Chemotherapy has proven to be an effective treatment strategy for many cancer patients. Then, why is it that so many cancer patients dread the procedure?
For that…. you need to understand how chemotherapy works. In general, chemo drugs are designed to attack or inhibit fast-dividing cells in the body. Since cancer-causing cells divide and multiply rapidly, chemo drugs
But simultaneously, your body comprises many different types of cells. There are healthy cells too that naturally grow at a fast pace. Often, chemo drugs can’t differentiate between healthy cells and cancer-causing cells.
As a result, chemo can cause parts of the body to break down and induce unwanted side effects.
Because chemotherapy is closely associated with harsh and often debilitating side effects like hair loss, nausea, bruising, peripheral neuropathy, and fatigue, it can bring up feelings of dread and anxiety in many patients—even those going in for follow-up treatments.
Preparing for a chemo session can help you manage some of the anxiety and make your stay at the hospital as comfortable as possible. We asked our community of cancer warriors for advice on how to best prepare for chemotherapy. Here’s what they suggested:
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Prioritize Self Care
Although the symptoms and their severity differ from person to person, there’s no denying that chemo does have a huge toll on your physical, mental, and emotional health. Give your body the best fighting chance by focusing on your wellbeing and keeping your body in good shape.
- Don’t overwork your body before a chemo session. Many people who continue to work during cancer treatments end up straining themselves few days before the treatment, which can exacerbate feelings of fatigue and weakness. Remember that you’re not taking a vacation from work or other responsibilities—it’s a major medical procedure that will put your body under stress.
- Drink lots of water daily and stay well-hydrated before and after your chemo session. Some medications can cause severe dehydration. Plus, you might experience excessive water loss after treatment due to diarrhea or vomiting. So, replenishing fluids in your body is critical.
- Try to eat something. Your body may reject food at first, but it’s essential to maintain health. Many patients recommend trying bland foods if you’re having trouble keeping food down. And breaking up meals into smaller portions throughout the day.
If you’re having trouble chewing or swallowing food, you can try more nourishing liquids such as fruit smoothies, soup, and chicken broth.
- Patients also recommend a variety of home remedies for managing nausea, including peppermint essential oil, tart candies, mint gum, ginger tea, or Queasy Drops containing ginger. Be sure to check in with your physician before taking any products or supplements to manage nausea.
- Finally, avoid comparing your body to how it was before chemotherapy. Seeing your body change can distort how you view yourself. Comparing it to how you looked prior to the treatment can leave you feeling distressed, angry, and frustrated with yourself. Look at yourself in the mirror every day and say two positive things about your body; one about your physical appearance and another about your personality. It can do wonders for your self-esteem!
Organize help at home
Chemo treatments last a couple of hours, and you may need to stay at the hospital overnight in case your cancer treatment team wants to observe you. If you have younger children or old parents living with you, you may need someone at home to take care of them while you’re away.
If you have older, school-going children, they may need someone to drive them to school and other activities. Additionally, you may need to keep in mind pet care needs, house chores, and other errands.
Chemo can make you feel drowsy or weak for the next few days, so you’ll likely need support in the days following your cancer treatment. A strong support system can make the days following your chemo session easier to manage.
Asking for help is hard—especially when you’re used to doing everything on your own. That’s one of the main challenges we set out to solve with our My CareCrew app.
The Request Help feature on our app takes the stress out of letting friends and family know what help you need most, such as childcare, meals, transportation, and more. It helps coordinate help across your “carecrew”, so you can focus on chemo and getting better with the peace of mind that things at home will be taken of.
Pack a bag
Hospitals are known for getting notoriously chilly. Although you can ask for extra blankets, taking a soft, cozy blanket of your own can keep you warm and at ease. Having your blanket with you provides a source of familiarity and comfort.
Bring something to keep you busy. Most patients recommend books, games, coloring books and laptops to pass the time or streaming your favorite show. Some recommend music or calming relaxation noises during the day.
If you have a companion that’s going to stay with you throughout the session and afterwards, you can bring some tabletop games to play with them.
Pack some light and healthy food that you can eat after the chemo without feeling too sick. Some gum in your bag can come in handy during the bouts of nausea.
Visit the dentist
High-dose chemotherapy can impact your dental and oral health too. Mouth sores, changes in taste, dry mouth, and difficulty swallowing are all common side effects of chemo. Additionally, chemo can worsen existing oral health issues.
Checking in with a dentist before your chemo session can make things easier. It’s best to treat any infections or cavities before chemo starts because you might end up with more pain and complications later down the line.
Ask your dentist to recommend what products like mouthwash and toothbrushes he recommends.
Practice stress relief
Stress relief practices such as deep breathing and calming techniques such as visualization can help you overcome the anxiety that comes before and after a chemo session. These work great even when you’re feeling tired and lying down.
Yoga, tai chi, and qigong are all excellent ways to focus your mind and help you calm down. There are many studies that show that yoga has shown positive results among cancer patients in general. It’s shown to combat fatigue and provide better recovery for patients undergoing cancer treatment.
Aromatherapy also helps many patients relax. Feeling tense can pressure the body and make the process more painful. Take a little time to put your body and mind at ease before your treatment session can make things much easier.
Go grocery shopping
For most patients, the first two days after chemo are most critical. During this time, many people experience severe symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, sleeplessness, fatigue, and body aches.
When you go in for chemo, prepare things in a way that you have minimal work to do after chemo. Shopping for groceries a few days before and stocking up on necessities can help reduce last minute meal planning related stress.
Prepare meals a few days before your chemo and put them in the freezer. You or your family members will just need to heat up the food, and there won’t be any worries about meal prep.
If you have friends and family willing to support you with meal prep after the chemo, coordinate with them beforehand to prevent any last-minute hassle.
Track your health
Maintain a chemo journal. Keep track of all the dates when chemotherapy is administered as well as the names of the medical team members.
Between infusions, note down how you’re feeling, the amount of sleep you’re getting, and what you’re eating. This will help you understand what triggers your side effects and if there are any remedies that work for you.
Keep track of your health before your chemo appointments and note all your symptoms (physical and emotional). Also, make note of how long these symptoms last and their intensity.
Discuss these with your physician at the next appointment and see if there’s any medication or recommendations to combat those symptoms.
The My CareCrew app features handy tools geared towards mental wellbeing. The On My Mind feature can be used by patients to capture moods, symptoms, and updates within a virtual journal.
These can be kept private for later viewing, noted for later discussion with a physician, or shared with members of the CareCrew.
Ask about fertility
Fertility might be the last thing on your mind as you approach chemo. With your own life at stake, it can seem irrational to even think about bringing another life into the world.
However, if having children is something you want or have even considered for your future, it’s important to discuss your options with your oncologist before chemotherapy starts.
Among the long-term side effects of chemotherapy is decreased fertility levels among some patients. Many doctors bring up this issue before treatment starts, but it’s often not a concern for younger people.
It’s important to consider your choices and their future impact before you move forward with cancer treatment.
Prioritize peace of mind
Find a team of doctors you can trust and ask as many questions as you need to feel comfortable with the process and treatment you are about to receive. Get comfortable with being your own advocate and speak up for yourself.
Trust your gut and intuition, no-one knows you better than you.
Surround yourself with people that energize you. And avoid people and activities that deplete you. Prioritize your needs ahead of others, you are going to hell and back… its ok to focus on you first!
Search for other people that have been through cancer. Having a neutral person, that has been through a similar experience can be so valuable… for both of you.
Going through treatment and getting past NED is a long and bumpy journey. Best to go through it with someone that has empathy with your struggle.
Seek out therapy if possible. Dealing with all the physical treatments, surgeries and chemo side-effects is just half the battle. The other half is dealing with the emotional and psychological rollercoaster you are about to embark. It’s ok to need extra help to get through this.
Our mission at My CareCrew’s is to make the cancer journey a little more bearable for cancer patients and their caregivers.
The My CareCrew mobile app is designed to connect patients and caregivers with their “carecrew” to streamline day to day challenges experienced in the cancer journey, such as asking for help, managing the inflow of help offers from loved ones, sharing updates, creating wishlists, and more.
For example, parents can choose who they want to include in their “carecrew” and build a strong support system that can encourage and help them throughout their child’s cancer journey.
My CareCrew is currently the only free health app for cancer patients that streamlines help offers from friends and family while also allowing caregivers to ask for help or support with help requests and wish list features.
With the app, patients or caregivers can schedule, update, and keep track of requests to ensure that the family has support exactly when they need it.
Friends and extended family members no longer need to worry about overwhelming the patient. You can simply send help offers on the app, and the patient or caregiver can choose to accept and schedule them without any hassle.
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Medical advice: My CareCrew is not a licensed medical care provider. Please consult your medical team before following any suggestion mentioned in our blog or using a featured product or service to treat any medical condition.
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Rachel is an Austin blogger, educator, mom, wife, young breast cancer survivor writing about health, saving money, and living a happy life in Austin, Texas.
Rachel has written for HuffPost and Hometalk and has been featured on KXAN, Studio 512, Fox 7 Austin, and CBS Austin.