As a pharmacist, I have a pretty extensive home medicine cabinet (you might have already guessed). So what do I use for myself when plagued with a side effect of chemo or an everyday ailment?
Below are some of my “must have” items for your personal medicine cabinet. (Scroll to the bottom to see a complete list)
(1) Aches and Pains
You’ll experience your fair share of aches and pains when receiving cancer treatment and heck (!) everyone gets a headache. If you have cancer, try acetaminophen (Tylenol) rather than ibuprofen (Advil). People diagnosed with cancer have a greater risk of suffering from a bleed (e.g. bleed in your stomach, etc) which can be very serious. Ibuprofen (or its cousin drug - naproxen) can increase your bleed risk. Acetaminophen on the other hand – does not. Play it safe and stick with plain acetaminophen. Of course, before you take acetaminophen, you need to make sure you don’t have a fever (more on this in a bit).
I do like using creams or ointments for relief to specific areas (e.g. sore back). There are two products I keep on hand at all times: diclofenac gel (Voltaren) and A535. Diclofenac is an anti-inflammatory gel so it will help to reduce inflammation without much absorption to the rest of your body. A535 on the other hand, doesn’t directly improve the injury but it does offer quick relief. It acts as a counterirritant meaning that it causes a sensation on the skin tricking the brain into believing that the injury pain itself is lesser. There are lots of products on the market that work in a similar way but A535 is my personal preference.
When a fever spikes – you need to be prepared. As a cancer pharmacist and cancer survivor, I am all too familiar with fever. When your body’s immune system is suppressed from chemotherapy, you won’t show the typical signs of infection. This is why a fever is such an important indicator – it is the ONLY sign that your body is fighting a potentially deadly bug or virus. If you are feeling unwell, the first thing you need to do is take your temperature so you need a good thermometer.
Now, by ‘good’ thermometer, I don’t mean expensive. I prefer to take a body temperature under the tongue for a couple of reasons. A temperature reading from under the tongue is more accurate compared to the armpit or the forehead. A reading in the ear is also very accurate but the cost of the thermometer will increase. When you state a body temperature, most people will assume it is under the tongue or in the ear. Keep in mind that a reading from the armpit, forehead, or rectum will result in higher or lower reported temperatures.
If you spike a temperature – it is a medical emergency so go straight to the emergency room to be assessed.
Having a good poop can solve a lot of your problems. It is true! Being constipated can make you feel like shit (pun intended). My two favorites for constipation are senokot and lax-a-day. Senokot, a stimulant laxative, is a tablet that will work in about 8 hours. Alternatively, lax-a-day is a tasteless powder that you can mix into any liquid but takes a bit longer to work (around 2-3 days). If you are fighting constipation, start with one of these two agents depending on the urgency of your situation.
Nausea from chemotherapy or cancer is tough to control without getting a prescription. Most people will look for dimenhydrinate (Gravol) when feeling nauseated but unfortunately it doesn’t work very well in nausea from chemotherapy.
Depending on the type of chemotherapy you may require nothing to control nausea or you may require several medications. One of my favorite medications for nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy is ondansetron. It works well in the days following chemotherapy to help control symptoms but if you require several doses, you may find yourself constipated. Steroids (e.g. dexamethasone) are also commonly used to control chemotherapy nausea. If you have ever taken steroids, you know that they can increase your appetite and disrupt your sleep.
There are lots of other drugs available to control nausea but it really depends on the individual type of chemotherapy treatment to comment on what works best.
Chemotherapy can definitely give you heartburn. If you have never experienced the sensation of burning or pain in your chest before, it can be very alarming. Tums are a good option to control heartburn but they don’t last for very long (e.g. 20-30 minutes). Instead, try ranitidine (Zantac). It should control symptoms for approximately 12 hours and have really no side effects worth mentioning.
If you are fighting cancer, you know that the weird and wonderful side effects from chemotherapy can seem endless. Below is an inventory of my personal medicine cabinet to help stock yours.
AmydeePharmD’s Personal Medicine Cabinet For the Cancer Fighter
-Medical Emergency – go to the E.R.
-PEG 3350 (e.g. Lax-a-Day)
-Ranitidine (e.g. Zantac)
-Dry eyes - Lubricating eye drops (e.g. Thera Tears)
-Red eyes - Visine