A build-up of cellular waste in remaining tissue, because of the extreme toxicity of chemotherapy drugs. These powerful drugs kill healthy cells right along with the cancerous ones, leaving a residue that needs to be removed from the body.
The depletion of many important nutrient levels because of chemo. This often causes digestive problems because the drugs destroy much of the good flora in the gastrointestinal tract, in addition to the lining of the tract itself.
"Chemo brain," a catch-all term for the common memory glitches, lack of focus, mild cognitive impairment and fatigue that follow cancer treatment.
Peripheral neuropathy, which causes tingling, burning and numbness in the feet and, sometimes, hands.
1. Take control through both diet and natural supplements
To create a healthier cellular environment, try eliminating the damage done by treatment and rebuild your digestive health. Key dietary recommendations are:
Fermented foods. Eat lots of miso, sauerkraut (the kind you buy at the health food store, not the deli), kefir and yogurt.
Water. Drink 60 to 70 ounces daily to flush toxins from your system. (Note: Limit water with meals to eight ounces as more can dilute the effectiveness of stomach acid.)
Fruits and vegetables. Enjoy these every day. If possible, buy organic, especially when it comes to soft fruits such as peaches, nectarines, strawberries and pears.
Avoid processed foods -- including sugar and white flour. This will eliminate refined sugars and unhealthy fats (trans fats, partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated fats and interesterified fats), all of which can be harmful to your health.
Eat plenty of healthy fats. These are omega-3s, (found in flaxseed, walnuts and fatty fish, including salmon, herring and sardines), balanced by some omega-6s (in corn and soybeans).
Avoid tuna, king mackerel, shark, swordfish and other fish with potentially high levels of mercury. You don’t need to add yet more toxins to your system.
2. Strengthen health overall and detoxify the liver
To repair damage to vital organs such as the liver, consider the following:
Antioxidants. These help rebuild health, potentially improve chemo outcomes and heal tissue damaged by radiation treatment. Among the supplements that Dr. Stengler prescribes: CoQ10; vitamin C; vitamin E mixed with tocopherol/tocotrienols and a carotenoid complex; vitamin D; lycopene; and selenium.
Probiotics. These can help balance the digestive system. Dr. Stengler typically prescribes one with a blend of Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum.
Green C hlorella. These deliver phytochemicals, which can be helpful to a system damaged by chemotherapy. He likes a brand called Sun Chlorella.
Wheatgrass. It contains helpful vitamin K and chlorophyll antioxidants.
Milk thistle. This herb helps support the liver and kidneys by protecting cells against damage caused by breakdown products of the cellular debris and chemo drugs.
NAC. N-acetylcysteine, derived from a protein amino acid derivative L-cysteine, aids in the breakdown of drug and cellular wastes.
3. Reduce Systemic Inflammation
Systemic inflammation is a problem that lingers long after cancer treatment. Following an improved diet, taking many of the supplements recommended above and getting regular exercise often can reduce inflammation.
4. Increase Aerobic Activity
Do an aerobic form of exercise for at least 30 minutes five times weekly and strength training for at least 15 minutes twice weekly.
5. Manage and Control Your Stress Level
Controlling your stress level is important to help strengthen your overall health and physical and mental well-being. Dr. Stengler recommends natural alternatives such as phosphatidylserine for cognitive dysfunction, S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) for depression and 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) for anxiety and depression.
You may find that your healing and recovery from breast cancer treatment is completely different from another survivor’s experience. Overcoming treatment is an individual process, and it all depends on the type of treatment you received, the state of your diagnosis and your physical and emotional health at the beginning of your treatment process.
Some of the most common obstacles in overcoming treatment are:
If you have had experience overcoming any of the above and would like to share your wisdom with other breast cancer survivors to help in their healing and recovery, please post your success story in our Survivor Tips section or start a discussion in our Partner Forum.
Resources that may be helpful in overcoming treatment are: