Ronni Gordon is  a cancer survivor and long-time journalist who has written about her journey, about health and fitness, and about how she and others have prevailed in difficult situations. She brings to her writing a mix of personal experience with knowledge about the health-care system and how cancer patients can navigate it. A graduate of Vassar College with a master's degree in journalism from Boston University, she is a freelance writer who worked in daily newspapers for more than 30 years. She has been published in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Dana FarberCancer Institute magazine, and Cancer Today magazine. She lives in Western Massachusetts with her dog, Maddie, short for Madison (Avenue) in honor of her hometown, New York, and is mother of three grown children, Ben, Joe, and Katie

Ronni Gordon

Staying Hydrated in the Heat

Tuesday, 16 Jul 2013 09:42 AM

By Ronni Gordon

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Remembering to stay hydrated is important for everyone in hot weather, but it is especially vital for people undergoing chemotherapy or recovering from it.
 
Side effects of chemotherapy are better managed these days, but it still can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, which can quickly lead to dehydration. It happened to me each time I received chemotherapy. When I dragged my IV pole for exercise along corridors at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, I knew where all the restrooms were.
 
Luckily these symptoms did not cause dehydration because they watch you closely in the hospital. There is a constant supply of popsicles and frequent checks to make sure your fluid intake is sufficient.
 
At home you must take special care and remember that just carrying a bottle of water around isn’t enough; you actually have to drink from it.
 
Dehydration occurs when your body loses more fluids than it takes in, thus upsetting the balance of electrolytes such as potassium and sodium, which affects the way your body functions. Electrolytes help carry electrical signals from cell to cell. If your electrolytes are out of balance, the normal electrical messages can become mixed up.
 
This can cause serious complications such as kidney failure and loss of consciousness and even coma and death in extreme cases. It can also lead to weakness, which I learned about a year and a half after my last bone marrow transplant.
 
After getting strong enough to walk my dog, I was feeling a little under the weather after having had a stomach bug complete with diarrhea and vomiting. But still, I went out.

Shortly after I set out, my legs got wobbly, and all of a sudden I felt like they were cemented into the ground. I was about to sit on a stoop to call my son when I fell backwards and hit my head on the pavement. Some people walking by rushed to help me (with the good dog sitting by my side). I earned an ambulance ride to the hospital, where doctors told me my electrolytes were out of whack and gave me hydration with intravenous fluids. After that, I felt better.
 
Signs of dehydration include lightheadness like I had, as well as dry mouth, fatigue, thirst, decreased urine, dry skin, and low blood pressure.
 
Here are some tips for staying hydrated: 
  • Drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day.
  • Eat raw fruit and vegetables, which are mostly made of water; fruit juices don't count. Watermelon is an especially good choice.
  • Adjust for exercise by adding 4-8 ounces of water for every half- hour of low-intensity exercise and 10-16 ounces for every half-hour of high-intensity exercise.
  • Avoid or limit caffeinated drinks and carbonated drinks, including seltzer. If you are a coffee-drinker, try to switch to decaf in the afternoon. Also, drink extra water each time you have caffeine or a carbonated drink.
  • Limit or avoid sugary food and drinks, which cause dehydration.

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