Due to the unpleasant side effects that are often linked with chemotherapy, the treatment for cancer can be just as overwhelming as the diagnosis itself. However, having an idea of what to anticipate before, during, and after chemotherapy and being well-prepared for treatment can help put your mind at ease and reinforce your determination to get better.
We discussed what happens during chemotherapy with Jennifer Oglesby, RN, OCN, an oncology nurse navigator at Regional Medical Center of San Jose in California. Our goal was to get a better understanding of how to get ready for the treatment as well as what to expect during the process.
The workings of chemotherapy
Chemotherapy refers to the use of drugs administered intravenously (IV), by injection, or orally in order to inhibit or halt the growth of cancer cells. Not only does chemotherapy kill cancer cells, but it also kills healthy cells, which is what causes some of the side effects that people talk about, such as nausea, vomiting, exhaustion, and hair loss.
According to Oglesby, the sort of chemotherapy that is administered and the length of time that one undergoes treatment are both contingent on the type of cancer that one has as well as the physician’s assessment of what constitutes the most beneficial course of action for the patient. The majority of patients receive chemotherapy in the form of an intravenous (IV) line or an injection at an outpatient clinic or hospital over the course of several weeks or months.
Getting ready for your first trip here
The first chemotherapy treatment can be extremely stressful and nerve-wracking for patients. However, according to Oglesby, it can be quite beneficial to bring a companion who can keep you company, assist you in taking notes, and help you process all of the new knowledge.
Additionally, it is essential to maintain a level of organisation. Oglesby recommends making use of a binder and calendar in order to keep track of your papers and appointments, which may include chemotherapy, blood tests, radiation, and potential surgical procedures.
What to bring with you to your appointment
Put on clothes that are comfortable for you, and choose tops that have buttons or short sleeves that make it easy to insert the IV.
Also, make sure you have the following in your bag:
Water and some nutritious snacks Oglesby believes that staying as hydrated as possible is one of the most critical things a patient can do while undergoing chemotherapy. The best way to get your body ready for the drying effects of chemotherapy is to drink plenty of water. Since chemotherapy lowers your immunity, it is essential that you consume meals that are rich in nutrients in order to maintain your energy levels and protect yourself from infection. Ask the members of your healthcare team what kinds of meals you can eat while you are undergoing treatment.
Something to keep you busy. Because your treatment could take several hours to complete, you should plan to bring something to keep you occupied while you wait. Bring something to entertain yourself with, such as a book or magazine to read, headphones and music to listen to, or a tablet to watch movies on.
Along with a travel pillow and a blanket. Because treatment rooms can be chilly, and because intravenous fluids can make the feeling of coldness even more intense, it is recommended that patients bring a blanket and a pillow along with them for their comfort.
Consequences of chemotherapy for patients
Fatigue. According to Oglesby, “about ninety percent of patients report weariness.” She suggests that those who are fatigued pay attention to what their bodies are telling them. “Rest when you’re tired, but otherwise, try to do things and live life as normally as you can,” the doctor advised. You could also speak with a member of your healthcare team about additional strategies to combat weariness.
Nausea. Your doctor or nurse will almost always provide you with information about how to avoid feeling sick in the majority of circumstances. However, in general, Oglesby recommends making an effort to consume six or seven smaller meals throughout the day rather than three substantial ones. Also, avoid foods that are very spicy, fatty, or oily. You will also be given medication that may be of use to you.
A loss of hair According to Oglesby, this can be one of the most emotionally taxing side effects of chemotherapy. “Many patients have’shave their head parties,’ in which friends and family members shave their heads in support of a loved one who is undergoing treatment,” she explains. “Shaving their hair is a great way to show solidarity.” Additionally, the American Cancer Society offers classes such as “Look Good Feel Better,” in which a licenced beauty professional provides pointers on how to apply makeup, care for your skin, and use wigs and/or hairpieces while undergoing chemotherapy. These classes are offered at various locations across the country.
Neutropenia is a disorder that is characterised by low white blood cell count, and it may develop as a side effect of chemotherapy. Chemotherapy can have a negative impact on your body’s ability to fight infections. During your initial appointment, the members of your healthcare team will provide you with advice on what to do in the event that this occurs; however, it is imperative that you get in touch with your physician as soon as possible if you develop a fever.
According to Oglesby, “it is particularly crucial after… therapy that you wash your hands more regularly, and that you stay away from friends and relatives who may potentially be ill.”
This is especially important in the seven to fourteen days after treatment, when you are at a higher risk of contracting an infection.
How the support of loved ones can be of assistance
The process of undergoing chemotherapy can be challenging, but getting support from loved ones during this time can make it much more bearable. Do not be scared to seek assistance or to accept assistance when it is offered to you.
When your loved ones ask what they can do to help, you should advise that they bring you meals, keep you company, or assist you with the children or the cleaning.
The following is some sound advise from Oglesby: “Just be there for them. Be someone they can talk to and a shoulder to cry on when they need it.
And, this is extremely important: refrain from telling any of the tired old cancer scare stories.
“Patients already have a sufficient amount of fear. “Instead of further frightening them, you should make an effort to be more upbeat and optimistic,” she advises. “I think it’s important to emphasise that there have been people who have been cured of cancer and gone on to enjoy healthy lives,” she said.