Monday, May 9, 2011

What I Wish I Knew Before My First Chemo

As a volunteer with Cancer Hope Network I have spoken to many women diagnosed with cancer. Many conversations are about their chemotherapy treatments. When a friend called to say she was starting chemo this week I flashed back to how scary it was the night before and day of my very first chemo. It also got me thinking to what I wish I knew before I started chemotherapy.

  • I wish I had a chance to visit the treatment area before that first infusion.( My surgery, port surgery and chemo were all within 10 days.) Ask for a tour. Ask if you will be in a clinic area or in a private room for your first infusion. Where are the nursing stations? How is the temperature in the room?Is lunch provided if you are there at lunch time?Is there wireless internet service?
  • Wear clothing that is comfortable and easily accessible for the treatment. V-Neck shirts if you have a chest port-a-cath. Short sleeve shirts or shirts where the sleeve rolls up easily and won't cut off the circulation in your arm. ( I loved to wear yoga or sweat pants).
  • Ask how long your infusion normally takes. My infusions were very long ( 5+ hours) so I used to pack a tote filled with things to keep me busy. You can only watch so much daytime TV. I found magazines better than books since I had a hard time concentrating. I also brought my I-pod to listen to music ( It also helps drown out the noises and buzzing machines.) Bring a cell phone to stay in touch with family- just remember not to talk too loudly so you don't disturb the other patients. Find out if your center provides DVR's or I-pads or if you can bring your own computer.
  • My center provided pillows and blankets but I had a favorite fleece blanket I brought each time. Just a bit of home to make me feel more comfortable in the recliner.
  • If you are nervous about a particular side-effect such as nausea ask your oncologist to prescribe something to take before you leave for your treatment. If you are really nervous and think you won't sleep the night before ask for a sleep aid or something to calm you down.
  • If you don't have a port be sure to drink plenty of fluids the day before your infusion. Those fluids will help plump those veins and make it easier to find a vein. You'll want to drink plenty of fluids after your chemotherapy infusion too.
  • In my case I received a sheet which listed each IV drug I was given at each appointment but if you are not going to be given this information make note of each drug the nurse gives you at your first treatment. Don't be afraid to ask what is in each of the IV bags and why you are taking it. Write it down. The nurse should ask you to check the name and date of birth on each IV bag to make sure it is for you.
  • You most likely will be given some drugs to take at home after the infusion. Make up a chart with what drugs to take , dosage and when to take. If one is available ask to speak to a pharmacist. Make sure to tell them other drugs - prescription, over-the-counter and vitamins you are taking so that you won't have any drug interactions. Be sure to take the drugs on schedule.
  • When you get home be sure to eat small meals frequently and plenty of fluids. If you are experiencing any side-effects like dizziness , nausea , diarrhea or constipation call you doctor and let them know.
  • Find some comedy shows to watch, humor does make you feel better and less stressed.

Every Day is a Blessing!


l'optimiste said...

gosh that post certainly brings it all back...I'd like to add a few bits?

If you are having chemo intravenously [via a cannula], you'll have to haul your chemo about with you on a pole - for running to the ladies [as you should be drinking as much water as possible] - wear a loose skirt or something easy to whip off with one hand! The cannula gets caught up in everything otherwise.

Beware the Piriton if you have it -it can cause 'tickling' in your nether regions apparently; I was rather expecting some amusement there, but nope! I didn't have that effect ;)

Paclitaxel is exhausting, and it made my arm really hurt, near the cannula, and further up the arm. Not screaming pain, but painful enough. The nurse put a heated blanket around it and that knocked it right back to bearable like a small headache, with occasional sharp stabs of pain [it obviously is an attention seeking drug this one]. She said it’s because it’s so cold it bothers the veins. My veins were NOT amused. I could read my book and ignore it [during an awake bit! I was constantly falling asleep]. But the heat really helped.

I broke out in a rash all over my abdomen - this is apparently normal for Taxol. It goes away! But is rather startling until you know it's a norm.

Good post babe :)

Servivorgirl said...

This is great. I was a nervous wreck before my first chemo and my California oncologist, although probably a good doctor, just didn't really provide much support as far as how to prepare. This is very helpful.

Holly Kay Sparkman said...

My mom has been on some type of chemo drug for the last two years, and when she first started I can remember telling her BEFORE she started chemo to SLOW DOWN and let people help her... from anything to yard work to cooking. She found out very fast that she needed to do exactly that - let people do things for her. Chemo is an energy-zapper and she didn't think it was true. Great post!

Dee said...

Thanks everyone for the comments. You mentioned some excellent additions to my list.

Sandhy we take benadryl for allergies not sure if we have an equivalent here in the US for Piriton.

I'm working on some things I wish people told me about being in treatment.

Jane said...

Oh, thanks so much for the info. I am scheduled to get a port on Thursday, 7/7, and have my first infusion on 7/8. The unknown makes it so scary. Your sharing is so helpful.

Dee said...

Jane , I'm glad I could share some helpful advice. When you get your port in be sure to ask for Embla cream which will numb the area when you get your port accessed. I am so happy to have had a port during chemo.