How We Prepared for Chemotherapy Treatment


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.

Below are some tips to prepare for chemo from WhatNexters who have had chemotherapy. This information does not represent medical advice and all input is from WhatNext members themselves.

Chemotherapy

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.

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.

"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?

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.

Keep a Journal

WhatNexters have suggested keeping a journal or log of reactions and side effects after chemo so they can pinpoint a trend and be more prepared with each treatment.

“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.

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?

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  • 23 Comments
    • Chrissyl67's Avatar
      Chrissyl67

      This is so helpful...2nd treatment of THCP tomorrow. Thank you

      6 months ago
    • stretch5028's Avatar
      stretch5028

      I was really scared when I started my chemo. First scare was the has mats suits they and the poison they are pumping in. But I did make sure that all treatments I would have a friend or family stay with me. When they loaded me up with other drugs like benedryl it would put me to sleep. So between my Elmo coloring books and sleeping I did ok. But food will taste funny...especially coffee. I hate lots of ice cream and lots of veggies and fruit. I now suffer from neurophysiology in my feet. My balance is shot. Treatments were Feb.3 2014 -July 21 2014. I'm 63 now and have another yr. Of Letrozole to take. And hopefully it's in remission. :)

      6 months ago
    • vickie54's Avatar
      vickie54

      So glad I found this site--it's been a dark tunnel for our family; however, I'm seeing some light! I just want to make sure that I'm doing everything I can to help my sister (more like a mother) get through this. Her first chemo is Thursday...thank you for all the suggestions and advice about what to bring, etc. God bless you all!

      4 months ago