Help… I Can’t Swallow My Chemo Pills

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With many types of chemotherapy (chemo) drugs available these days, doctors can recommend one form over another based on their patients condition, tolerance and preferences. Chemo taken orally works just as well as other forms of chemotherapy and may be the right choice for patients experiencing adverse side effects to drugs administered via IV.

For those taking chemo orally there are plenty online resources such as the Dana Farber Cancer Institute page that provides tips and guidelines for a safe practice. Few resources however provide practical solutions to some of the challenges that arise from the need to swallow chemo pills.

For you and me the act of swallowing may be a simple one but over the years I have seen a good share of patients struggling, afraid of swallowing their pills. Some can easily swallow food but not pills; others will gag just thinking about how the pills taste or smell or even how it feels in their mouth. For these patients, hypnotherapy may offer the relief they seek, providing a practical and effective solution to overcoming this fear.

Hypnotherapy Helps Cancer Patients Swallow Chemo Pills

The clinical term related specifically to the fear of swallowing is Phagophobia. It relates to swallowing complaints when no apparent physical limitation is observed. A more general term for difficulty with swallowing is Dysphagia which addresses wider range of causes including fear, pain, or some other cognitive, anatomical or physiological problem.

The advantage of hypnosis over other psychological interventions is our ability to engage the fear subconsciously. This allows us to avoid inflating the fear or causing further hardship. The point of hypnosis of course is not to “make” or force anyone to act against their will but to help them resolve and dissolve the very thought process that feeds the fear. Addressing the cause will change its effect. If one’s fearful thought process, belief system or perception associated with swallowing has altered from difficult, painful or dangerous to comfortable, beneficial and safe his or her behavior will change accordingly.

If you struggle with swallowing your medication be sure to discuss the option of hypnosis with your medical team. Never alter the course of your treatment without talking to your doctor first. Hypnosis is a safe, effective and noninvasive intervention but it should be integrated into your medical care.

The Power of Imagery

Assuming there is no physiological basis for your difficulties swallowing and that you want to keep improving your skill of swallowing on your own, here is a good place to start.

Guided Meditation for Fear

The power of the mind to influence the body is quite remarkable because Imagery is the most fundamental language we have. Our mind processes everything we do through images and we can harness this ability to promote desired outcomes such as an easier time swallowing.

Visualize success. In your mind’s eye see yourself calmly and easily swallowing the pill. Break the process into tiny bits of action and see yourself successful at each of them. Take it very slowly, and make sure you feel comfortable at any given moment. If tension arises for any reason, go back and start from the beginning. Repeatedly visualizing success can have a very real beneficial impact.

Reprinted with permission of Avinoam Lerner.

 

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