When you first heard the news that you have breast cancer, your mind was surely a rush of emotions and questions. The first question that likely came to mind was what to do next.

The answer to that question is different for everyone, but you’ll generally want to decide what type of treatment to receive. If your oncologist suggests chemotherapy, it’s best to start planning earlier rather than later.

Understanding Your Treatment

Before you start chemotherapy, make sure that you fully understand your treatment plan. Don’t feel rushed to start treatment before you’ve gotten your questions answered. Take a few days to get information and discuss the treatment plan with your family.

You should also take this time to contact your insurance company to review your coverage. Learning about your health insurance plan and what it covers will help you be ready for the expected treatment costs. It can also give you some peace of mind as you make decisions.

Ask a member of your oncology treatment team, like a nurse or social worker, to help you ask your insurance company the right questions about your benefits. Even if you don’t have insurance or are unemployed, you shouldn’t skip medical appointments or delay starting chemotherapy because you’re worried about finances. Talk with your social worker about insurance options like Medicaid and about organizations that provide financial assistance to cancer patients.

Scheduling Your Treatments

Once you’ve gotten the information you need, discuss your chemotherapy starting date with your oncologist. One part of the discussion will be the schedule of chemotherapy sessions. Treatment schedules can vary depending on your type of cancer and what type of medications you’ll be taking. For example, sessions may be once a week, once every two weeks, or once every three weeks.

Chemotherapy schedules are usually given in cycles. Cycles consist of a number of treatment days followed by a recovery period of several weeks to give the body time to heal.

Starting Your Treatment

Starting treatment as early as possible increases the chances of stopping the cancer from spreading to other parts of the body. Typically, oncologists recommend starting cancer within 30 days of being diagnosed.

As research as shown, it’s especially important for women who’ve been diagnosed with advanced breast cancer not to delay treatment.

Some breast cancer patients who have surgery first, are then recommended to receive chemotherapy. Research has found that women who started chemotherapy 30 days after surgery had better success rates than those who delayed starting chemotherapy until 61 days or longer. Before starting chemotherapy, however, your oncologist will probably recommend a certain amount of healing time. You’ll also likely need to wait for a surgery pathology report and have further testing before starting chemotherapy treatment.

Being Prepared

Deciding when to start your treatment sessions and coping with the disruption it’ll cause in your daily routine is a stressful time. Prepare yourself by talking over your concerns with your oncology treatment team. Your social worker may be able to help you schedule your calendar and make other arrangements. Ask your family and friends for support on your first day of treatment and for the several following sessions.

You may want to ask your oncologist or other treatment team member these questions:

  • If I start chemotherapy within the next 30 days, how will it affect my chances of survival?
  • What can I do to get ready for treatment?
  • How will my daily life change once I start chemotherapy?
  • How many cycles do you think I will need? How often will the treatments be?
  • What chemo drugs will I receive?
  • After my chemotherapy has ended, what other treatments will I need and what will my follow-up plan be?

Staring chemotherapy may not be easy physically or emotionally, but it’s one of your best chances of stopping the cancer from spreading.