Chemotherapy is a word that strikes fear into most of our hearts. We’ve seen the movies and heard such horrible stories about undergoing this difficult treatment for a disease that could very well kill us. In some cases, the cancer isn’t hard, it isn’t painful, and it doesn’t make us sick. That’s the case for most of those who have breast cancer, but don’t have distant metastases. But then, they may still need to do chemo.
Although chemo drugs haven’t changed that much, and they’re still terribly hard on our bodies, the management drugs have changed a lot. Chemotherapy, for many of us, isn’t the show-stopper we thought it would be. Of course, each of us is different and the chemo drugs affect each of us in different ways, but, for the most part, chemo is definitely doable.
Here are some tips on how to survive chemotherapy.
Get a port
First of all, I would highly recommend getting a port. This is a line that goes into a vein in your chest, the entrance to which sits just under your skin, right below your collarbone. It requires a quick surgery to put it in but, if you’re having a mastectomy for your breast cancer, you can get the chemo port put in at the same time.
If you choose not to do that, you’ll have to get your chemo treatments through your veins and chemo is really hard on your veins. This means that you will, most likely, have to endure multiple attempts for them to find a vein, as time goes by.
With the port, it’s already in a vein, so all they have to do is stick the needle into the port to access it. If you find this uncomfortable, there is a cream they can give you called Emla cream.
Tell your healthcare professional the moment there’s any discomfort. It’s all fixable. They’ll put the Emla cream on a bit before you have to have your port accessed and it’ll numb your skin.
Get your supplies before your chemo
Most breast cancer chemotherapy drugs will cause your hair to fall out. This is because chemo kills the rapidly dividing cells in your body. Your mucous areas and hair follicles are affected for this reason. That’s why you may have nausea or develop mouth or throat sores. Again, all this sounds scary, but is totally manageable.
Since you will probably be losing your hair, which can be quite traumatic, I would advise going wig or hat shopping before you even get your first chemo. Take a girlfriend with you and be adventurous. Try on different styles, and even colors.
If you’ve always wanted to be a blonde, now’s your chance! Make a day of it and have fun with it. Goodness knows, you have to look for that silver lining every chance you get.
Also, make sure to have your nausea med prescription filled before you go so you’ll have it waiting for you if you need it at home. You may be pretty tired, afterward, so don’t wait till then to get those meds.
Don’t ruin your favorite tastes
On your first chemo day, they will probably give you some steroids, intravenously or through your port. This is to help with the nausea and may make you hungry.
But, I would recommend you don’t eat your favorite food on chemo day. Chemo is manageable, but after you’re all done, you may find that you have form associations.
For example, if you love chicken burrito and eat that when going through chemo. You may not be able to look at a chicken burrito after that for quite a while because it reminds you of such an unpleasant time in your life. You do not want to ruin your favorite tastes after the chemo.
Drink lots of fluid
Many breast cancer chemo drugs are hard on your bladder, so be sure to drink, drink, drink. If you don’t feel like drinking water, then broth, jello, or even popsicles will help.
Don’t neglect your nausea meds
Since you’ve gotten your nausea meds all filled in advance, be sure to take them as prescribed, whether you think you need them or not. Chemo nausea isn’t just any kind of nausea. And it’s much easier to stay ahead of it than to try to fix it once it occurs.
If you do happen to get nauseated, and I can’t stress this enough, call your doctor!!! There are many, many nausea meds and you do not have to feel sick just because you’re doing chemo.
Once they find the right drug for you, it will be so much easier. So, do not suffer this in silence! The same applies for if you get sores in your mouth or throat.
Be mindful of infection risks
You will be tired from this treatment. Most of us get more tired as the treatments progress because they make our white blood cell counts drop really low. Because of this, it’s a good idea to keep some Purell, or something similar, with you all the time for use when you’ve had to touch, for example, public restroom door handles. Your risk of infection will be much higher during this time.
Cut your hair short in preparation
If you lose your hair, it will typically happen in 10-14 days after your first chemo treatment. If you have long hair, you might want to cut it short in preparation.
You may feel so out of control of everything during that time. When your hair comes out, it lets go quickly and in large clumps, getting all over your pillow and clogging your drain.
For many women, that is more traumatic than even losing a breast.
So, that was the one thing you could control about this whole breast cancer thing, when you hair comes out. Cut it really short, beforehand. And, when it started to let go, you can get someone to help you shave your head with the clippers.
You can shake your fist at this cancer. It might take your breasts, and it might take your hair for a while. But you can beat it to the punch and declare, “You cannot take my spirit!”
Your breast cancer does not define you. It is but a speed bump in the course of your life. Strap on your gloves and step into the ring. This chemo is your biggest punch. Your spirit is your own and that breast cancer can’t touch it!