Understanding Your Body During Cancer Treatment

You are committed to addressing the factors contributing. You determined to face this challenge head-on. So now, the question is, what can you expect when you undergo one of the various types of cancer treatments? To answer that question, you need more than a list of cancer treatments. 

This brief guide will explain how the body typically responds to the three most common forms of treatment and how you may feel, during and after. We will consider:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation Therapy, and
  • Chemotherapy

Although we encourage patients to opt for a natural holistic approach to cancer treatment, we respect the decisions of all our patients and friends. We desire to help as many people as possible, and we want to provide as much guidance as we can so you know what to expect on your cancer healing journey. 


If you are about to undergo surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy, we encourage you to read on and also to consider some of our other articles related to these topics:

While this guide will give you a general idea of what you may expect and experience, in no way is it intended to be medical advice. For the requirements and expectations appropriate for your particular situation, be sure to consult with your doctor.

How You Will Feel Before and After Cancer Surgery

Surgery is often a primary treatment, meaning, the goal is to remove cancer from your body altogether. Sometimes most of the cancer is removed, and other treatments such as radiation therapy or chemotherapy are used to treat the remainder.

How you will prep for surgery and how you will feel after surgery will depend upon the type of cancer you have, where it is, and how much it has spread. It is important to ask your doctor if you do not understand the instructions regarding prep and recovery. Recovery will also depend upon how fit you are and your overall health.

Preparing Your Body During the Preoperative Phase

During the preoperative phase, you will give your doctor informed consent to do the procedure, and your doctor will ask you about your alcohol and tobacco use, what medications you are on, and your history of being anesthetized.

You will likely be asked to refrain from consuming alcohol and smoking before surgery. You may also have to cease taking certain medications or reduce your dosage. This will undoubtedly affect the way you feel, depending upon the frequency of your usual alcohol and tobacco use and what sort of medication you take. For those following the Budwig Protocol, we urge them to stop eating the Budwig muesli about ten days before surgery as this recipe naturally thins the blood. Usually, this is good as most cancer patients are at risk for thrombosis; however, before surgery, this would pose a risk.

Other things that must be stopped just before surgery include blood-thinning medications, diabetes medications, as well as pain, anxiety, and depression medications. This is because your blood pressure, heart rate, and pain control are affected by the use of these medications and will be out of the anesthetist’s control. Be sure also to disclose any herbal remedies you take because they can have a similar effect and, if so, must be stopped before surgery.

How to Treat Your Post-Op Body

As with general surgeries, there are also several types of possible cancer surgeries. So, depending on the type of surgery and the location of the cancer, you may be given a local anesthetic, a topical anesthetic, a regional anesthetic, a twilight anesthetic, or a general anesthetic.

Your health care team will encourage you to drink a little after surgery, even if you don’t feel like it. Why? Because your digestive tract is one of the last body parts to recover from anesthesia. So, they will want to see signs of activity, such as bowel sounds or gas, before you will be able to try eating solid foods.

Immediately following the procedure, you will be put in the recovery room. Your throat may feel dry, scratchy, or sore if you’ve had an endotracheal tube placed during surgery. There may also be a Foley catheter inserted to drain urine from your bladder, and that is typically removed very soon after the procedure to avoid the chance of infection.

A drain, which is a tube inserted in the surgical site, may have been installed depending upon your particular procedure. If this is your case, your doctor will remove it as soon as it ceases collecting fluid. 

Generally, you are released from the hospital depending on the time it takes for you to be able to use the bathroom yourself, whether you can eat and drink, the success of the surgery, and whether any complications arose during surgery. In the case of major surgery requiring rehabilitation and especially if you cannot care for yourself in the days or weeks immediately following surgery, you may spend some time in a rehab facility prior to going home. Those living in a 55+ community in New Jersey may have such a facility on-site.

How to Treat Your Body When You Are Discharged and Are Allowed To Go Home.

If you are discharged and can go home, you will be given discharge instructions regarding wound care, any limits on physical activity, what medication you will take, and how and when to take it. Also, you will be informed when you will next see your doctor for a follow-up visit, what to look for if problems with the procedure arise, and whom to call if any issues arise.

It is imperative that you heed your doctor’s limits on physical activity because ignoring them could cause serious complications. Your body needs time to recover, and rest is the best way for that to happen. Even if you are resting, you will still likely be sore at the surgery site and feel more tired and irritable than usual – this is normal. If you are feeling depressed or sad, that is normal too. Talk with your health care team about this.

The time it takes to recover will depend upon your overall health, your age, and the severity of the procedure. 

Generally, if you experience any of the following symptoms after your surgery, there may be something wrong. Be sure to get in touch with your doctor right away if you are:

  • Running a fever;
  • Shaking from intense chills;
  • Bleeding from the surgical site;
  • Have unexplained bruises, pain anywhere else, or are bleeding anywhere else;
  • Experiencing pain at your surgical site despite pain meds, or the pain is getting worse over time;
  • Have headaches;
  • Have trouble breathing or feel short of breath;
  • Can’t urinate or experience pain when urinating;
  • Urinating but the urine is cloudy, smells unusual, or is bloody;

How You Will Feel During and After Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses intense X-ray beams, or beams of protons or other types of energy, to target and kill cancer cells. You’ve been prescribed radiation therapy as a precursor to surgery, as a stand-alone treatment for cancer, or following surgery, if the operation did not remove all of the cancer.

You will likely go to a hospital for radiation therapy, and it will be overseen by a radiation oncologist and oncology nurse, along with a radiation therapist or technician to operate the machinery.

You May Have One of Two Types of Radiation Therapy

When radiation is applied from an external machine, this is called external-beam radiation therapy. A session lasts about 15 minutes and is painless. The schedule of treatment will vary depending upon the situation. However, it is common for people to have daily sessions with weekends off for three to nine weeks.

Brachytherapy is the permanent or temporary placement of a radioactive source inside the body to treat cancer. You may need anesthesia during the procedure that places the source in your body, and there will be multiple treatments that might require a short hospital stay each time.

This may be slightly uncomfortable, or you may feel weak or nauseous from the anesthesia. Otherwise, there are few reports of problems or pain from those having internal radiation therapy.

How You Might Feel During Radiation Therapy

During radiation therapy, it is normal to feel fatigued, to experience sensitive skin around the site of radiation exposure, and to feel distressed. These reactions may occur a few weeks after beginning treatment and last several weeks after treatment ends. To combat these, rest, eat healthy, use skin lotion recommended by your care team, and avoid sun exposure.

Site-Specific Side Effects of Radiation Therapy

  • Head or neck: mouth or gum sores, dry mouth, difficulty swallowing, jaw stiffness, nausea, loss of hair, tooth decay, swelling
  • Chest: shortness of breath; radiation pneumonitis, radiation fibrosis; shoulder stiffness
  • Abdomen: diarrhea or vomiting.
  • Pelvis: diarrhea; bleeding from rectum; lack of bladder control

Gender-specific Side Effects of Radiation Therapy

For women, there may be changes to the menstrual cycle or stop menstruating altogether. Women may also experience vaginal dryness or itching or burning. When both ovaries are treated with radiation, infertility may result.

Men can experience erectile dysfunction. Where the testicles or prostate received radiation therapy, it may cause lower sperm counts or reduced sperm activity causing infertility.

How You Might Feel After Radiation Therapy

It is typical to feel tired after your course of radiation therapy has ended. Any other side effects you felt while in treatment will also likely take a few weeks to subside.

Some develop skin problems such as itching, dryness, blistering, or peeling at the treatment site. Be sure to tell your care team if these do not subside after a few weeks, or do not appear to improve at all.

There is a small risk of developing a second cancer following radiation therapy. Be sure to discuss the potential of this with your team.

Also, watch out for the appearance of what is called radiation recall. It will appear as sunburn or rash at the treatment site. It can appear months or even years following the cessation of radiation therapy. Let your doctor know right away if you experience radiation recall because it can be treated with a corticosteroid.

How You Will Feel During and After Chemotherapy Treatment

Chemotherapy is the use of a cocktail of drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may precede or follow surgery or can be a stand-alone (i.e., “primary”) form of cancer treatment. Just as with surgery, you need to disclose all medications and herbal remedies to your doctor, because there can be interactions with these and chemotherapy.

While your doctor will try to minimize the dose to reduce the side effects yet maximize treatment, the following side effects of chemotherapy are common:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of body hair
  • Easily bruising
  • Higher risk for infection
  • Anemia (low red blood cell counts)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Mouth or throat sores
  • Pain with swallowing
  • Numbness, tingling, or pain
  • Dry skin or skin color change
  • Bladder, urinary tract, or kidney problems
  • Loss of concentration and focus
  • Moodiness
  • Reduced libido
  • Reduced sexual function
  • Infertility

Some side effects may be permanent. Be sure to discuss all possible side effects and medications to alleviate those side effects with your doctor before beginning chemotherapy.

At Budwig Center, we have natural remedies to take orally as well as natural, organic creams for topical application, to help recover from these side-effects. Please contact us if you are interested in any of these: [email protected].  

Have you been through any of the treatments discussed in this article? If so, We invite you to head to our Instagram page and share your experiences. We have a great online community of followers. who regularly share the experiences they’ve been through.

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