When I was diagnosed with BC, I only wanted to hear about stuff I was dealing with at the time, and not, let’s say, someone ranting about survivorship challenges. You know — like what I usually do here on my blog.
Ranting helps me relieve stress, but I wouldn’t want my rants to discourage a newly-diagnosed patient in any way. It is such an overwhelming time when you’re first diagnosed that it is probably best for patients to try to absorb information one step at a time.
I haven’t really shared my experience with cancer treatments on this blog, other than complain about Tamoxifen from time to time. I thought it would be helpful to share some of these experiences in case a newly-diagnosed patient comes across this blog.
Before I continue, I have to mention that, obviously, the information I share here is not a substitute for medical or professional care, and you should not use it in place of a consultation with your physician or other healthcare provider.
If you are newly diagnosed and are scheduled to receive AC/T (A-Adriamycin, C-Cytoxan/T-Taxol) as your chemo regimen, here are some tips that helped me cope with — and sometimes prevent — side effects. Many of these tips originated from the wonderful group of ladies I came in contact with during the beginning of my cancer mess. I am fortunate to have found them during a time when I was super scared. No one could really offer the same level of support they did.
1) DRINK, DRINK, DRINK! You must drink at least 8 glasses of water a day to help flush the chemicals from your body. It was much easier for me to drink lukewarm water. Drinking cold water made me feel sick.
2) During the infusion, chew on ice chips to help prevent mouth sores. This worked for me.
3) Request a prescription for anxiety to help calm your nerves. Mine was Ativan, which also helped with nausea.
4) Always bring things with you to your chemo appts. to keep you entertained—such as books, electronics, games, a personal journal, etc.
5) Eat very small portions of meals more frequently – at least for the first 5 days after the infusion – until you know how you’d react to your treatments. I had 6 meals a day – an apple, a small bowl of oats, a little bit of fish with cooked veggies, for example.
6) Have stool softeners handy and take them as soon as you start feeling constipated. Some people suggest taking them 1-2 days prior to the chemo infusion, especially for Adriamycin. Believe me, you want to do all you can to avoid constipation. Ask your doctor about it and get a prescription right away.
7) Rinse foods before eating. For veggies, try steaming or keep in water with apple cider vinegar for 20 minutes, then rinse, before eating.
8) Be sure someone helps you clean your bathtub from time to time. In general, there’s a lot of bacteria in the bathroom and you want to avoid infections.
9) Have foods available and ready to eat (especially cooked foods) so you don’t have to use your energy on trying to prepare meals.
10) It is best to keep nutrients in your body than to try keeping a diet during chemo. Eat everything your stomach can tolerate.
11) Having taste changes during chemo? Here’s a helpful link on how to manage that side effect.
12) Watch Supplements. Dietitians in cancer treatment centers suggest not taking dietary supplements during chemo. These include vitamins, minerals, herbals, and botanicals. There are potential drug-nutrient interactions that can interfere with the effectiveness of chemotherapy. Talk to your doctor about taking any supplements when you are undergoing chemo.
13) REST, REST, REST! Pay attention to what your body is trying to tell you. Don’t push yourself too hard. But also try to keep moving.
14) Let others help you. I don’t like being dependent on others, but if there’s ever a time when we need to accept help, this is it.
15) If possible, stay away from people who make you feel guilty about your cancer. Cancer was NOT your fault. You need to hear things that lift you up during chemo, not things that bring you down.
16) It is helpful to have someone you trust in charge of communicating to others about your health status to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Having this person will also allow you to do #15 (above).
17) Allow your caregiver to help you. Be open and flexible.
18) It is helpful to see a dentist before starting chemo to make sure your teeth are in good shape. It is important to keep your mouth clean during chemo to help prevent dental problems. Biotene mouthwash and toothpaste helped me prevent those. (If you’re getting a mastectomy, please check with your surgeon about when you should visit your dentist.)
19) If you experience any side effects or symptoms, contact your doctor right away. Do not wait. But try not to panic as these may be normal during chemo.
20) Be sure to wear sunscreen when being exposed to the sun. Ask your oncologist or dermatologist what the best brand recommendation is if undergoing chemotherapy.
21) Some patients have asked me if I would use the cold caps to prevent hair loss and my answer is always no. My cancer was invasive. If I am going to go through chemo, I am going to let it hit every part of my body, including the top of my head. But that’s my personal preference. Perhaps in the future, when there is enough statistical evidence about the benefits of this tool, I would consider using it.
22) Remember: Whatever feelings you are experiencing during this difficult time are normal. Don’t question whether or not you’re reacting to the situation the right way. There’s no right way, only your way. Allow yourself to experience all the emotions as this will help with your healing process.
Day 1 of the first treatment was the worst for me because I had no idea what I would be facing. It’s normal to feel scared. As I continued with treatments, I had more confidence. Chemo was no picnic but it turned out to be “easier” than I had thought. Please keep in mind everyone reacts to treatments differently. Be patient with yourself.
Lastly, I was not able to find sources on how to mentally prepare for chemo. My dear friend Nancy Stordahl wrote a helpful guide, “Getting Past the Fear”, to help others face their fears. I recommend it.
I am sorry you had to search for this topic. And good luck with your treatments.
If you had AC/T as your chemo regimen, please feel free to share some tips in the comments section.