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Preparing Your Body for Chemotherapy

 

Many people are apprehensive before their first chemotherapy appointment. Preconceived notions and misinformation can add to the stress. “I think it is important to emphasize that the effects of treatments vary enormously depending upon the specific drug,” affirmed Martin Edelman, MD, Professor and Chair of the Department of Hematology/Oncology.  With the right information and a few tips, you can decide what preparations will help you minimize stress and reduce disruptions to your daily life during chemotherapy.

Before your first visit to the infusion center:

Let your oncology care team demystify chemotherapy for you. “It is important to emphasize that the effects of treatments vary enormously depending upon the specific drug,” Edelman said. Ask your team how to prepare for your first treatment. See if you may need a short break from home or work commitments right after treatment, so you can plan ahead. Let the team address any fears or concerns you may have going forward. Some patients worry that they will have hair loss or nausea. Edelman reassured that this may not happen, “Immunotherapy does not usually cause nausea or hair loss. Many of the chemotherapy regimens are also not associated with major hair loss.”

Keep your other medical care up-to-date. The oncology team may suggest a visit to the dentist to get oral care beforehand, and to ask about oral care during chemotherapy. Plan for contraception to avoid you or your partner getting pregnant. Take your regular medications on the day of your infusion appointment, unless your doctor instructs you otherwise, and bring medications to your appointment.

Eat well now and later. Stock up on healthy groceries so you can keep hydrated and so you have fruits, vegetables, and protein snacks on hand. Some people require calorie-rich foods. Remember to ask your care team about any nutritional products or supplements before you take them.

Arrange for help at home and work.  Clear your schedule for your appointment. If your oncology team suggests you may need to rest afterwards, speak with your employer about accommodating your schedule. You may want to arrange for help with kids, pets, or household chores like making meals.

Ask someone to come to your first appointment for support and company. Most people can drive themselves to and from chemotherapy, but it’s nice to have back-up, especially for the first visit.  “While I always think that having someone along for the first visit is extremely helpful from the moral support point of view, it is not necessarily essential from the standpoint of ability to drive,” Edelman said.

Prepare a bag to bring with you.  Bring any personal items you want to have with you. The infusion center has free Wi-Fi for tablets and mobile devices. Reading material, crossword puzzles, notecards to write letters—bring things that will help pass the time. Many people like to bring a music player with headphones. The infusion center has coffee, tea, juice, ginger ale and crackers to eat, and you can also bring special snacks or drinks that appeal to you.

Dress for comfort. Wear comfortable clothing with layers, to adjust to temperature changes as needed. You can also bring sweaters, socks, and a hat.

After your first visit:

Listen to your body. You may want to rest after chemotherapy. Drink water in small sips to avoid dehydration. Eat what you can when you can.

Avoid contact with anything that may contain chemotherapy. Chemotherapy leaves the body through bodily fluids during the 48 hours after infusion. Ask your care team how to avoid contact with any fluids or soiled items.

Keep a journal. Write down your medical teams' names and the dates of chemotherapy.  Between infusions, jot down how much sleep you're getting, what you're eating and how you're feeling. This can help you and your team understand what works best for you.

A cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. The infusion team at Fox Chase is focused on helping you navigate the chemotherapy part of your journey. Joan Lautenbacher was so impressed with her therapy at Fox Chase that she started volunteering at the infusion center. “My Fox Chase doctors formed a team with a single goal of providing me, the patient, with the best possible outcomes. I became mentally stronger, educated, and proactive.  My retirement plan focused on regaining my full strength and giving back to Fox Chase. I volunteered at the Infusion Room check-in desk Monday and Friday mornings for 18 months. ”