Going through chemotherapy can be frightening. You’ll soon find yourself faced with many decisions. These decisions will range from how you should manage your actual treatment to how to manage changes related to different aspects of your life.

While there are decisions that many patients often associate with chemotherapy, there are also multiple decisions you may be faced with related to your chemotherapy experience. Being aware and prepared for some of these decisions may help you feel more empowered and may help alleviate anxiety and stress during your treatment.

How do I decide where to have my chemotherapy treatment?

One of the first decisions you’ll have to make is where to receive your treatment. Hospitals, cancer care facilities, and doctor’s offices are all viable options for receiving chemotherapy.

These are some things to keep in mind when making this decision:

  • Access: You will visit the facility several times a month for a few months in a row. The facility’s location will probably play an important factor in your decision. Along with this, you’ll also want to keep in mind how you will be traveling to and from your facility. There may be a few times when you need to rely on family members or friends to help you drive to your appointments, or you may need to take public transportation.
  • Comfort Level: You need to feel comfortable with the staff’s expertise and knowledge. Visiting the facility, taking a tour, and talking with the staff before making your final decision may be helpful.
  • Knowledge: You need to feel that the facility’s staff is equipped to help you in case of an emergency, or if you experience serious side effects. It’s also worth considering access to emergency care and proximity to major hospitals.
  • Insurance Coverage: Some treatment facilities may not be fully or even partially covered under certain health insurance policies.

What’s the Best Way to Manage My Side Effects?

There are three main ways to manage some of the most common side effects related to chemotherapy: medication, complementary therapy, and self-care.

  • Medications: Your medical oncologist may be able to prescribe certain medications to help deal with certain side effects. You will probably find, for example, that anti-nausea medications can be very beneficial.
  • Complementary Therapies: Complementary therapies can also be used to ease your side effects. Your doctor may suggest you begin an exercise regimen or start practicing yoga. While these techniques may help reduce the impact of side effects, you should still talk with your medical oncologist before undergoing any complementary therapy.
  • Self-Care: As a patient, you also have control over management of your side effects. Make sure that you’re getting enough rest, following nutritional recommendations, exercising, and listening to your body. 

How Can I Manage the Changes in My Appearance During Chemotherapy?

Many of the side effects that women often experience with chemotherapy — such as nausea, hair loss, fatigue, weight loss, or weight gain — may cause anxiety and stress because of the visible physical changes associated with cancer treatment.

Here's how you may be able to adapt to these changes:

  • Hair loss: Patients who experience hair loss may choose to wear a wig, scarf, or hat to cover their head. Many cancer care treatment centers can connect patients with local hair stylists and salons that specialize in cutting and styling wigs for cancer patients.
  • Exhaustion: Chemotherapy is a powerful treatment. As a result, it’s likely that you will feel tired or worn out. Getting plenty of rest is an important step for your recovery. 
  • Weight: As your chemotherapy treatments progress, you may experience weight gain or loss. Buying a few pieces of clothing that you can mix and match easily can help while not spending a large amount on a new wardrobe. Good nutrition is one way you can maintain a healthy weight. Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean meat, and dairy can help reduce side effects and fight off infections.

What can I do to manage my relationships during chemotherapy?

Going through the breast cancer experience, particularly the treatment itself, can be stressful for you as well as for your family and friends. You’ll be dealing with new anxieties and fears on a regular basis. Because of this, some of your relationships may become strained.

There are various ways to get support for you and your relationships during chemotherapy.

You’ll first need to decide who is being affected by your treatment. Your spouse, children, parents, and friends may all be impacted. You’ll then want to think about the best way to manage the relationship between you and this person(s). Many cancer treatment centers offer counseling and support groups for people with cancer and their family members. The American Cancer Society can help you find a group in your area. In these groups, you can express your concerns, frustrations, and fears. Likewise, you can hear from other individuals who have faced similar experiences. Together, you and your loved ones can find understanding, and work together to fight cancer and heal.

How can I handle working while on chemotherapy?

People undergoing chemotherapy face unique decisions regarding their work. One of the first decisions to make is whether you can and should continue working during your treatments. If you’re able to continue working, either on a regular full-time or partial basis, you’re most likely going to need to adjust or modify your typical work schedule. Chemotherapy can affect your performance level, so you’ll want to let your colleagues know about your treatment, and, if possible, how it may affect you in the workplace. For example, you may need to take more breaks or leave work early on some days.

Another decision you may have to make is where you are going to do your work. Working from home may be an option. If this is the case, you may want to name a point person, or someone that can be responsible for you in the workplace.

If you decide that you’re unable to continue working, you’ll need to think about how you’re going to take the time off. Your direct boss, manager, or your company’s human resources department should be able to help arrange an extended absence.

Talk with your oncologist about any concerns you may have regarding your work. You may be able to schedule your treatment at the end of the week, for example, which could allow you to rest up during the weekend and continue back to work on Monday.