Written by Sarah Kown
Reviewed for medical accuracy by Dr. Jake Prigoff
Everyone has a unique cancer diagnosis and treatment. What should you expect during chemo treatment? If you're going to have chemotherapy, your doctor will determine which drug or ‘cocktail’ of drugs to use for you and your type of cancer.
Unfortunately, chemotherapy side effects come in a variety of shapes and sizes. There are some side effects most people get like nausea, but there are also others that are unique to each person. If you prepare yourself mentally and physically before starting chemotherapy treatment, you can have a better experience.
Ways to Prepare for Chemotherapy Treatment
Pack a chemo bag for your appointments. Chemotherapy usually takes at least a few hours to administer one dose. Unless you plan on sleeping through the appointment, it can get quite boring sitting still for most of the day. Bring things to do: a book, a phone charger, crossword puzzles, or other tangible games like a deck of cards. Try also adding nausea-reducing snacks to the appointments such as crackers, toast, nuts, vanilla protein shakes, or nausea lollipops like our partners Three Lollies so you can stay full without getting sick.
Prepare for skin changes. Chemotherapy tends to make your skin especially dry and sensitive. It’s important that you keep your skin moisturized with an all-natural moisturizer such as the creams our partner Happy 2nd Birthday creates. Their vegan products are made by a cancer survivor that knows what you need during and after treatment.
Prepare for nail changes. Chemo can also make your nails darken and at times, fall off. Some people have successfully kept their nails strong with an all-natural nail polish like this one throughout their treatments. Different brands can be purchased at Whole Foods or some Natural Food Stores.
PLEASE NOTE, however, that it is not advisable to visit a nail salon while you’re undergoing treatment as you will be much more susceptible to infections.
Find ways to meditate or relax during chemo. Most people feel anxious during their first few sessions and find it helpful to bring headphones to listen to relaxing music or guided meditations. My favorite free Meditation App is called Instant Timer. There are other Apps called Headspace or Calm which are also popular.
Prepare for nausea and changes to your taste buds. Nausea is one of the most common and unpleasant side effects of chemo. Your oncologist can prescribe medication to make it subside, but it may also make you feel quite drowsy.
Don’t eat your favorite dishes during your first chemotherapy session. Some people won’t ever want to eat that dish again. Whether it’s conscious or unconscious, we know a few people who have avoided a specific dish for over a decade because it was the meal they ate on the first day of chemo. As if nausea isn’t bad enough, many people also lose their sense of taste from chemo. Although it’s only temporary, losing your sense of taste can make it extra difficult to keep up your weight since you may no longer enjoy your favorite foods or eating in general. Even if you don’t feel like eating, it is incredibly important to consume adequate nutrients to help your recovering body. We talk about this more in-depth in our article “Getting the Right Nutrition and Meal Delivery Services for Cancer Patients”
Get a planner. Writing down the appointments with various doctors can be an easy way to remember all you have to do when you’re low on energy and time. Our partner Mighty + Bright is a great resource for this if you’re a parent and need a visual calendar to help your children cope with the changes the family undergoes throughout treatment.
Journal about your experiences. Journaling about your feelings is an effective tool for managing stress and anxiety. It can also help you better understand the side effects of each individual treatments and medications so you can provide that information to doctors throughout your cancer treatment. We also have various tools that help you track your symptoms.
Accept all the help you can get! It can be hard to ask for assistance, but allow yourself to accept the help that comes your way and the subsequent time to rest and recover. Be clear and specific with those in your life about what you need so if they offer to help, you can lean on them. Setting up phone dates with friends while you’re receiving chemo can also help to pass the time.
If you’re still anxious about asking for help, there are so many online resources to help you with the chores around your house. Care.com can help you find caretakers, personal assistants, and dog sitters. Thumbtack or TaskRabbit can match you to local handymen. There are many options that exist to help you feel more control in this challenging time of your life.
Learn More About Own Your Cancer Coaching
Sarah Kown and Christine Squires created Own Your Cancer Coaching to help people throughout their cancer journey by providing them with the knowledge and tools they will need to optimize control of their health. Sarah, a Medical Physicist and Radiation Oncology Therapist, and Christine, a Behavioral Health Counselor, are working together to create guided course content that will help patients make transformative change in unique and practical ways.
Learn More About Preparing for Chemotherapy
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