If chemotherapy — a powerful drug used to kill cancer cells — has been prescribed as part of your treatment, you may wonder what to expect. Chemotherapy destroys cancer cells and prevents tumor growth. But unfortunately, it can also damage healthy cells, which can cause side effects.
You may know someone who’s experienced chemo and had side effects or have seen references to how it affects people. Remember that everyone’s response to chemotherapy is different — some people seem unaffected, while others may find it challenging. And while everyone may react differently, learning about what others have experienced and what helped can be beneficial and reassuring. Continue reading for tips others found helpful.
Organize a Support Network
Gather family and friends who can help out — providing emotional or practical support — during your treatment. Having a network of people who can take care of things, whether driving you to and from your chemo appointments or doing the laundry, will give you peace of mind.
Being fearful and anxious about chemo is not unusual, so don’t hesitate to ask your care team questions. They will do their best to answer all your questions and put you at ease.
Wear Comfortable Clothing
Comfortable, loose-fitting clothing is the best option, especially if you have a port, a small device implanted under your skin, allowing direct access to your veins.
Take Things To Keep You Comfortable and Occupied
Having things you enjoy and keep you busy can help pass the time and take your mind off things during your treatment. For example, bring a book, an e-reader, or magazines if you like to read. Coloring books or crossword puzzles can help pass the time as well. Patients also recommend bringing lip balm and skin moisturizer to combat the dry air sometimes found in treatment centers. Warm fuzzy socks can keep your feet warm especially if you want to take off your shoes during treatment. Some treatment centers will also let you bring lunch ,snacks, or drinks.
Hydrate Before and After
Another recommendation from medical teams and patients is to ensure that you’re adequately hydrated the day before and after a chemo treatment. It’s recommended that you drink water or non-alcoholic and non-caffeinated beverages. Drinking adequate water before treatment prepares your body for dehydration, one of the effects of chemotherapy. Consuming lots of fluids the day after helps flush the chemo out of your system.
Share All Medications You Take With Your Oncologist
Some medications, including over-the-counter supplements, vitamins and herbal medications, can interact with chemotherapy drugs. By making your oncologist aware of what you’re taking, they can make any adjustment to your chemo dosage if necessary.
One of the chemo's most common side effects is fatigue. So, even though you may want to push through, get plenty of rest. This side effect is usually cumulative and takes longer to recover as your treatments go on. It may take time to regain your regular energy levels, so be patient and don’t push yourself too hard, even if you feel good.
Eat When Possible
Another frequent effect of chemo for many is appetite loss and nausea, so eat when you can to keep up your strength. Many patients going through chemo report that food may taste different and may have a metallic aftertaste during and after chemo. Most cancer centers have a nutritionist that can help ensure you get enough nutrition. Ask your treatment team if this may be an option.
Seek Help for Nausea and Vomiting
It’s not uncommon for patients receiving chemo to experience nausea during and after chemotherapy. Obtain a nausea medication prescription, get it filled before you start chemotherapy, and ask your treatment team if you should take it before treatments, so you’re prepared before nausea occurs.
Also, if you feel sick, let the chemotherapy nurses know immediately. There are various nausea-prevention medications, so if yours isn’t working, ask your doctor if you can try a different one. It may take some time to find the one that suits you best.
Some people have found nausea relief from getting fresh air, mints or gum, ginger chews, or popsicles.
Prepare for Hair Loss
Although it doesn’t happen to everyone, most cancer patients who undergo chemo are subject to hair loss. Some people lose hair gradually, while others lose it quickly in large clumps. Hair loss depends on the specific type and dosage of chemo you receive. Your doctor and healthcare team can give you an idea of what to expect before you begin treatment. If you do expect to lose your hair, grabbing hats and beanies are a good idea to keep your head warm.
Try To Stay Positive
Fear of the unknown can send your mind spiraling out of control. We know it’s easier said than done, but seeking out the positives in your life can go a long way to keep your spirits high.
Everyone’s Experience Is Different
Your chemotherapy experience won’t be exactly the same as others. Some people undergoing chemo will go about their daily routine as usual, while others find themselves in bed. But hopefully, the suggestions and workarounds patients and providers have shared will help you handle the effects of chemo better.
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