Whether this is your first chemo session or your third, you can still review your preparation to improve tolerance, mental well-being and decrease the chances of side-effects.
Chemotherapy – what is it?
Chemotherapy in a nutshell, is medication which targets rapidly growing cells. This is because cancer cells fall into this category. Unfortunately there are a few other rapidly growing cells in the body which are not cancerous, for example the blood cells (white, red and platelets), hair follicles and stomach lining cells. Preparing your body to be in optimal health before chemotherapy helps lessen side effects to these healthy cells. This may sound like a contradiction in terms given that you have cancer, but in fact your whole body will benefit from anything you do that promotes optimal health.
Diet and hydration before chemotherapy
Putting in the effort to eat well with a high fruit and vegetable content means your body will be starting chemo with a high nutritional status. Being conscious of your water intake on a daily basis is really important both before and during chemo, as your liver and kidneys need to do a lot of work processing these chemicals. Dehydration can lead to uncomfortable side effects like headaches, lethargy and dry mouth. Since the oral mucosa is sometimes affected by chemo with ulcers and thrush, avoiding dehydration means less discomfort.
Take stock of what is causing stress in your life and plan strategies to decrease it. Your body needs all available energy resources to stay strong during chemo. Supporting your immune system by adequate rest promotes a better chance of avoiding infection and other side effects.
Plan the everyday
Just because you’re having chemo doesn’t mean all the chores and demands disappear. By planning and delegating before starting each cycle, you remove some of the stress. If you can, delegate certain jobs to family or friends, spreading the love. This is where the village steps in helping you get through when the fatigue or side effects make an appearance.
Let family and friends know that you are more vulnerable to catching infections during and after chemotherapy, so please kindly stay away if sick. Particularly those with babies and young children in childcare centres or Kindy, they are going through a phase of catching every bug under the sun.
Look after your teeth and gums. Your mouth is also more vulnerable at this time and you can help by being particular about cleaning and flossing. If you do have issues, a simple warm salty water mouth wash is helpful.
It’s a good idea to start a notebook where you can write down questions when they come to mind to discuss with your specialist. You can also note down any reactions you have, certain blood results, record your temperature, note any new symptoms. You can keep a record of other medications and dosages. It’s surprising how much new information you will be exposed to during this experience, so you will probably be quite glad that you wrote a few things down, including your list of appointments. If you need to go to an Emergency Department during or after treatment, take this book with you.
Having your chemo can be a time consuming event, so plan to add some nice things into your day. Have a couple of good books, a warm rug, a favourite cushion or just right pillow. Have clothes you feel comfortable in with loose sleeves, or if you have a Portocath, a front buttoning top. Bring a lunch box of goodies that you can nibble on, perhaps some headphones and music. Bring your own drink bottle if you prefer, and don’t forget your notebook.
After your first chemo cycle you’ll be an old hand at it, but remaining aware of your special requirements at this time, planning well and caring for yourself will all make it that much easier. It will also put you in a position of getting the best possible outcome for yourself.