17 Things to Consider Before Your First Chemo Treatment

by Brittany McNabb

Chemo Preparation

Background: WhatNext.com is an online support network developed in partnership with the American Cancer Society that helps help cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers gain firsthand insight into living with cancer and connect with others facing a similar diagnosis. Members of WhatNext.com are sometimes referred to as "WhatNexters."

Many people with cancer go into their first chemotherapy treatment with no idea of what to expect or how their body will react. Here is a list from WhatNexters of what they would say to a newly diagnosed chemo patient as they head into their first chemo treatment. Note that this information should not be taken as medical advice but may help you mentally and emotionally prepare; everyone reacts to chemotherapy treatment differently. It might be helpful to hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

1. Some see chemotherapy as a big bad monster. While many first-timers say that they were scared, after the first and second session they felt more at ease and realized that chemotherapy is the start of a path to healing.

Big Bad Chemo Monster

via wired.com

"I remember my first day of chemo and I bought a big bag - I took everything expecting the worse. I packed a toothbrush in case I got sick and fresh make up and cream and all my info sheets. A book, my Ipad, on and on. I packed like I was going to a Disaster Zone. But it was just such a surreal experience. I was comfortable just to sit quietly and take it all in. I was quite drugged with all the antiemetics so I couldn't have read anyway. It was scary but I didn't get sick at all and the day went very well. My son went with me and I thought that was quite special. He's all grown up but kind of like a little boy." - Carlalorraine

2. You might see others who look "worse" than you but try not to let this scare you. 

Chemo Room

via globalnews.ca

"The scariest part of chemo for me was not knowing what to expect and then going into the infusion room and seeing many wearing wigs/hats/scarves already, and wondering when and if it would happen to me. Many will have heard "horror" stories about someone's cousin who had chemo and was sick for a year, lost their job, their dog bit the mailman, and you are just plain scared. The truth is much brighter and you should not let this scare you." - mikemid

3. You can rely on your doctors and nurses because they are a wealth of information.

Chemo Nurse

via ons.org

"The nurses have seen most everything so they are a wealth of information. If there is anything that seems to be wrong or more than what you anticipated, call the oncologist immediately. The doctor and the medical staff are there to help you through chemo with as little side effects as possible. Chemo is not like what it was ten years ago. It is not easy but it is much better than it was before, nor is it as dramatic as movies make it out to be." - Heather3

4. If you are worried about pain, ask your doctor if you can numb your port area before arrival. It has helped some WhatNexters with pain.

Chemo Port Picture

via wordpress.com

"I wish i had known about the lidocaine cream that I later started using. I used a good size dot in the middle of my port, covered with saran wrap about an hour before chemo and left it until I got there. That stuff is fantastic. It totally numbs your port for chemo injection. It was the most helpful thing for me." - nunnyperson

5. Be on the alert for nausea.

Anti Nausea Medications

via google.com

"I wish I would have known to ask for antinausea meds in my IV. I didn't get sick immediately, but it was violent when it started. Make sure to stay on prescribed meds to keep nausea at bay. If it isn't working, tell your nurses and oncologist. Take small sips of water, but keep hydrated. I ended up in the ER from dehydration. Small bites of food. I lived on rice pudding and popsicles but that's just me. Make sure they give you bags in case you vomit. But IV antinausea helped me a lot." - catmoy

6. Not ALL the side effects imaginable will hit you and if they do they can be mitigated by other medications.

Woman Getting Chemotherapy

via realsimple.com

"I thought everyone of those side effects were going to hit me like a ton of bricks. I really did not comprehend that it was possible that relatively few side effects would show up. I also did not realize that most of the side effects are controlled by other meds. Even though I learned what to expect with my first chemo in 2012, when a new (stronger) chemo started back in December, I was again scared. I realized that it wasn't a rational fear but it was fear. Now after my 6th dose I'm eager to get the next treatment. I know what to expect and know that the blood transfusion will "fix" the most significant of the side effects. To summarize: 1. Not all side effects happen. 2. There are meds that mitigate the effects that do show up. 3. Our bodies are strong and with a little help can tolerate chemo rather well." - mgm48

7. Listen to your doctors and DO all they are recommending (including taking all your prescription drugs before and after).

Take Your Prescriptions

via google.com

"My advice to the newly diagnosed: listen to the doctors. Every case is different and by all means, do all they recommend doing. Walking, using the mouth rinse, eating for strength, etc. In the long run, all of those things will make your treatment journey much easier." - LisaLathrop

8. Time it takes for the infusion varies from patient to patient. Pack more the first session so you can feel out what you like to do (some just sleep!).

Chemo Book Via Eyespeeledalways.Blogspot

via blogspot.com

With the pre-meds they gave me I mostly just wanted to sleep, which is what I did. But I took along some snacks and a magazine or book. They had TVs with each chair so could watch that also. Usually there is someone to talk to." - banditwalker

9. Your body temperature might fluctuate so dress in comfortable layers.

Chemo Bundled Via Parade.Com

via parade.com

Wear loose, comfortable clothing, maybe layers. I was usually cold, but they had warm blankets that felt really good. My hospital provided snacks, drinks, but it will be a long day so maybe something you would like to eat or drink (fruit, water). You will probably rest during treatment, but the first one was difficult to rest with. As each one progressed, I was able to sleep more. By the 6th chemo, I slept through 10 hours of chemo/blood transfusions and still slept that night." - cam32505

10. You may or may not feel your port being accessed - it varies for everyone.

Chemo Port Numb

via google.com

"For me the portacath was a luxury jewel. I just held my breath for a second and the session began without my noticing it." - Marisol

11. You might have a cold sensation when the drugs go in.

Chemo Injection Nurse

via wordpress.com

"Some people wonder if they can feel the drugs go in. For me it was cold most of the time. Sometimes it burns, if going in too fast. Some drugs will go in and you don't feel much except the cold. But the bags of saline that the chemo drugs are injected into are kept refrigerated, so they are usually cold, that's uncomfortable to me. Also, some drugs I can taste as soon as it hits my blood." - GregP_WN

12. You might get a strange taste in your mouth during or after treatment.

Ways To Battle Metallic Taste From Chemo

via whatnext.com

"Taste changes are big with chemo. You have to find what food you can tolerate; nothing tastes "normal." My first chemo round, I had a hard time eating, and lost a lot of weight. This time around, I gained a lot of weight. Not sure why. I find sweet things to be hard to take (which is amazing, since I had a huge sweet tooth!). I can't even stomach the though of a peanut butter cup - yuch! (didn't used to feel that way!)" - avonlea02

13. It could help to mentally prepare for side effects like fatigue, headache, and stomach pain. You could experience all or none.

Hope For The Best But Prepare For The Worst

via wordsoverpixels.com

"I ate small healthy meals every 2 & 1/2 - 3 hours so my stomach would never be empty. I drank lots of water, some ginger tea, rinsed my mouth several times a day with Biotene and sucked on cough drops. I did have a dull headache for 4 days from the anti-nausea drugs but it was manageable. I had some fatigue on day 3 and 4. Worked from home but had to take a morning and afternoon nap. Aside from feeling tired and having that awful medicine taste in my mouth for a few days it wasn't terrible. Everyone tolerates it differently." - KLC

14. Play things by ear until you find the pattern of how chemotherapy makes you feel.

Play It By Ear With Chemo

via whatnext.com/pinboard

"As for my own chemo experience I have done okay along the way. My first chemo treatment was by far my most problematic; I experienced nausea, vomiting, bone pain, and just could not eat or drink anything for a few days. My oncologist had prescribed meds to help me deal with the side effects before I began my treatment and I took those as needed, but still had issues for about a week following the first treatment. I really believe that I was just so tired from the port and chemo that my body was overwhelmed. Treatments 2-5 have been much smoother. I receive my treatments on Tuesday and Wednesday every three weeks and I am often at my worse on Thursday and Friday so I limit my work on those days and return to a full schedule on Monday following my treatment." - Myrtle

15. If you are feeling anxious about the first time, take someone for moral support.

Bring Cancer Survivor To Chemo

via whatnext.com

"The first time is a long day and you will be anxious. Have someone go with you. Most of the time I do not feel like talking during treatments because the pre-chemo cocktail makes me sleepy especially the more treatments I have. Have them bring something to entertain themselves. After a few treatments, I felt comfortable to drive myself to and from treatments. It gave me time to myself since I would be coming from work and my husband could be home with the kids." - Heather3

16. Don't freak yourself out until you know what side effects will be applicable to you. Then react with all the information.

Dont Freak Yourself Out Chemo

via whatnext.com/pinboard

"First one was the hardest. Had diarrhea, nausea and to top it off my period. Took me by surprise. The anti nausea meds didn't work for me. Didn't eat much the first three days after treatment. The week I was feeling good, I did everything and anything non stop. I ate whatever I felt like eating. Second session killed my mouth. Sores. Doctor prescribed this medication to gargle and swirl in the mouth. Doc lowered the dose a little. The last two sessions of AC I knew what to expect so I planned accordingly. I walked a bit which helped. Drinking a lot of water is a must. Had a metallic taste in my mouth. I had infusion on Thursdays, went to work Friday and recovered during the weekend. By Monday I was coming back, still a bit nauseous but eating a little more. Hair started falling after second session so I shaved my head. I was told that by the fourth I was not going to be able to get up. Not true for me. Everyone is different." - QueenB

17. If you want to learn more about what to expect, inquire about an educational session before your first treatment.

Informational Chemo Session

via blog.dana-farber.org

"My infusion center did an education session prior to my first chemo where a nurse gave me a print out with all the drugs I would be given with any possible side effects I could experience and what could be done to combat those side effects. Do you know if you will have that? Ask for the information if not." - Kindo

"That depends on what kind of chemo drugs you will be receiving. At my infusion center we scheduled an appointment where they gave you a tour of the infusion center and went over the side effects from the meds I was to receive. Found it to be very helpful as I could reference back to these papers. When they changed my chemo meds I even got papers on the new chemo regimen." - Joeyb

If you've been diagnosed with cancer, take a minute to join the WhatNext community and find others near you who have been in your shoes. There’s no better way to get first-hand insights into living with cancer than by connecting with others who are currently doing just that.

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