Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Chemo tips (with a baked potato side)

I've been getting quite a few hits recently from people searching for 'first chemo treatment' - which is sad (for them, not me).
Hi there if you've reached me by searching for that and I'm so sorry if it's information for *your* first chemo treatment; well, I'm also sorry if it's someone else's first chemo treatment. Either way, I can guess that you're having a tough time. (understatement, I know)
The world is probably upside down now - especially if you're having neoadjuvant chemo (i.e. before any other treatment, like surgery or radiotherapy) in that case, you may have had a week or maybe only days since being told the dreaded cancer words. Or if it's adjuvant (in addition to other treatments you've had) you may be recovering from surgery or radiotherapy.
Whichever, this is a hell of time and chemo isn't going to be easy. I'm sorry to tell you that. You'll do it; you'll get through it, even if you have to claw your way to the end of it; but you'll do it, we do it, I did it - because I wanted to be there at the end to tell the tale. I wanted to be alive.
I don't want to scare or upset you; but I don't think lying is the answer - chemo is hard. It goes on for a long time, which leaches away your strength - mental as well as physical. It can come with side effects which can make you feel pretty miserable at times. A lot of this will depend on what chemo combination you're on. Some are worse than others.
My first chemo treatment was overwheming - it was a new and scary time, in a new and unfamiliar place, with new and unfamiliar people. Not a good combination.
Please, don't run away - take control over what you can.
  • Make sure you have a good support team - take family or friends with you.
  • If you can visit the place where your chemo will be given in advance of your first treatment - then do it. I know you'll not want to, but then it's a bit less stressful when you have to go back.
  • Try to have one specific nurse look after you each time - build up a relationship with them, you'll want someone you feel comfy with and eventually you'll want someone who knows you and your veins.
  • Take a snack or lunch, depending how long you'll need to be there - having your own food, that you like and you know you can eat will always be better than whatever the coffee shop at the hospital has or the dreaded limp sandwiches that they bring round in my chemosuite
  • Try taking an MP3 player or a personal DVD player with headphones - it can help block out where you are.
  • I like crossword puzzles, Sudoku and the like - they're irritating enough to distract me and keep my brain busy - it makes it *much* easier to ignore the other people there.
  • Take a shawl or a wrap - you may have to take off sweaters or cardigans so they can get to your veins for a cannula - the liquids going in can make you feel cold and it's nice to have something warm, fuzzy and fluffy to comfort and warm you.
  • Drink lots of water the day before treatment and enough on the day to be hydrated - it makes it easier to get cannulas into veins if you're not dehydrated.
  • Don't drink too much water on the day because trying to manoeuvre a drip stand to the loo can be challenging; plus, I hate to move around when I have cannulas and tubes attached to me!
  • Do drink (water) when you get home when you can bear to - it'll help to flush all that stuff out of your system.
  • I had a chemo 'uniform' - I wore pretty much the same thing each time. I had a portocath, so I wore a button down the front shirt with a vest top underneath that meant the port could be reached easily without creating modesty problems. If you're having a cannula put in your arm then make sure that your sleeve can be pushed up and left up easily and isn't too tight. Wearing the same clothes each time made me feel in control and it also didn't 'contaminate' the rest of my clothing by associating it with chemo.
  • If your chemo is one that causes nausea and vomiting or diarrhoea, eat what you can when you can - the main thing will be to get something inside you that you can keep down or in your stomach. Diet rules get thrown out the window. If icecream is what works - eat it.
  • Don't be afraid to challenge medical people - make sure they introduce themselves before they start doing things to you; ask what they're giving you and why (if you want to know).
  • If you're given lots of medication (or any) to take at home - anti-sickness, steroids, painkillers, whatever - ask them to write down exactly what you take for what, how often, when, which you can have together and which not. They may tell you these things but you will forget. Be it due to stress or feeling generally crap - make them write it down.
  • No-one likes having needles put in them, but remember you can take control over when you let it happen - they can't do it until you roll your sleeve up and hold out your arm!
I hope that some of this has helped give you a strategy for coping with your first chemo and all the subsequent ones. The experience of having to go and have it done gets better after the first time - you know what to expect, you know the 'good' seat in the chemosuite, you know the nurse that's on your wave-length, they know who you are when you walk in and they say 'hi, how's it going?' and mean it. And all that helps to make you feel a little more in control.
Good luck, I have my fingers crossed for you; drop me a line, share how you're feeling, how it's going - I'm a good sympathiser and I'll listen.

4 comments:

Dee said...

What an excellent post :o)

I was terrified of having my first chemo, but I took my crazy friend with me, and she entertained the entire chemo suite. She was a great distraction! And the proceedure wasn't anywhere near as bad as I thought it would be.

Saying that, the chemo (FEC) wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I got away with relatively few side-effects, so was lucky (which is more than I can say for the two chemos.. Taxotere & capecitabine, I've had since).

Like you say, it depends on the chemo, and it depends on the person.
I think it's going into the unknown that's the scariest.

Lots of love & hugs,
Dee
xxx

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