Chemotherapy (chemo) can be one of the most intimidating medical treatments, causing fear and anxiety for many patients. It can be difficult transitioning into a life with chemo because of the unexpected.

Chemotherapy is the use of strong medicines to treat cancer and serious blood disorders. Before treatment you will take a blood test so your physician can determine the type, frequency and duration of chemo you will have. Lab tests are done and checked prior to each session to make sure it’s safe to treat you.

Chemo is given in cycles, which will allow you to rest and recover between treatments. Cycles can range from days to weeks. For example, one patient can take medicine every 21 days for six cycles. Another patient can take medicine weekly for 6 weeks. Your cycle will depend on your blood test results and type of cancer.

Preparing for Chemo

On the day of chemo doctors recommend you:

  • Eat a good breakfast or lunch prior to treatment.
  • Dress comfortably as if you were going on a long-distance flight.
  • Bring someone for the first treatment to gauge if you need someone for treatments.

Changes in the Body

During chemo several changes happen in the body. The following are tips to maintain health and comfort during treatment:

  • Practice good hand washing. Immunity is decreased during chemo treatments and the risk of infection is higher. Good hand washing is key to maintaining health during this time. Having hand sanitizer handy and avoiding large crowds and sick people are important to avoid getting an infection.
  • Talk to your doctor if you have a temperature above 100 degrees, chills, cough or burning with urination.
  • Be gentle with your mouth. Mouth dryness and sensitivity are heightened with chemo. Obtain a soft toothbrush and avoid harsh mouthwash.
  • Keep your skin moisturized. Some treatments may cause dryness to the skin. Use ample lotion, moisturizers and lip balm to prevent dryness.
  • Wear sunscreen. Skin may be more sensitive to the sun during chemo. Be sure to apply sunscreen prior to going outside, wear long sleeves and hats and try to stay in the shade.

Chemo affects any cells that divide rapidly. This includes taste buds. Because of this food may seem bland or taste differently. This is only temporary and taste buds will bounce back to normal once treatment is complete. Some tips to maintain health during chemo are:

  • Aim for high calorie/high protein meals.
  • If you have a loss of appetite, take supplements (i.e., Boost®, Ensure®).
  • Wash fruits and veggies prior to eating.
  • Avoid raw fish and questionable foods.

It is common to have the following symptoms during treatment. These include:

  • Hair loss
  • Fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Pain
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Neuropathy

If the symptoms are persistent or are causing extreme discomfort, you may want to bring it to the attention of your treating physician. For more information, call (562) 933-0900 to attend Chemotherapy 101, a seminar held at the MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute at Long Beach Medical Center dedicated to educating patients about chemotherapy.