Support with chemo

Going through chemo can be a tough call, and it’s hard to predict how it will affect you, even if you have experienced it before. When I’m working with patients on chemo, it’s usually necessary to change the herbal prescription quite often, to follow the ups and downs of the process. One patient, for example, was adamant that his digestion was holding up fine, even after he lost his hair. And then, suddenly, it wasn’t; the nausea, loss of appetite and sense of taste, and all the other ills he hadn’t quite believed in, all came calling at once. Even then, predictably enough, he had to be persuaded to try some herbs by his wife.
Basically, what chemo does is to kill off fast-growing cells wherever they occur in the body. It’s a blunt instrument, but the best we can do at this stage: it slows down or shrinks the growth of tumours, but it also affects all the other processes that depend on fast turnover. We notice it most in our skin, nails and hair, but our digestive tracts are just as vulnerable. The gut is continually shedding and replacing its lining, and if it’s prevented from doing that, it won’t be able to do its job properly.
Herbs can’t prevent this from happening. There are herbs that stimulate cell regrowth – Comfrey is the best-known example – but you certainly wouldn’t want to use that when you’re trying to deal with cancer. What you can do is to support the digestive tract to do the best it can. Bitter herbs will stimulate digestive juices; aromatics will help to improve appetite and alleviate nausea; and emollient herbs like Marshmallow and Slippery Elm will soothe and help to heal the sensitive stomach lining. Slippery Elm has some nutritive value, too – it’s a useful herb in any chronic illness. And of course, herbs can support you through the anxiety, fear and stress that are bound to be part of the whole experience.