Navigating Chemotherapy

chemotherapyWhile the planning tips for getting through radiation are also appropriate for getting through chemotherapy, there are more things to prepare for when getting ready to begin chemotherapy.

From a treatment perspective, your biggest concern will be managing the symptoms you experience following each treatment. From a personal care perspective, you will want to be prepared for the possible loss of hair, not only on your head but your eye lashes and eyebrows. You will also want to prepare your family and friends, husband and children for the potential changes in your personal appearance, energy level,  attitude, moods, ability to participate in family activities, go to work, and care for your home and family.

Your medical oncologist and other member of the oncology treatment team are the people to ask about what your treatment schedule will be, what chemotherapy medications you will be receiving and how they will be administered.

Chemotherapy drugs can be administered in  many ways:

  • Intravenously (IV) as a slow drip through a thin needle in a vein in your hand or lower arm.
  • Injection a single shot into a muscle in your arm, leg, or hip, or under skin in the fatty part of your arm, leg, or tummy.
  • By mouth (orally) taking a pill or capsule.
  • Through a port inserted in your chest during a short outpatient surgery.  Your chemotherapy medicines are given through a special needle that fits right into the port. When you complete chemotherapy, the port is removed.
  • Through a catheter in your chest or arm. A catheter is a soft thin tube that is inserted into a large vein during a short, outpatient surgery. The other end of the catheter stays outside your body. When you complete chemo, the catheter is removed.

You need to ask what medicines you will be getting to control nausea. Ask about stool softeners as chemo medications can cause constipation. If, after treatment begins, you are having trouble sleeping, ask for something to help you sleep…you need your rest.

Ask about medications for diarrhea and for pain when taking medications that boost your white blood cells.

Things you will need to purchase over the counter:

  • Nail care items -for your use only and to take with you if you go out for a manicure or pedicure
  • Tooth brush, paste and mouth wash…as your oncology nurse what he or she recommends
  • Antacids
  • Moisturizer

Things to Do Before Treatment:

  • If you are going to lose your hair, consider going to a hairdresser and having it cut short before you lose it.
  • Go shopping for a wig hats and scarfs before you lose your hair. Take a friend with you to help with your selections. Be sure to buy a comfortable cap to wear in bed at night. It can feel cold when you don’t have hair.
  • Speak with the oncology nurse , or see a nutritionist, or speak to a survivor who has gone through chemotherapy to see what foods you should be eating and what foods to avoid while in treatment.
  • Have lots of bottled water on hand to drink through out treatment

During Treatment:

  • Don’t diet…eat what you can, when you can. Eat small meals.
  • Avoid crowds as you need to protect yourself against infection as your immune system has been weakened by the chemotherapy medications
  • Ask friends and family not to visit if they have a cold or are just getting over being sick.
  • Wear comfortable clothes to treatment sessions
  • Bring water,  tissues, a favorite blanket and anything that might make the time go faster for you while being infused …a book, radio, etc.
  • It  is a good idea to have someone accompany you to your sessions, or at least pick you up after every session, in case you are feeling unwell.
  • When you feel up to it, go out, exercise in moderation, visit with friends, treat yourself to something special.
  • Know that some members of your family and friends may have a hard time with what you are going through but others will surprise you with their support and thoughtfulness.

Know that chemotherapy will eventually be over and your symptoms will go away. Your hair will grow back soft to the touch and possibly curly. You will feel strong enough to return to work and the activities you enjoyed before breast cancer and chemo.

 

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