Bernice-M-Gallblader

Six ways to prepare yourself for chemo

In 2015, Beth W. was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. After receiving her initial treatment at another facility, she sought out a second opinion at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA), where she eventually underwent chemotherapy, radiation and surgery—a nine-month treatment plan. For the past six years, Beth’s scans have shown no evidence of disease, and today, she serves in our Cancer Fighters program, helping other patients through their cancer journey with tips, advice and peer support. One aspect she gets the most questions about is how she dealt with chemotherapy. Here are the six ways she says she prepared for her treatments and the side effects they caused.

  1. Understand how chemotherapy works and why some people may experience side effects. This is important because you may think something is wrong during treatment when it’s really the medication working. After you feel bad for so many months during chemotherapy, it’s hard to believe the nausea, diarrhea and fatigue will ever end. They do!
  2. Research each chemotherapy drug and its specific side effects. These documents are included in your treatment plan, and there’s lots of information about the potential side effects. Take time to read through it and prepare for the months ahead. I did experience a couple of the rarer side effects and felt better prepared for them because I had done my research. For example, during treatment, I got an infection in my fingernails—a side effect of the drugs I was taking. If I hadn’t researched my drugs beforehand, I wouldn’t have made the connection.
  3. Compare and contrast each drug. If all the cancer drugs show nausea as a side effect, prepare for nausea. If all the cancer drugs show fatigue as a side effect, prepare for fatigue. This way, you can have a levelheaded discussion with your care team ahead of treatment on how to combat common (and not so common) side effects.
  4. Keep a journal of your side effects. Try to write down how you’re feeling every day at different times (try morning, noon and night for three starting points), what degree of side effects you’re experiencing and how you’re sleeping and eating. This is especially helpful when it comes to recalling and communicating information to your care team. The more information you share, the more insight your care team has into what’s going on and how they may help. Remember, your care team most likely has solutions to every side effect you’re experiencing. Don’t hesitate to call them!
  5. Stay on top of your prescriptions. I worked with my care team on prescriptions to curb side effects, including nausea. Whether you prefer to use a weekly pill organizer or an app on your phone to remind you to take your medication, be consistent with taking them.
  6. Remember: Chemo is temporary. The medication may make you feel sick, but it isn’t going to be this way forever. I purchased a big calendar to cross off each treatment and count down the days until I was done. My last two treatments were the worst for side effects, but using my calendar and my daily statement of faith (“The chemo is killing the cancer and healing is happening”) helped keep my eyes on the prize.