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Chemotherapy 101 Part I: Preparing for Chemotherapy

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Once you’ve decided on your treatment, you will sign a form giving your official consent to undergo chemo, and your doctor will likely do tests such as heart scans and x-rays to get baseline readings. You and your doctor will also decide how you will receive chemo, either through a regular IV or a port that is implanted with minor surgery and is ready for use immediately after the procedure. I opted to have a port placed under the skin on my chest near my collarbone. One needle stick accesses this port and all medications flow quickly and effortlessly through a tube directly into large veins and throughout my system. Without a port, you’ll receive needle sticks in your arms and hands, which is not always as precise and can harm your veins. Some drugs, such as Adriamycin, are toxic and can severely burn your skin. Be sure to talk to your doctor to investigate which method is best for you.

If you do opt for a port, I recommend wearing shirts that zip or button to chemo treatments. It makes for easy access so your clothing isn’t stretched. And consider using a numbing cream, such as Lidosense or Emla, because the needle stick can hurt.

Education is Key

Before you start chemo, you’ll meet with a nurse to learn about your drugs and their side effects. The side effects may seem overwhelming, but each person reacts differently to chemotherapy, and you can rest assured that you will not encounter every side effect. Do listen carefully to the side effects that require a call to your doctor. While meeting with the nurse, you should also get a tour of the infusion center, a list of important phone numbers, and a listing of available resources, such as counselors, social workers, and support groups. Another educational component of preparing for chemo is explaining to children what they can expect from the process. Prepare them for the side effects of chemo – like hair loss, fatigue, and possible sickness.

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