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.
What a helpful post! I didn’t have the same chemo regimen as you, but many of the symptoms of my chemo were like yours. I was extremely constipated, but when I used stool softeners, then I had diarrhea. There was no equilibrium in anything, really. I wish I drank more water, but it tasted so awful I couldn’t. I wish I pushed myself harder to eat, but it was not in the cards. I did make a few good decisions; one of them was getting a thorough checkup from my dentist and using Biotene.
My first chemo infusion day was the best because I was naive enough to think I was ready. I psyched myself up to have a positive attitude (ugh), but after I got sick from the chemo, I realized the beast that is cancer treatment.
Nancy’s book would’ve been so helpful during chemo treatment. I would’ve benefitted greatly from it.
I know the following suggested tip sounds a little weird, but I recommend bringing portable hand wash dispensers to other medical and chemo appointments. I used the soap at the hospital, and the smell stuck with me for all these years. Everytime I smell it, it sends me into flashbacks. Bringing a soap you know you might never use again would be great to keep such associations at bay.
Such an informative post, Rebecca. I know readers will greatly benefit from it.
Beth, I think in this situation is helpful to think positive, especially when we don’t have too much of a choice. You did your best. It’s hard to be able to do it all when you’re feeling so out of it. One thing I regret not doing was exercising. I felt lazy and tired most of the times.
Thank you for adding your tip. I think it’s a great one! It applies to foods and things you surround yourself with too. We want to avoid having too many cancer associations. xo
What a helpful list you put together here. As you know, before I started chemo I was utterly terrified. I wish I had had access to a list like this with such practical advice. Thank you so much for recommending my little chemo guide and for calling me your dear friend. Made my day! xx
Nancy, chemo scared me more than the actual cancer. It was mostly because I had no idea how I was going to react, and because of what I was exposed to through my family. So glad for people like you who have helped others navigate this scary route. Thank you for all you do and for your friendship. xo
Rebecca, chemo scared me more than cancer, too. On the day of the first infusion, I had decided to have that positive attitude, but this was after what seemed like forever of being so scared. By the way, I tried exercise, and I almost fainted from exertion that was minor to my pre-cancer self. Everyone deals with treatment differently.
thank you for sharing information I wasn’t given by any specialists. I am 4 years down the track now but I can sure remember spending a lot of time googling everything I could think of, just to find these answers. Keep up the great, encouraging, helpful and honest blogs. hugs and kisses
Carolyn, I had the same situation with my doctors. But they were supportive when I would call days after my infusion to complain about side effects. They also warned me about what to expect. I hope your experience was not too difficult with chemo. And thank you for your kind words. xo
Hi Rebecca, The one tip I would add is to try to walk every day. Often you may feel fatigue, which is very different than tired. If you try laying down and cannot sleep, you are fatigued. The best things for fatigue is a little bit of exercise. I made myself walk every day even if it was just around the apartment complex – but usually once I got started I found myself walking a mile or two or three … it helped keep me mentally sane as well as physically sane .. I also cycled and swam throughout chemo.
That is an excellent one, Rebecca! One thing I regret is not exercising enough. But the few times I did during chemo helped with my fatigue and mental state. Thank you for adding this one to the list! xo
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This is a great list. When I thought I’d be facing chemo, internet searches were pretty scary to me. I had to limit myself. Luckily, my cancer turned out to be small enough, only radiation was recommended. Still, I don’t kid myself. I know it could come back and I could be looking at chemo one day, so all of this is good information for me. What makes the thought more bearable is to hear the stories of people like you who’ve lived through it and survived. It’s very inspiring and helpful to those potentially facing this ordeal. Thank you.
Hi Lisa — I was on the internet all the time trying to interpret my pathology report and it made me sick to my stomach. But still, I think it’s great to have information so we can make educated decisions about our health. We just need to know how to balance the information and understand that every case is different. I am glad you did not need chemo! What helped me through my nightmare was to reach out to other patients. This kind of support doesn’t compare to any other. Thank you for stopping by and commenting on this post. Stay well.
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What a great post. I didn’t have AC/T, I had FEC/T but I so wish I had come across your blog then as I think all your good advice is applicable to both.
I am sorry you dealt with this crap but glad this part of the mess is over. Thank you for stopping by and for commenting.Please stay well. xo