Preparing for Chemotherapy
Updated: Dec 7, 2021
Everyone has a unique cancer diagnosis. Your doctor will determine which chemo drug or ‘cocktail’ of drugs will be most effective for you and your type of cancer. Unfortunately, there is no way of predicting which side effects you will experience from chemo, since everyone responds differently. However, it doesn’t hurt to prepare yourself both mentally and physically for those that are most common.
Here are 10 ways to prepare for chemo…
1. Schedule a dentist appointment to have your teeth cleaned. Some chemo drugs can affect the inside of your mouth and teeth. While you’re receiving chemo, you should not go to the dentist as a precautionary measure to avoid infection. Your doctor or dentist will most likely advise you to wait to have your teeth cleaned for 4 weeks after you have finished treatment.
2. Mentally prepare yourself for hair loss. For us women, our hair is a pretty big part of our identity and it can be quite traumatic to watch it fall out. If you have long hair, try cutting into a bob to begin, then gradually go shorter and shorter, so that it’s not as noticeable when it does start to fall out. There are thousands of beautiful wigs and head coverings available online, some even free for people undergoing cancer treatment. If you do decide to purchase a wig, those that are 100% pure human hair (or ‘remi hair’), will give it a more natural look.
Another option is to try Cold Capping. The idea with a Cold Cap is that it freezes your head and narrows the blood vessels so that less of the chemo drug reaches your hair follicles. In turn, your hair is less likely to fall out. You can read more about it here Cold Capping.
Along with your locks, you will most likely lose your eyelashes and brows as well. There are a number of products on the markets that won’t keep them from falling out but will help with regrowth. Xlash and Rapid Lash are popular serums and can be purchased online or at some drugstores. Latisse is another popular lash serum, but requires a prescription to purchase. It is known to be more effective as it contains a medical ingredient which is scientifically proven to make your lashes grow thicker and longer.
3. Prepare for skin and nail changes. Chemo tends to make your skin especially dry and sensitive. It’s important that you keep your skin moisturized with an all-natural moisturizer such as Glaxal Base Cream. It doesn’t have the best smell to it, but it is considered safe, as it doesn’t contain any harsh additives or perfumes.
Chemo can also make your nails darken and even fall off. Some people have had success in keeping their nails, by keeping them painted with an all-natural nail polish throughout their treatments. Different brands can be purchased at Whole Foods or some natural food stores.
PLEASE NOTE however, that it is not advisable to visit a nail salon while you’re undergoing treatment as you will be much more susceptible to infections, and will need to be as careful as possible.
4. Stock up on healthy groceries and meal prep before treatment. Another side effect of chemo is fatigue. Preparing meals ahead of time while you have the energy will be extremely helpful if you are feeling tired and nauseous after treatment.
5. Pack a chemo bag for your appointments. Chemo usually takes at least a few hours to administer one dose. Unless you plan on sleeping most of the time, it can get quite boring sitting in the same spot for most of the day. Bring things to do….a book, a phone charger, crossword puzzles, etc. Most people feel anxious during their first few sessions and find it helpful to bring headphone to listen to relaxing music or guided meditations. My favorite free Meditation App is called Instant Timer. There are other Apps called Headspace or Calm which are also popular.
6. Hydrate and wear comfortable layers. Chemo dehydrates you to the nth degree! Be sure to bring plenty of fluid to drink before, during and after treatment. It will also help the nurses to find your veins insert your IV line.
You may also feel cold from sitting still in cool hospital for hours, so you may want to bring a thermos of warm water with lemon or herbal tea. It is also a good idea to dress in layers or bring warm socks and a thick blanket.
7. Prepare for nausea and changes to your taste buds. Nausea is one of the most common and unpleasant side effects of chemo. Your Oncologist can prescribe medication to make it subside, but it may also make you feel quite drowsy. Sometimes it can be difficult to determine which medication works best for you, so its important to tell your healthcare team if it is not working so that you can try another.
As if nausea isn’t bad enough, many people also lose their sense of taste from chemo. Although this is only temporary, it can make it extra difficult to keep up your weight, since you may no longer enjoy even your favorite foods or eating in general. Even if you don’t feel like eating, it is incredibly important to consume adequate nutrients in any shape or form, in order to provide your body with the energy it needs to heal itself. Try bringing bland snacks with you to your chemo appointments such as crackers, toast, nuts, or vanilla protein shakes.
If you'd like to learn which foods are most important to add to your diet after chemo, click here.
8. Accept all the help you can get! We can be so used to being self sufficient that it may be difficult to accept the help and support from others when they offer. This is a time when you will need help though…help in running errands, cleaning the house, driving you to and from treatment, and offering emotional support. Allow yourself time to rest and recover without stressing about chores. If a friend asks you to let them know if you need anything, tell them exactly what you’re struggling with and that you would be grateful for any support they could offer. Setting up phone dates with friends while you’re receiving chemo can also help to pass the time.
9. Keep a journal. Even if you’re not an eloquent writer, some people find that keeping track of their feelings and side effects helps them to come to terms with them. It may also be helpful if you later decide to share your journey with others in a similar position.
10. Last but not least, allow yourself to experience all of the feelings. Cancer treatment can bring about many challenges….emotional, physical, mental, financial, and social…along with a whole lot of fear and grief. You do not need to be strong. You do not need to keep your composure. You need to allow yourself to express how you’re feeling through every stage of your journey. Seeking professional help or joining a support group can help. Meditation and daily affirmations can help. Educating yourself about how you can make healthy lifestyle changes can help. And sharing your story can help. It’s important that you try to determine which practices help you the most and incorporate them into your daily routine.