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Tips On Chemotherapy

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, February 9, 2011

Jan Fleming, whose travails we have mentioned here, here, and here, recently let her friends and family know that she was soon to start chemotherapy.

When we ran the piece about the Pundit Poppa and his illness, which we titled Never Tell Me The Odds: One Man, One Disease, One Battle, we provided a mechanism for people to send both notes and healthful advice. We will certainly answer everyone but it will take awhile as we received so many kind and helpful thoughts from all around the world.

One letter that we thought valuable to share with Jan and her husband, Tim, also seemed valuable to share with everyone as, of course, a cancer diagnosis is a stranger to few families. Often that means chemotherapy.

This note came from Virginia (Ginny) Morton of Tallman Family Farms in Tower City, Pennsylvania. Like so many of the friends we have come to know through the Pundit, Ginny’s nephew, Nathan Tallman, contacted us when we mentioned that we would be on a family trip visiting theme parks in Pennsylvania, in a piece entitled, Lessons From Hershey's Chocolate. Nathan invited the Pundit family to spend some time at their farm. The Jr. Pundits remember the fun they had when Ginny’s husband Larry took the boys on four-wheelers through the forest, and the boys still speak with reverence of the delicious French fries we were served at the farm — all made from the farm’s trademark Tallman’s Special Frying Potatoes. Jr. Pundit primo, aka William, still thinks he owns the place since it is located in the Williams Valley.

Having spent such a lovely day on the farm it was a pleasure to get a note from Ginny, and we thought it so helpful we wanted to share it:

We at Tallman Potatoes are rooting for your family and your Dad all the way. (Remember you visited our “William’s” Valley a few years ago with your wife and boys!)

I, too went through cancer five years ago and will include my chemotherapy DO’s and DON’T’s for your Dad’s consideration. He can take what he wants and leave the rest behind.

With cancer, it is ALL about your attitude. My best friend’s Dad was diagnosed with inoperable esophageal cancer at age 81 and after 6 very strong chemo treatments he is alive and well at age 92! I have another friend here in Pennsylvania, who has pancreatic cancer and was given a death sentence 5 years ago, and she too is still alive and living with the cancer. It continues to progress but her faith in God and desire to live keeps it at bay.

Here goes with my tips. And may God Bless you, your family and your Dad.

1) DO drink as much liquid as you possibly can. Every time I went potty, I MADE myself drink at least 10 ounces of water. I found it easier just to chug it. If I sipped it I never drank enough. Drink whatever tastes good. I found that Ovaltine and milk tasted good. Sometimes I liked V-8 and lots and lots of chocolate milk shakes. Remember three words: hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

2) DO sleep whenever it hits you. I found that the steroids they gave me (Dexamethasone) destroyed my night time sleep. I would often be wide awake at midnight, but during the day I would doze whenever I felt sleepy and that’s how I managed. Several nights I was up all night long. Not fun, but I found stuff to do.

3) DO shave your head when you start to lose your hair. (About three weeks after your first dose.) It’s easier than watching it fall out and get thinner every day.

4) DO get some comfortable hats that you can pull down over the top of your ears, because your head will get cold with no hair.

5) DO get Senocot to help with constipation. I found that after every dose if I took one Senocot pill at night for two days after the treatment, I avoided constipation.

6) DO Get Biotene mouthwash. Use it often to take away the bad taste in your mouth and avoid mouth sores.

7) DO use sunblock whenever you go out. I managed to get overexposed to sun twice during my treatments after only ten minutes in the sun. NOT FUN!! You won’t believe how sun-sensitive your skin becomes. It doesn’t burn or anything but will give you a horrible rash and peel off.

8) DO be careful with all sharp objects. Wear rubber gloves when cooking and cutting. Get Neosporin and use it on every little nick or cut to avoid infection. Watch for hangnails especially. If you suspect an infection, call your doctor IMMEDIATELY.

9) DO take your temperature four times a day — when you get up, before lunch, before supper and add bedtime. If it is ever over 100.4 degrees F., call your doctor. My doctor allowed me to take Tylenol for pain and headaches (which you will probably get). But if you take Tylenol you must take your temperature before you take it because it will suppress any fever.

10) DO be good to yourself. Remember that right now “it’s all about You”. Your family and friends will understand and remember to take advantage of every offer to help. This is not a time to be shy about asking for help. Don’t try to be a hero, just take it easy, read if you can, “veg out” if you can, sleep when you can.

11) DON’T eat at salad bars or buffets. I was very careful when eating out to never eat any fresh salads — only cooked foods. I didn’t eat at buffets because I didn’t want food that had been sitting out.

12) I really ate very little raw fruits or vegetables. Only watermelon and bananas. I was afraid that they might have too high a bacteria count. I ate tons of canned fruit and cooked vegetables.

13) Say your prayers or meditate at night — it will help you quit thinking about cancer and make you feel better. The 23rd Psalm became my mantra.

14) Cry when you feel like it. Take comfort from your friends and family.... now is YOUR time.

15) TAKE a walk every day — even if it is only a few blocks. You will feel better out in nature.

16) Chew gum — it helps with the dry mouth and bad taste in your mouth.

— Virginia Morton
Tallman Family Farms, LLC
Tower City, Pennsylvania

We thank Ginny so much for this useful guide. The Pundit Mom printed it out and refers to it often. We did a drug store trip with it in hand. We also note that Ginny mentions the important of attitude, thus endorsing the point we made in our piece Dr. Sloan Misses The Point: A Fighting Spirit Is Vital In Overcoming Illness.

She also points out the dangers of fresh foods and salad bars to people with compromised immune systems, a caveat to the general rule encouraging fresh produce consumption that the industry, ethically, has an obligation to make clear.

Mostly, though, Ginny’s letter demonstrates what a really wonderful industry this is. When you have cancer, one is reminded of how precious time is, and doubtless Virginia Morton had more fun things to do the day she wrote this note than remember her battle with cancer. That she took the time to write this and send us was a great kindness to the Pundit family and, now, because we are publishing this, it is a kindness to whole world.

Many thanks to Ginny Morton and all our friends at Tallman Family Farms

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