How WhatNexters Prepared for Chemotherapy

by GregP_WN

Chemotherapy is a common treatment for many people with cancer. It is not unusual to feel fear and uneasiness before going into one’s first chemotherapy treatment. Being prepared may help you feel less unsettled about going to your first round. 

We asked the WhatNext Comunity how they would prepare. The information listed here is how WhatNexters prepared for chemo. This information does not represent medical advice and all input is from WhatNext members themselves.


WhatNexters recommend reading the American Cancer Society’s detailed Guide to Understanding Chemotherapy for credible information on this cancer treatment.

The guide describes the goal of chemotherapy, what questions to ask your doctor before starting chemotherapy treatment, how it is administered, how to keep yourself safe during chemo, common side effects and how to manage them, and other frequently asked questions that patients and families often have before starting chemotherapy.

Checklist of Questions to Ask Your Doctor

Below is a preview of questions that the American Cancer Society suggests to ask your doctor before beginning chemotherapy:

  • What is the goal of chemo for my cancer?
  • What are the chances that it will work?
  • What is the likely outcome of my chemo?
  • How will I know if the chemo is working?
  • What are the possible side effects of chemo?
  • How will I get the chemo, how often, and for how long?
  • Where will I get the chemo?

Keep Your Chemo Goal In Mind

Discuss the goal of your chemo with your doctor and keep that goal in mind before and during treatment. This will help encourage you on days that feel hard. You might even want to try writing it down and keeping it with you or sharing it with your support system so that they can remind you of your goals.

“Most important for me was to be positive. I told myself: No matter how you might feel, this is just temporary. Pretty soon you will be back to normal.” -- Rosa, Colon Cancer, Stage II

“My oncologist was the expert that had the details of my case. II asked them to layout my treatment plan for me, at least as far as the next set of decision points so I knew what to expect and could at least plan a little slice of my life!” -- Peroll, Colon Cancer

Discuss Possible Side Effects With Your Doctor

It is impossible to know exactly what side effects you will experience with chemotherapy; everyone is different. However, if you learn more about possible side effects from your doctor then you may feel less unsettled about what is to come. It is also important to discuss side effects after chemo begins so that your doctor can help treat or relieve them.

“I spoke about any side effects and the nurses usually had answers on how to resolve them.” -- gwendolyn, Breast Cancer

Take Care of Dental Issues

Chemotherapy can cause sores in the mouth and throat. The American Cancer Society’s guide to Understanding Chemotherapy says, and WhatNexters agree, that taking care of any dental issues before treatment can help. Some have had their teeth cleaned at least 2 weeks before starting treatment. Take care of any cavities, abscesses, gum disease, or poorly fitting dentures, and be sure to allow for proper recovery time.

Be aware that while chemotherapy can have adverse side effects causing dental issues, radiation to the mouth, neck, throat area will surely have serious side effects. If you have some teeth that are in need of detailed work, extractions, root canals, crowns, or any other more serious dental work, you may want to discuss with your oncologist, oral surgeon and your regular dentist about just having them pulled prior to having radiation. After having radiation to the mouth, neck, throat area, osteoradionecrosis is a risk, and it's a very serious risk that needs to be considered. 

Osteonecrosis Of The Jaw

You should also be aware that if you have radiation to the mouth/neck/throat area, and you then have dental problems that require extractions, you will most likely be asked to undergo Hyperbaric Oxygen treatments (HBO). This procedure is done by the patient getting inside of a clear plastic chamber where pure oxygen is infused into it. Your body absorbs the oxygen which increases its ability to heal. Several treatments are required, in most cases, it is in the 30 to 45 session range. The treatments can be costly if your insurance doesn't cover them. It has been reported that in the $1,500.00 range is not unusual. 

Hyperbaric Oxygen Chamber

For more information about osteoradionecrosis and other dental issues, check out this article: Preventing the Dental Side Effects of Head and Neck Cancer

And this article details some of the hidden side effects of radiation, from the viewpoint of a head and neck cancer patient.

Related Question: Did anyone have dental issues after chemo or radiation?

Eat Well and Exercise

Eating well is important because it can help keep your body strong during treatment. If you feel up to it, and if your doctor says it is okay, it may also help to do small amounts of exercise to help fight fatigue and keep your appetite strong.

“Exercising definitely held true for me. I'm an athlete and getting up and moving made me feel better, feel happier, sleep better, and so on. I also had a hard time with my appetite so the exercise helped me want to eat.” -- leepenn, Breast Cancer, Stage II

Related Article: Cancer and Nutrition

Prepare Your Home

A common side effect of chemotherapy is fatigue. WhatNexters say that it is important to rest and be able to relax after chemo. It may help to clean or tidy your house a little before going for treatment.

“Get comfy pajamas and slippers ready. I would get my home all cleaned up and laundry done so I could rest. Make sure you have some help for the first week or so and plan to rest.” -- sandid thumbnail SandiD, Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, Stage I

Pack a “Chemo Bag”

Many WhatNexters have packed a permanent “chemo bag” exclusively to take to their treatments.

Chemo Survival Kit Via Asbestos.Com

"It might help to keep it in the hall closet or in the car so you don’t have to look at it between treatments. Then, when you do bring it out, it is a treat to do the things inside." -- IKickedIt, Colorectal Cancer

Ideas for your chemo bag include:

  • Books or magazines
  • Laptop or tablet
  • Something to snack on
  • A blanket or warm sweater
  • Crossword puzzles, Sudoku, or electronic puzzle game
  • Electronic music player (e.g. iPod) with inspirational or relaxing music

Related Questions: What did you take to chemo with you? and How did you get yourself through chemo treatments?

Related Article: Be Prepared: 22 Things to Bring to Chemo

Related Article: Things to Bring to Chemo Part II

Bring a Friend

Bringing a friend to pass the time could be very helpful. If you are comfortable with asking different friends to go to treatments with you then it will make each time different. You can catch up with them and stay distracted. You may find that you have many friends or relatives telling you to "call me if I can do anything". Take them up on that offer and tell them you would sure like to have some company at your next chemo session, can I get you to go with me"? 

Keep a Journal

WhatNexters have suggested keeping a cancer journal or log of reactions and side effects after chemo so they can pinpoint a trend and be more prepared for each treatment. If you bring up a particular side effect that you are having, the doctor will want to know how long you have had it, and any information that you can provide to help him/her decide how to combat it.

“I kept a list of all prescription and OTC drugs and a daily journal of my experiences, feelings, etc. I wasn’t afraid to ask questions.” -- blondie, Breast Cancer, Stage IV

The American Cancer Society provides a Chemotherapy Worksheet online that you can print each week to keep track of your chemo cycle -- freebird thumbnail FreeBird, Caregiver

This worksheet keeps track of:

  • Which therapy you are receiving
  • The dates and day of the cycle
  • The side effects and their severity
  • Medications you took to treat the side effects
  • Blank spots at the end to fill in any information not recorded on the worksheet

Plan a Special Trip Before or After Treatment

This idea may not be for everyone, but some WhatNexters have done something for themselves, such as planning a trip, before chemo treatment begins. Not as a “last hurrah” but as something nice they can do with friends or family before treatment and its possible side effects. Some prefer to reward themselves with a trip after treatment.

There are also several organizations that will provide excursion trips for cancer survivors like, fishing trips, learning to white water raft, even mountain climbing. After your last treatment make plans on how you will want to celebrate. 

Be Prepared to Take it Easy

You may have low energy during chemotherapy treatment. Many WhatNexters said that they let the little things roll off and focused more on taking care of themselves.

“I chose to lie down frequently and listen to soft mellow music. For you, it may be different, but frequent rest periods helped me a lot. Stay encouraged!” -- Phylmena, Uterine Cancer

“Chemo made me tired. So I didn't expect to be able to keep up with my normal pace of doing things. I learned how to prioritize what really has to be done versus what I want to do. I allowed myself plenty of time to rest!” -- teddyfuzz, Invasive Lobular Carcinoma, Stage I

Discovering what is best for you when preparing for chemotherapy may take a few times. Do you have any advice for those that are about to undergo chemotherapy? Please comment below with your advice.

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