Getting Ready For Chemo - What You Need To Know

by Jane Ashley

Ask most cancer patients what they were most afraid of, and they will say, “Chemo.”

Chemo Nurses

So how do we prepare ourselves for our chemotherapy?

Step #1 -Accept That Chemotherapy is an Essential Part of Treatment

Acceptance is the first step in overcoming fear and distress. Don’t believe all of the horror stories that you’ve heard, like the one that says, “Cancer doesn’t kill — it’s the chemo.”

Chemotherapy is one of the three most common treatments for cancer , along with radiation and surgery. Newer chemotherapy and related medical treatments (targeted therapies and immunotherapy) usually have fewer or less severe side effects than those from years past. Your oncologist will also be proactive to help lessen your side effects — patients always receive anti-nausea medications before the chemotherapy is infused.

Others before you have effectively coped with the chemotherapy that you’ll have, and you can do. Developing a positive mindset going into treatment is a powerful weapon against fear.

Step #2 – Practical planning

Developing a practical plan and the logistics will simplify your life while doing chemotherapy. Let’s look at some basic planning that every patient and their caregiver should do.

• Transportation. Don’t plan on driving yourself to your first chemo. Each patient reacts differently. If you had an adverse reaction, you probably wouldn’t be able to drive yourself home. If you have a long infusion time (some patients have a 5-6 hour infusion because they receive more than one chemo drug), you’ll probably always want to have someone drive you home because you’ll be exhausted.
• Clothing. Wear something warm and comfortable. Even in the summer, you may get cold. You’ll be sitting in a chemo chair for your infusion — these are larger chairs and usually recline. But sitting all of that time means “dress for comfort.” Make sure that the nurses have easy access to your port or PICC line. Don’t wear perfume or aftershave as the patient near you may be sensitive to the smell. Wear sturdy but comfortable shoes with non-slip soles.
• Lunch/snack. Some chemo centers provide snacks, coffee, and sodas. Bring your favorite snack or sandwich for lunch. If your chemo room is open for multiple patients, avoid bringing strong-smelling foods. Good food choices are whole-grain crackers, fruit, granola bars, or a simple ham and Swiss cheese sandwich.
• Entertainment. Bring some sort of entertainment to keep occupied. Books or a Kindle help pass the time. Your iPad or other electronic device offers many entertainment options. Others enjoy puzzle books or an adult coloring book. Many pass the time on their phone with Solitaire or other electronic games.
• Going home afterward. Most people are tired at the end of a chemo session, whether it’s the patient or their caregiver. Plan your evening meal the day before. Cook something that easy to heat up — or stop by the grocery and get a deli-cooked chicken.

I Am Not Afraid Of Storms

Step #3 – Preparing for side effects

Many chemo centers offer a chemo orientation class so that new patients can learn a little bit more about what to expect. But the different chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy drugs produce different side effects. Patients need to be prepared for the side effects of their particular drug.

Some oncologists print out information about the patient’s drugs that contains information on how they work, what side effects to expect, and how to cope with the side effects. If you aren’t provided this information, there are two trusted websites where patients can learn more about their upcoming chemotherapy.

Patients can research their medication and learn more about how it works and the potential side effects.

Patients receive “pre-meds” before the infusion to counteract adverse reactions and to help prevent nausea/vomiting. You might also have to give a urine sample to check your kidney function — certain drugs are more likely to impact a patient’s renal function.

Patients’ blood counts are checked before every chemotherapy session. If a blood count is below a set threshold, your chemotherapy will probably be postponed until your blood counts recover.

Never hesitate to call the “on-call” team at night or on weekends if you experience worsening side effects or new symptoms. That’s what this team does — helps patients decide how to handle a new scary side effect or worsening nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or pain.

Step #4 – Preparing for the financial aspects of your care

Your cancer treatment center has an insurance benefits coordinator with whom you can meet or talk by phone. Most of us don’t have any idea what our co-pay responsibilities will be when we begin treatment. It’s better to learn what our co-pays will be — if the amount seems insurmountable, ask about financial aid. Many cancer treatment centers have foundations that help patients with their co-pays. Centers may have social workers who help patients with transportation needs and financial aid. Some of the insurance coordinators help patients obtain their medications at no cost from the drug manufacturers.

Apple For Chemo

Don’t despair — no one is denied treatment. There is financial aid available; even you think that your income is too high. Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help.

Be sure to calculate the extra gas that you’ll need for back-and-forth trips to the oncologist’s office. There may be unexpected costs for over-the-counter medications like ointments and creams. You may also need nutritional supplement drinks to ensure that you have nutrition on those days that you just don’t feel like eating.

Step #5 – Relax

It’s normal to be anxious before beginning chemotherapy. Everyone is nervous about the side effects. We’re also afraid — what if it doesn’t work? You might also find yourself asking, “What if I’m not strong enough to do this?”

So try to relax. Each of us at WhatNext, who has completed our treatment, has been where you are now. We quickly learned that our chemo nurses are “angels.” We learned that we were, indeed, strong enough. Day-by-day, we inch through our chemotherapy until one day, we celebrate our last chemo. You can do this. YES…you can!

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