Chris’ Tips: Be Chemo Savvy

Read these chemo tips from a seasoned chemo survivor and learn about surviving chemotherapy and the many ways to make chemo easier.

These chemo tips were written by our co-founder, Chris McHugh, who was diagnosed with late-stage inflammatory breast cancer in 1997. At the young age of 34, she was given 18 months to live, but her journey lasted nearly 6 years. She made it her mission to provide support, raise awareness, and educate others.

Chemo Tips from a Fighter

During her treatment, Chris went through well over 100 rounds of chemo, a bilateral mastectomy, a bone marrow transplant, 6+ weeks of radiation and 42 days of IL2 injections.

She didn’t waste a minute of the life she was given; she made memories with family and friends, she taught the medical profession the symptoms of IBC so no other woman would go undiagnosed, she worked with lawmakers to ensure new drugs were made available, and she always made time to mentor others who were newly diagnosed and going through treatment.

Chris was obviously well acquainted with all the ups and downs of chemotherapy and wanted to share her hard-earned advice with others. She wrote these chemo tips in the hopes that it would benefit others.

Be Chemo Savvy

1. Try to relax while taking treatment. Headphones or good conversation can take your mind off of the drugs. Embrace the drug. Don’t think of it as toxic, let it do its work.

2. Pamper and reward yourself! Even something small is special. Maybe a goal after your chemo journey, like a trip or weekend away. Why wait? Break up the rounds of chemo with a “chemo get-away” or “retail therapy” (shopping). You will come back refreshed.

3. I was shocked at the high cost of my drugs. Repeat after me “I am worth it!”

4. IMPORTANT: You will not get all of the symptoms listed on the chemo handouts!

5. When life gives you lemons…drink some lemonade or suck on lemon drops.  It really is refreshing and I could taste it. Sucking on hard candy when they flush your port or line is helpful. (Not suggested if you have mouth sores.) Also, remember to drink plenty of fluids after every treatment.

6. Cut a fresh lemon in half when scents around the home make you feel “urpsy”.  It neutralizes the unwanted odors. Also, mild soaps, shampoos, and toothpaste can be found in your local grocery store or online.

7. Mouth sores? Holding ice or a popsicle in your mouth when getting your chemo can help reduce mouth sores.

8. This is a “germ-free zone”! Wash your hands often when your white cell count is low. It’s not a bad idea to have all your guests wash their hands as well.

9. If smells from the kitchen send you running, have someone bring you in a meal. It will allow someone to feel good about helping you out. Eat whatever sounds good or tastes good to you. Now is not the time to diet. (Try to remember the comfort foods from your youth)

10. Stay ahead of nausea. Don’t wait to feel sick before taking your anti-nausea drugs.  Listen to your nurse or pharmacist for scheduling your medicine. Anti-nausea drugs can cause headaches and constipation. Make a mental note of your week and adjust your next treatment accordingly.

11. When your hair starts to fall out, it may feel like you have a sore head much like a headache. Shaving your head at that time may help. Also, it’s the “losing of your hair” that’s the hardest. Once it really starts to fall out, you may want to just shave it and get it over with.

12. If you are tired, rest and let people help you. Remember it helps them too, as they feel helpless. When you are overtired everything seems worse. Life is worth the fight!

13. Get many hugs from all. Hugs heal!

14. Talk to others undergoing chemo. It really helps to share information and know that you have the same feelings and symptoms. A support group is a great resource or your hospital’s learning library.

15. The best advice I ever received was “to remember to set short-term goals and take it one day at a time. Do or take whatever you need to get through this time, and most importantly, “Choose Hope.”

Although Chris passed away in 2003, she leaves the legacy of her timeless tips for surviving chemotherapy, helpful for everyone going through treatment. Throughout her cancer journey, she played many roles including a caregiver, an advocate, and family and friends to those going through their own cancer journey, and wrote tips for each.

The links below provide tips specific to each role in a print-friendly version for your convenience.

Cancer Tips for Family, Friends, and Coworkers

Caregiver Tips

Chemo Savvy Tips

Tips for Someone Newly Diagnosed


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