The ‘ATEs’: What Helps Me Get Through Treatment Days

Alex Niles
Alex Niles

By Alex Niles

Alex Niles was diagnosed with Stage IV gastric cancer in fall 2013, at age 30. He holds an undergraduate degree from Drexel University, where he was a Division 1 scholarship athlete, and a graduate degree from Fordham University. He writes about his cancer experience on his blog, Smiles for Niles and his work has been featured in the NY Times and Huffington Post. He lives and thrives in New York City.

As I get closer to treatment day, I’m filled with a mixed bag of emotions; I’m excited to go into battle and beat this illness down, but I’m apprehensive knowing the treatment side effects. It leaves me riding a roller coaster of feelings, going up and down, not knowing how long the ride will last.

Given my background in sports, I approach treatment days like game days. It’s how my mind and body are wired. I know that this day of competition is going to leave me sore and push my body to the limits, but I remind myself that every day of contest is one step closer to the finish line.

Here are three ways I approach treatment days — The “ATEs:”

  • Hydrate – Making sure I hydrate on the days leading up to treatment, and keeping a cup or bottle of water at arm’s reach during treatment helped me stay on track physically. Not only did it help flush poison out of my body, the frequent trips to the restroom kept me from sitting for too long. If someone is with you while getting treatment, give him/her the task to remind you to drink every 15 minutes. If no one is there in the room with you, set a reminder on your phone or watch.
  • Meditate – I never thought I would be one who meditates, but it has helped tremendously. Yoga has also helped a lot, and I would use those techniques during treatment days. During infusions, I would make an effort to survey my body, see where any tension was, and alleviate that tension through deep breathing. I would also visualize waves crashing as I took deep, restful breaths; with every inhalation, a warm wave of water was washing over my body, cleansing me.
  • Ate food – Every treatment plan is different, and my treatment days were long – very, very long. Knowing that the medicine would eventually knock me out and put me in a daze for hours at a time, I made sure I ate. I found that lighter meals helped keep me nourished before I would pass out from exhaustion. Juices, smoothies, and soups did the trick too, and didn’t make me feel like I was stuffing myself. I wrote a bit more about my experience with food here, but ultimately you have to make the decision about what you want and how it makes you feel.
Alex on a game day
Alex on a game day

I also recommend making your treatment rooms a healing environment. If someone comes in with the wrong energy, they don’t belong there. If a light is too bright and bothering you, turn it off. If something smells funky, be sure to bring something like lavender and put it all over the room (I would spray myself and the room before starting treatment every time). Remember: YOU know what is best for YOU.

What I mentioned above helped me feel prepared for some challenging times, but no matter what, staying as calm as possible is what helped me get through those difficult days. It’s a lot easier said than done, but I know you have it within you to do it – we’ve got this!

Tune in to Dana-Farber’s “Young Adults Coping with Cancer” Google+ Hangout on July 30 to hear more from Alex and other young adults with cancer. 

For more from Alex, follow him on Twitter @alxniles