Have you taken a peek at your pee lately? If it’s a pale golden color, then you’re golden. But if it’s a dark mustard color, or even orange, brownish, or reddish, then you’re in dehydration territory.
Staying hydrated helps our cells to function properly. Your body needs water to control heart rate and blood pressure, regulate body temperature, lubricate joins, remove waste, and protect organs. Even early-stage dehydration can cause headaches, fatigue, and general grumpiness—something we could all do without, thank you very much.
Of course, when you’re fighting cancer, you want to give your body every advantage possible, so staying hydrated is essential. But the side effects of cancer treatment—like vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and bleeding—can suck you dry—both emotionally and in the hydration department. But you can take steps to stay hydrated even when it’s tough. Here are 6 strategies for staying hydrated during cancer treatment:
1. Sip your way to victory
Chugging large amounts of water might seem like a good way to make up for lost time, but it’s less ideal if you’re dealing with nausea or diarrhea. Small sips help you stay evenly hydrated and avoid stomach problems. Try keeping a water bottle on hand at all times. A bottle with encouraging words can be extra motivating (like this inspiring pink ribbon bottle). A water bottle, or even pretty drinking glasses, can help you stay motivated and keep track of how much you’re sipping.
2. Stay cool
Sucking on ice chips isn’t the quickest way to stay hydrated, but it has the added bonus of providing some welcome relief for dry mouth or a sore throat. And ice will help hydrate you over time if you can’t handle traditional beverages. If you’re having trouble with lack of appetite, trying freezing juice so that you can enjoy a cool treat with some added nutrition.
3. Eat your water
If you’re having a really tough time staying hydrated, or have trouble remembering to drink, it’s a smart idea to make your food do double-duty by choosing water-rich snacks. Foods like watermelon, yogurt, and even popsicles have a high water content and provide some nutrients while you hydrate.
Most people should get about a half-gallon of water a day, and food can help make up the difference if you can’t drink that much. Check out this list of delicious water-rich foods, or use your own common sense: it’s pretty obvious that foods like soup and citrus are made of mostly water.
4. Don’t make things worse
You can only take in so much liquid in a day. If you’re prone to dehydration, it’s important to take steps not to lose the water your body already has. Avoid hot environments that make you sweat, and if you exercise, do so at a low intensity or in a cooler environment to minimize sweat. Be sure to up your water intake when you do sweat.
It’s true that non-caffeinated beverages are best for hydrating, but take heart, caffeinated drinks do count toward your daily water intake. Caffeine will encourage urination though, so it’s best enjoyed in moderation. But if a tall iced tea is just what the doctor ordered (so to speak), enjoy it!
5. Know the signs of dehydration
It’s not enough to rely on thirst to tell us when we need water. We may already be dehydrated by the time our body gets around to telling us to drink, and our ability to feel thirsty declines as we age (which is not at all fair). Checking to make sure your urine is pale yellow or clear is an easy test, and if you’re haven’t used the restroom in a while, well, that’s a good sign you need to drink up.
Medication may affect urine color, so you can also watch out for these signs of dehydration:
- Dry mouth and lips
- Dry skin/skin that “tents up” when pinched
- Constipation (if constipation is treatment-related, dehydration can make it worse)
Severe dehydration calls for a trip to the doctor, especially if you’re going through cancer. Watch out for these symptoms:
- Extreme thirst
- Rapid heartbeat
- No urination for 8 hours or more
- Sunken eyes
- Inability to sweat
6. Don’t forget to ask
Every person is different, and if you’ve dealt with cancer, then you know that every cancer case is different. Be sure to talk with your doctor about the specific challenges you’ll face in staying hydrated. Keeping track of how much water you’re taking in, and how many times a day you’re vomiting or having diarrhea, can help your doctor decide if you’re at risk for dehydration.
Please be patient with yourself—staying hydrated during treatment is tough, so take small steps and celebrate victories. Every little sip helps!
Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.