While it can be a life-saving treatment option for patients diagnosed with cancer, the prospect of facing chemotherapy treatments for the first time is terrifying and riddled with uncertainties.
Below are things to keep in mind and ways to prepare for before, during, and after your chemotherapy session.
Preparing for Chemotherapy Treatment
How you’re able to prepare for your chemotherapy treatment will depend on which chemotherapy drugs you are given and how they are administered. Your doctor will provide you with specific instructions on how to best prepare, but these are some general things to keep in mind to help you prepare.
Get Blood and Prep Work — To make sure your body is ready to handle chemotherapy, you’ll likely go through a series of blood tests to check kidney, liver, and heart function. Based on the test results, things like treatment time, drug type or dosage may be adjusted.
You may also have a catheter or port device surgically inserted, depending on how your treatment will be administered.
Make a Dentist Appointment — Your doctor may direct you to see your dentist in order to rule out any existing infections, given that chemotherapy can lower your body’s ability to fight infection.
Plan for Your Side Effects — The side effects you experience will depend, again, on the type of chemotherapy drugs you are given. Some people experience infertility, while others experience hair loss. Talk to your doctor so you know ahead of time what side effects you should expect so you’re able to plan ahead.
Find a Friend — Bring someone to lean on for support, and who can drive you to and from your first treatment. Because you don’t know exactly how your body will respond, it’s best to have someone go with you.
Rest and Eat Light — It will probably be best if you eat a light meal beforehand, in case your treatment makes you nauseous. Also, make sure you get a good night’s sleep and rest leading up to your treatment.
During Chemotherapy Treatment
What you experience during chemotherapy will, again, depend on the chemotherapy drugs you receive. This is determined by a number of factors, including type of cancer, stage, overall health, any previous cancer treatments, and your personal preferences.
Method — Chemotherapy drugs are administered in many ways, including with infusions (which are most common), pills, shots, and topical creams. Chemotherapy drugs can also be given directly to one area of the body (abdomen, chest cavity, central nervous system, or bladder) or directly to the cancer tumor.
Frequency — How often you have chemotherapy treatment will be decided by your doctor based on a number of factors. Treatment may be continuous, or alternate with rest periods. Length of time of a treatment session also varies from anywhere between 5 minutes to 8 hours.
After Chemotherapy Treatment
Depending on how your body responds, you may have a normal amount of energy, or feel tired and need rest. Throughout your journey, it’s important to take steps towards thinking positively — the thoughts you have can really make a difference.
You’ll also have follow-up appointments with your oncologist where you’ll discuss any side effects you may be experiencing and ways to manage them. Further, you’ll likely have scans and tests to monitor how the cancer is responding to the chemotherapy.
You may also find it helpful to keep a journal, where you can keep track of any questions that come to mind and record any symptoms or side effects you experience.
Most importantly, make sure you keep open communication with your doctor throughout your treatment. Ask questions and be sure to follow their instructions regarding self-care, diet, and rest.