Been There, Done That: Insider Tips for Getting Through Chemo

Patient Expert

If you're about to start chemo - or are helping someone who is - here's advice from a seasoned group of chemo veterans.

I recently received an email from a friend and fellow breast cancer survivor, addressed to the 70+ members of a local support group to which I belong. Rebecca was asking for help; here's what she said:

Hi all - I have a co-worker who has a friend recently diagnosed with breast cancer. The friend will be starting 16 weeks of chemo next week and my co-worker would like to put together a tote bag containing some things that might help to keep her occupied/comfortable during the 3-hour visits. Any suggestions on what food/drink might help ease the nausea at home? - Rebecca

Rebecca's email provoked an outpouring of suggestions - not just around nausea prevention, but all aspects of the chemotherapy experience. Here are some common threads that ran through much of the advice:

-Bring an iPod to listen to music; and/or a tablet to get online. Both are great distractions.
-Make sure you have someone to drive you home. After your infusion, you may feel either nauseous, or sleepy.
-Take any anti-nausea drugs before you feel sick. It's easier to prevent nausea than to cure it.
-If Reiki is an option - take advantage of it. It's unbelievably relaxing; you may even doze off during the treatment.
-Take a tour of the infusion suite (the place you'll have chemo) ahead of time. This will help diminish the anxiety that comes from fear of the unknown.
-If they offer you ginger ale and warm blankets - say yes Ginger helps the stomach; and there's nothing more soothing than a warm, soft blanket"

And here's some more advice -

The medication "cocktail" given when they're setting you up takes care of any nausea, nerves and so on. The cocktail contains anti-nausea and anti-anxiety drugs, as well as Decadron, so it may have a sedating effect to some degree. - Carol

Take advantage of all the freebies - Reiki, massage, the lady that comes around with magazines, hand cream, etc. Grab some snacks, if you feel like it. But be aware - your favorite snacks/foods might not remain favorites if you eat them during chemo, due to bad physical associations with the experience. - PJ

Having someone there for the few hours it takes is priceless. My sister didn't miss a session, and my boyfriend came many times to play Scrabble with me. The hours flew by with both of them there. - Janet

I listened to my iPod and wrote in a journal during chemo. Different things work for different people but for me, journaling was like therapy. - Amy

When I got home, I would take some Benadryl for 1-2 days afterwards. It put me to sleep and I had decided that I didn't have to be awake for that part of the party. - Holly

Having a port [a temporary tube inserted into a vein, which remains throughout your weeks of chemo] took away the stress of finding a vein - wish I had it placed earlier. - Sybil

I don't deal well with Benadryl, so I had Ativan administered intravenously (through my port) in advance of any other drug. It really made a difference to my ability to relax. - Janet

Have a close family member or friend with you. And for the first session, find someone to go with you who's been through this before and can feel relaxed in the infusion suite setting. - Kate

Cold caps can prevent/ameliorate hair loss during chemo. - Ginny

I learned from another person who had chemo on a regular basis that it was important to call it "spa treatment," to get the mind thinking positive from the start. As a busy working mother, a period where I could relax and read was "spa" for me. - Susan

Biotene is great for dry mouth and/or sores in the mouth as you figure which foods work for you and which don't. - Sally

When I went for chemotherapy infusions, I always went with a friend. Then we could visit and laugh, and I felt like I was getting to spend time with a friend and the chemotherapy was an aside. One woman brought a book to read out loud... I really loved having someone with me. Also, exercise lessens side effects.  So I walked 3-4 miles every day except right after chemo treatments and It was good for my lungs and heart and for getting out into the beauty of the natural world and helping me feel strong. - Ginger

One of the greatest things about being a breast cancer survivor - second only to being alive - is the chance you have to use your own experience to make the world a better place. Help your sister survivors - share this post with someone today."¨

See more helpful articles:

A Guide to Breast Cancer Treatment

Chemotherapy Regimens for Breast Cancer

So You're Having Chemo...