Top Tips Before Starting Your First Chemo Treatment

Know What To Expect and Bring a Chemo Buddy

If you're about to go for your first round of chemotherapy, you may have lots of questions, and some fears. Here are some tips on what do to, in order to have a good experience, and prevent problems afterward.

Eat light and high-fiber, stay well-hydrated

Portrait of man receiving intravenous infusion in hospital
Tips for your first chemo treatment. Caiaimage/Martin Barraud / Getty Images

Two to three hours before an infusion, eat light and make your choices high-fiber. Chemo drugs tend to slow peristalsis (digestion and bowel processes), so whatever you eat may be in your digestion for longer than usual, and will dry out. Eating a high-fiber snack helps since fiber helps retain moisture in the bowels. Drink lots of water or sports drinks, (and avoid caffeine) to boost your electrolytes. Staying hydrated helps your cells process the chemo drugs through your system faster.

Understand your pre-chemo blood test results

Before you have each round of chemo, you will have a blood test which is called a CBC: Complete Blood Count. This will show the counts for your red and white blood cells, in comparison with healthy counts. If your counts are too low, having chemo may not be safe. Ask your nurse to show you the CBC results and explain them to you. Ask for a copy, and keep it with your records in your health notebook.

Ask questions about every drug

Every chemotherapy infusion includes a mix of drugs. Some are actually cancer-killing drugs, others are medications which help alleviate side effects. Ask questions about all of the drugs:

  • What is this?
  • What side effects may it have?
  • What will this feel like?
  • How do I cope with this?
  • Who do I call if I have problems with this?
  • How does this help kill the cancer cells?

Take your post-chemo medications on time

If you've been given a prescription for post-chemo medications, get clear instructions on how and when to take these. Some of these will be to prevent nausea and vomiting, and must be taken on time. Nausea medications are preventative, so taking them after you feel sick won't help very much. Taking them before you feel sick is the most effective.

Drink 8 ounces of water every hour

Chemo drugs are very drying to your body's tissues, and the drug will be going to every cell you have. Right after an infusion, drink 8 ounces of water every hour until bedtime. Avoid caffeine, as it is also drying and may cause you to feel worse. One other benefit of drinking this much water is that it will help your body to process and flush the chemo drugs out of your system sooner, so you can start to recover sooner, too.

Plan on having a supportive person nearby

After you've had your first infusion, you may feel well enough to drive yourself home, but in case you don't, plan to have a supportive person - a chemo buddy -  go with you to drive, take notes, and to stay with you at home. This person can help you keep track of taking your post-chemo medications, drinking plenty of fluids, noting any reactions you may have, and being emotionally supportive if you need that. Your support person could also bring along a movie or a good book to read to you.

Track your side effects

If you have side effects that are bothersome; such as nausea, vomiting, rash, swelling, or unusual pain around the injection site, note these down. Your doctor or nurse will need to know how often you're having problems, how severe they are, and how you're coping. If you have notes to refer to when you visit the doctor, they can more accurately help you deal with the problems.

Allow for fatigue and recovery

Breast Cancer patient considers a decision
Lisa F. Young, Fotolia

The day after your first treatment, you may feel tired or very fatigued. Plan on resting, as this gives your body the chance to respond to the chemotherapy, and begin the recovery cycle. Remember that chemo affects every cell in your body. Stay well-hydrated by drinking lots of water or juice. If you feel "fuzzy brained" from the medications, try a hot tub soak. Do keep in mind that all the side effects are temporary and that during recovery you will soon feel better.

Continue Reading