Things to Do Before Starting Chemo

Your pathology report, following surgery, came back indicating that you need chemotherapy. Your doctor's assistant called and gave you an appointment to come in and meet with the medical oncologist who is part of your treatment team to discuss your chemo plan.

If at all possible, have someone come with you to this appointment that can take notes for you and ask questions that you may forget to ask.

Prepare your questions ahead of time and share your list with the person going with you. Don’t leave your doctor visit until you have had all your questions answered; don’t worry that you may be taking too much of the doctor’s time.

Once in treatment, you will get direct care from oncology nurses and other chemotherapy personnel. You will see your doctor at scheduled times. So take advantage of this initial visit to get the information that is important to you before starting chemo.

You Need and Want to Know:

1. The chemotherapy drugs you will be receiving and how often you will get them.

2. Reactions you may have while treatment is being administered.

3. Possible side effects after each treatment and will you be medicated for them.

4. Will the chemotherapy drugs result in your losing hair, eyebrows, eye lashes?

5. Will you have prescriptions that need to be filled?

6. How long will you be at the chemotherapy clinic for each treatment?

7. What can you eat before each chemotherapy session?

8. If you take medications daily, will you take them the day of your treatment?

9. If there are any over-the counter medications you take regularly, or any supplements, share this with the doctor. Find out if these medications must be stopped during treatment.

10. How you get a hold of the doctor, if you need to, during the day or evening?


Things to do Before Starting Chemotherapy:

See the Dentist: Chemotherapy medications can put you at risk when it comes to getting infections. It is best not to have dental work during treatment; have all necessary work done beforehand.  Your dentist can also offer advice on coping with mouth side effects from chemo.

Have a PAP  Smear:  It is best to have your annual PAP before chemotherapy begins. Sometimes chemotherapy can cause a false-positive  reading.

Buy a Wig: Go wig shopping with a family member or friend before you lose your hair.  The wig stylist can match your hair color easier this way. Most cancer centers have lists of wig retailers recommended by former patients.  Avoid buying wigs online; wigs need to be tried on to check the fit and more often need to be trimmed.

Check with your insurance company to see whether they will pay for a wig; if they do, you will need your doctor to write a prescription for a "cranial prosthesis." 

Make Plans for Getting to and from Chemotherapy: Ask a family member or friend to take you to and from treatments until you know how you will react to the chemo medications. If this person can stay with you, during treatment, that would be even better.

Keep what you wear to treatment comfortable: Treatment can last a few hours. You usually sit on a recliner chair, so you can stretch out and even sleep. 

Speak with your employer:  If you work outside of your home, you need to make your employer aware of your treatment regime and how it may impact on your work schedule. It may be possible for you to parts of your job from home, or to have a flex schedule that accommodates the time you must take treatment. If working is not a possibility, speak with someone in the human resources department at your company about The Family Medical Leave Act.  You don’t want to quit your job; your insurance benefits can help cover the significant costs related to chemotherapy. Before you speak to anyone in human resources, speak to a social worker at your treatment center and learn more about your options.

Make Child-Care Arrangements:  If you have small children, you will need someone to care for them on the days you are receiving treatment, not only when you are in the treatment center, but when you return home. You will need to have someone drop off and pick up your school-age children on the days you get chemotherapy.

Feed the Freezer: Accept offers from others willing to prepare meals that can be frozen and then defrosted and consumed at a later date. Ask that dishes not be spicy of strong smelling as they might be hard to tolerate when you are not feeling well. If you are cooking, plan menus that are easy and won’t sap your energy.

Ask and Accept Help with Day to Day Activities:  Friends and family feel better when you suggest what you need help with during chemo. Help that is most often needed:

  • Grocery shopping and meal preparations  
  • Child care in-home and after school
  • House cleaning
  • Errands
  • Spending time being there for you

Being prepared for chemotherapy will make it easier to get through treatment and its side-effects. .

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