Getting ready for your first chemotherapy treatment session will most likely be an anxious time. It’s perfectly normal to be nervous about starting any type of medical procedure, especially chemotherapy. But being prepared beforehand will help ease some of your stress and anxiety.
Here are some ways to prepare for your first session:
Ensure safe and easy venous access.
Your oncologist may suggest you have a central venous catheter (CVC) inserted prior to your first chemotherapy infusion. Having a CVC makes it easier to put medicine, blood products, nutrients, or fluids directly into your bloodstream. The most common CVCs are peripherally inserted central catheters (PICC lines) and ports. A PICC line is inserted into a large vein. Ports are inserted under the skin in your chest or upper arm by a surgeon or radiologist. Both can stay in for the duration of your chemotherapy. Ask your oncologist about the risks and benefits of each and which, if any, CVC is best for you.
See your dentist.
If you haven’t seen your dentist in the past 6 months, it’s a good idea to have a checkup before starting chemotherapy. Your dentist should look for any signs of infection. Treating any infections before you begin chemotherapy can help lower the risk of complications during treatment, as well as delays in treatment.
Choose your companion.
Most facilities allow patients to bring at least one family member or friend with them to chemotherapy. Your companion can help with answering questions, taking notes, understanding home medication instructions, and prepping for your next session. Also, make sure your companion is prepared to drive you to and from the treatment facility. Some of the chemotherapy medications may make you drowsy or too uncomfortable to drive.
Plan your trip.
Make sure you, and your companion, know how to get from your home to your treatment facility. Also, find out where to park, where to check-in, and who to contact if you ever find yourself running late.
Prepare for side effects.
Ask your oncologist about any possible side effects. Knowing what to anticipate, even before your first session, can ensure that you’re ready and prepared for them. For example, your kitchen cupboard may not be stocked with ginger candy or ginger tea now, but these items are some of the best natural remedies for nausea.
Pick up your prescriptions.
Make sure you have picked up all your home medications from the pharmacy and that you understand how to take them.
Stock up on supplies.
It’s also a good idea to keep certain medical-related items on hand, like prescriptions, dressing supplies, and a thermometer. You may need these items after your treatment, when you’re likely going to be too tired to go to the store.
Go grocery shopping.
Make sure you have plenty of food and nutritious drinks in your house. You may also want to prepare some meals ahead of time, or have a meal schedule put in place. The first three to five days after chemotherapy are usually the worst and you may not feel up to cooking or going out.
Read any educational materials your oncologist has given you about your chemotherapy treatment and what to expect after you go home. Ask questions if something is unclear or causes you concern.
Practice stress relief exercises.
Relaxation techniques or practices may help with symptoms of anxiety. Practicing yoga has been shown to be especially beneficial for cancer patients. Meditation is another relaxation technique that can give you a sense of calm by focusing your attention to eliminate stressful thoughts. Other types of relaxation techniques that might help are hypnosis, massage, tai chi, music therapy, and aromatherapy.
You’ll likely be sitting or lying down for several hours, so loose, comfortable clothing is oftentimes best. Treatment rooms can also be chilly, so pack a cozy sweatshirt, blanket, and warm socks. And if you have a PICC line or a port, make sure that your doctor will be able to access it easily.
Pack a snack or small meal.
Your chemotherapy sessions can last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. Plan ahead for what you’ll eat on treatment days by packing snacks or a small meal in an insulated bag. Most patients find that eating an hour or so before treatment works best. Some good snacks include nuts, whole-grain crackers, hard cheese, hummus, granola bars, and fruit. Also, ask if there’s a refrigerator available for your use.
Drink plenty of water during the days before your first session and afterwards. If water tastes unpleasant to you, add flavor by putting in fresh fruit, cucumber slices, or mint leaves. Or, switch to other fluids like juices, milk, sports drinks, and herbal tea.
Passing the time during treatment takes planning. Decide what books, music, games, or other enjoyable distractions you want to have with you. Your companion can also be a good source of entertainment. Playing board games for two can make the hours go by quickly.
Know that the treatment facility staff is there to help make your chemotherapy session go as smoothly as possible. If there’s anything you need, don’t hesitate to ask.
Once your first session has ended, take some time to think about what worked best for you. Did the session go as expected? Were you comfortable in your clothing? Did you get hungry or bored? Then, make any necessary tweaks to your plan before your next appointment.