You’ve just been diagnosed with cancer and chemotherapy is part of your treatment. Getting this news is scary. The thought of chemotherapy is frightening too.
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Yet the more you know about chemotherapy the less intimidating it will become for you, says cancer care nurse Josette Snyder, BSN, MSN, AOCN. There are many resources to help you through the process and understand what’s happening.
If you or someone you know is about to go through chemotherapy for the first time, here are some tips our patients find helpful.
- Establish a support network. One of the first things we tell patients: Set up a network among family and friends who are able to help out and give you emotional support during your treatment. “Whether it’s someone to sit with you during chemo or do small chores around your house, you’ll have peace of mind with someone you trust taking care of things,” Snyder says. You’ll also need a designated driver to take you home after treatment — some medications will make you drowsy or you may not feel well enough to drive.
- Check with the oncologist about your medications. Make sure your oncologist is aware of all the medications you’re taking, including vitamins and supplements. Your doctor may have to adjust your dosage in case it interacts with the chemotherapy drug you’ll be taking.
- Hydrate the day before (and the day after). Drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water, and any non-alcoholic non-caffeinated beverages that you like. On the day before, it prepares your body for the dehydrating effects of treatment. On the day after, it helps to flush the chemo meds out of your system.
- Pack items that will keep you comfortable and busy. Many treatment centers will allow you to bring your lunch and light snacks. You can bring books or an e-reader, electronic devices, needlework — whatever you like to do. “We also suggest you bring lip balm and skin moisturizer, because air in treatment centers can get very dry,” she says.
- Wear comfortable clothes. Wear layers and loose-fitting clothes that are easy to work with if you need to go to the bathroom. If your treatment requires that you use a port, a small device implanted under your skin that allows more direct access to your veins, wear clothing that permits easy access to it.
- Ask questions. It’s completely normal to be anxious about what you’re going through, Snyder says. The staff will do their best to ease your worries, so don’t hesitate to ask questions. If you have concerns about your chemo drip, how much you can move around during treatment or about bathroom breaks, nurses and staff will help.
- Get help for nausea and vomiting. “We like to say how you feel going in to sit in the chair is how you should feel leaving the chair,” she says. “If you’re feeling sick let the chemotherapy nurses know right away. There are many nausea-prevention medications, too, which your oncologist will prescribe for you based on the chemotherapy medications you’ll be taking.”
- Avoid risk of an infection. Your body has enough to handle without dealing with an infection from an outside source. Your immune system is decreased during chemo. So it’s best to avoid crowds. Keep your hands clean with sanitizer. Don’t touch surfaces and keep your hands from your face.
- Eat well and maintain your body weight. Going through chemotherapy isn’t the time to go on a diet! Your goal should be not to either lose or gain 10% of your body weight, Snyder says. A dietitian can help you eat well and stay as strong as you can, or guide you if you have special dietary needs. Also: don’t eat your favorite foods on the day of your treatment — your mind will tend to associate everything that day with the chemotherapy.
- Keep your body on a schedule. To help cope with the fatigue common with cancer treatment, keep your sleeping patterns consistent: Get up and go to bed around the same time, even on the weekends. Exercise can help too, she adds, even if it’s just 30 minutes of walking divided into 10-minute segments.
Remember there are many avenues of support for you during this time. Never hesitate to ask for help. It’s there for you!