Receiving a cancer diagnosis for the first time is a truly unnerving and emotional experience, to say the very least. There is also a lot of information to process, and if you’ve been told that you will need to start chemotherapy, you certainly have a number of questions about the process. It’s obvious that your healthcare team is the resource you should turn to for answers to most of those questions, but what about the tips and tricks that can be shared from an experienced patient’s perspective?
When it comes to preparing yourself for chemo treatment, you can never have “too much” information or advice. We all understand that having peace of mind is important, but it can be easy to overlook your mental and emotional well-being when your physical health is in question. That’s why we are here to discuss a few ways that you can make your entire chemo treatment experience a positive one.
Have a Personal Support System in Place
A cancer diagnosis and the whole process of going through chemotherapy can feel very isolating, but if you’re feeling the urge to separate yourself from your loved ones during treatment, don’t. Remember that your friends and family love you, they care about your well-being, and they actually want to be there for you.
To really make the most of your emotional support system during chemo treatment, keep these tips in mind:
- Be prepared to answer questions with grace. Your loved ones probably don’t know much about chemo, and you can’t hold that against them. Remember that they are only asking questions in order to better understand your situation. Take the time to explain the anticipated side effect, the details of your diagnosis, and perhaps even the difference between cancerous and non-cancerous tumors. They simply may not already know.
- Have goals in mind and an understanding of your own needs from your support system. Share your boundaries from the beginning, and don’t be afraid to ask for additional support or a different kind of support. They won’t know what you need until you speak up.
- Also be mindful of the other person’s (or people’s) limits. We are not saying that you should be afraid to lean on them; we are saying that you should understand that everyone needs rest sometimes. As the saying goes, “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” Give your friends and family time and space to recharge from time to time.
Plan for What You Can and Be Prepared for Things You Can’t
If you’re one of those people who says things like, “I’m not much of a planner,” there has never been a better time to change that than right now. Having a solid plan in place makes things go more smoothly, and by eliminating the guesswork, you’re making things so much easier on yourself. Here are a few planning tips to keep in mind:
- Schedule some support services that will make your life easier during your treatment process, like meal delivery, medical transport, pet sitting and housekeeping.
- Ask for detailed instructions for everything, including dietary restrictions, chemo port care, and daily precautions necessary to keep you safe throughout the process.
- Keep an agenda on hand, and make sure it includes contact information for essential healthcare personnel, scheduled appointments, and reminders for other necessary tasks. Even your normal routine tasks can be easy to forget when you have so much going on.
As far as living with unplanned events that might up without warning, it’s important to stay flexible and be ready to adapt to unexpected challenges. Whether big or small, those challenges are inevitable, but staying in the right frame of mind will help you overcome them easily.
Keep a Personal Healthcare Journal
As you go through your chemo treatment, you are going to experience a wide range of side effects. Your healthcare team will certainly prepare you for this, and they’re going to ask you about it when they see you. So, be prepared with a detailed account of what you have been going through, but don’t stop there. Use your chemotherapy journal to track every detail of the process, from diagnosis to recovery. A few ideas for what to keep in your chemo treatment journal include:
- A log of your daily diet and exercise
- A sleep log (and put a fun spin on it by journaling your dreams, too!)
- Symptoms of the illness
- Side effects of the medication
- Names and contact information for your healthcare team
- Name and contact information for new friends you might meet during treatment and in support groups
- Questions that come up (and the answers that you are given)
- A list of “lessons learned” that you can share with other chemo patients in the future
Your healthcare journal is entirely personal to you, so there’s no “right” or “wrong” topic to write about or record. Include whatever comes to you, and let the process be flexible as you go.
Expect a Long Road Ahead
One of the most common personal challenges for patients who are undergoing chemo treatment is how different things become. You may find that your favorite foods are no longer palatable. Your fitness routine may change. You may not have the same level of energy to play with your children or grandchildren. The list goes on.
It’s so important to remember, though, that your personal health is the foremost concern for right now. It is your top priority. You have to focus on following your healthcare team’s advice and listening to your body as you recover, in order to ensure that you will have many more years with your loved ones ahead.
Chemo treatment really takes a toll on our lives, but it’s not forever. So, be kind to yourself. Pace yourself. Make smart food choices, take medications as you’re told, and keep your appointments. If you feel fatigued, which you certainly will, take that as a sign that you should lie down for a little while. Give yourself that needed break.
The road to recovery is long (and often difficult), but it’s worth the time and effort to reclaim your optimal health and wellbeing. So, to recap - be sure to lean on your support system when you need it, have a solid care plan in place, document everything, and keep a positive mindset. With these tips in mind, you can make this a positive experience for yourself and your loved ones, no matter what comes your way.