One of the most intimidating parts of a cancer diagnosis is beginning chemotherapy. Patients wonder what to expect and what they need to have to make treatment easier. It is important to understand all patients should communicate clearly and openly about their side effects with their physicians. In addition to doctors, other survivors have great tips to help prepare for chemotherapy, so we asked some of our Colon Club family to share.
Preparations for chemotherapy start when treatment options are discussed with an oncologist. Holly Rochelle states, “Ask a lot of questions. Expect them to be answered to your understanding. Each journey is unique, and each person experiences their chemotherapy treatments as uniquely.” Patients should also be diligent about other aspects of their health that can get neglected as cancer treatment begins. Phuong Gallagher reminds people to, “Make sure you see your dentist. Chemo can cause dry mouth, leading to dental issues.” The last thing a cancer patient needs is a secondary infection or illness, so overall wellness is crucial.
As treatment begins, there is a learning curve to see how new patients’ bodies and minds react to chemotherapy. Stephen Estrada-Erskine shares, “I think one of the most important must haves (besides ear buds) is patience. Your body will change quickly, and you will have to learn what you are capable of in your new situation.” Patients also can work to prepare themselves mentally for the road before them. Scott Wilson counseled a new patient who was fearful about treatment: “You are healing from the moment they know what’s wrong with you. I’m not promising you won’t have the odd dark moment, of course you will, but once we had my diagnosis out of the way we just got practical from thereon in.”
Certain side effects are common for most people receiving FOLFOX, which is the first line of treatment for colon cancer. Cold sensitivity is an issue for patients, and Trish Lannon was given some great advice to combat it: “The best thing anyone ever told me to do was to purchase thin bike gloves/running gloves to help with the cold sensitivity. I kept a pair near the refrigerator and a pair in my car at all times. I also had a pair in my purse.” Dehydration is also commonplace with treatment. Phuong Gallagher reminds patients to stay hydrated: “Diarrhea can quickly dehydrate you, and dehydration can make you feel worse on chemo and land you in the ER if it gets bad enough. Keep a water bottle with you to remind yourself to drink throughout the day.”
For patients, information can be power. It is crucial to read through all possible side effects, common and rare alike. No one knows their body better than the patient and they are their own best advocate. Being honest with doctors is crucial especially if the person is experiencing extreme or out of the ordinary symptoms after infusion. April Gardner wants people to know about a genetic condition that keeps people from processing chemo correctly. “Ask to be tested for DPD Deficiency. Too many doctors test for it when it’s too late and many have never heard of it.” When patients hold back or tough things out, it can be dangerous.
Treatment can be a lonely place; and, since how people will react to chemotherapy is unpredictable, it is always good to have a chemo buddy. It makes treatment go faster for some people if they have someone to talk to and transportation will not be an extra worry. And honestly it doesn’t hurt to have an extra advocate in the room.
Starting chemotherapy can be a daunting process but being forthright with doctors and talking to people who have experience can reduce the stress of the unknown. For more information and to talk to other people who get it in a safe, anonymous environment, please visit Colon Talk at: http://coloncancersupport.colonclub.com/viewforum.php?f=1Diana Sloan and all the survivors quoted in this blog are past and present "On the Rise" and "Colondar" participants