it is only chemo from now on indefinately.

Patti Tucker

Friday 19th of July 2019

I'm so sorry for your new diagnosis. My prayers go with you.

I did try the baking soda remedy to no help - BUT - am so glad it worked for you (and others will find this helpful).

Ginnieqr.

Thursday 18th of July 2019

Hi Susan, After having 3 CT scans my oncologist said I was in the clear from endometrial cancer. I get bloodwork done. I asked if the bloodwork and CTscans would show any other cancer starting up in my body. She said no, they only check for a reoccurence of cancer in the same area you had your cancer. I told her that there should be something that would signal a cancer beginning anywhere in your body. After all, we have millions of body cells and any one of them can mutate into cancer. I asked her to pass it on to other doctors. Sombody should be researching this area. I will pray for you that your chemo will defeat your cancer again. God bless.