4 May 2013

Coping with Chemotherapy. Advice from a hair obsessed chemotherapy graduate. Part one- general.

Hello everyone,
I have been threatening to write this for a while and now that I am a fully qualified chemotherapy graduate I have decided that now is the time.

I had six treatments of chemo, the first three were FEC and the second three were Taxotere. The most important thing I can tell you, is that every single person deals with chemotherapy differently. Everyone experiences side effects in different ways. Some people are absolutely fine and even manage to work (how they do this I will never know, huge amount of jealousy and respect from me), other people have a slightly harder time. I was one of these people. Panic not, if I can make it to the end, anyone can. It may not feel like it at the time but eventually it will all be over and you will feel like a human again.

The purpose of this blog post is to list everything that I found helpful during my chemotherapy in the hope it can help some of you too. I am not claiming to know everything and can only offer advice based on my own experiences but I do hope it helps. Please feel free to comment if you have any other tips.

  •          WATER

Drink it. Lots of it. This is particularly important to do the day before, the day of and the day after each treatment. I tried to drink at least 2 litres, ideally 2 and a half. Believe me it makes a big difference to how you feel.

  •          Keep your arm as warm as possible after chemo

I cut the end off of a fluffy sock and wore that on my arm. I suffered with phlebitis and keeping your arm warm really helps.

  •          Try to keep active

I know this is harder than it sounds, even just going for some gentle walks can really help. 

  •          Listen to your body

It tells you what you need. If you are tired, rest. If you are hungry, eat. If you crave a particular food, have it. Don’t try to push yourself too hard too soon, it won’t help.

  •          Moisturise

I found that my skin got really dry during both treatments, particularly my hands and face, so invest in some good moisturiser and keep hydrated. You don’t want wrinkles on top of everything else!

  •          Invest in an ear thermometer

They give a more accurate measure and are easy to use. You will learn to love it. Checking my temperature became part of my daily routine!

  •          Hair loss 

This is a biggie for most people. In my case, I knew it was inevitable, but some people on different chemotherapy drugs keep their hair. I waited until it became too distressing to watch it fall out any longer and took myself off to the hair dresser, chosing to have it shaved into various different hairstyles for a laugh before shaving the last bit off myself. You can see how I dealt with it here

  •          Have a bag packed ready for any unexpected hospital trips

In this bag you need; pyjamas, socks, slippers, a jumper or cardigan that opens at the front, toiletries, a towel, a book/puzzle book, spare underwear, a change of comfy clothes or at least clean t-shirts and leggings, iPod/iPad (optional), phone charger. Having some home comforts makes any hospital stay that little bit better.

  •          Plan fun things for the ‘good’ week of your treatment cycle

It gives you things to look forward to and something to aim towards when you are feeling rubbish. I tried to see Snoop Doggy Rob, or go for lunch with friends and as I’m sure you all know I did the odd bit of online shopping too. Hey, it made me feel better so I thought why not?

  •          Make the most of this time in bed/on the sofa

Read the books you always meant to and watch the films and TV series that you never had time to.

  •          Taste change

This can be horrible. I often found cold foods tasted better and drinks worked best with a straw.

  •          Bonjela

I got mouth ulcers but found bonjela worked a treat. The doc can also give you mouth wash which also helps.

  •          Be organised

Keep all of your hospital letters/leaflets in an easy to find folder, that way if you or anyone else need to find anything quickly you know where it is.

  •          Let people look after you

I struggled with this one. I always felt like a burden, but the truth is your family and friends want to help you. They want to do anything they can to make you feel a bit better. If you push them away you are not helping anyone, especially not yourself.

  •          Don’t be too hard on yourself

There will be times when you want to scream, cry, shout and laugh. Do it, you need to do whatever you can to make yourself better. Bottling up your emotions won’t help. I learnt this the hard way, don’t make the same mistake. 

  •          Be honest

With other people and with yourself. If someone asks how you feel, the natural response is to say you feel fine. If this isn’t true people can tell. Your face/eyes give everything away. Madre told me this early on and so I learnt albeit reluctantly to tell her the truth about how I was feeling. If you don’t feel well call your hospital ward, they will try their best to help. Don’t pretend you are fine, when you aren’t. Spotting and dealing with symptoms early is the key to staying well, again I learnt this the hard way.  

I hope that this helps at least some of you. The thing to remember is that it will all be worth it once you have finished!

Love you long time. X

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous13.5.13

    I'm glad you were able to go through with all of them despite having a slightly harder time (I'm guessing that's an understatement).
    I wish I could say the same for me. I had 2 FEC treatments but responded very badly to them, so I changed to AC. That also didn't go as expected. Everyone (oncologists, nurses) is very surprised with my extreme reaction to chemotherapy. They've never seen anything like it before. I was supposed to have one more round of AC before continuing with paclitaxel, but I just can't handle it any more.
    I'm taking a short breather to get my head back in the game and then I'll continue with the paclitaxel instead. I'm hoping for the best but I'm not expecting miracles.

    My tips are:

    * Talk to you doctor. They don't want to see you suffer and maybe they can help.
    * Take your anti-nausea medication. I've developed something called anticipatory nausea; it means that I get nauseated just from thinking of chemo/anything related to it. E.g. walking into the hospital is a struggle. And getting sick day(s) before I start my next round of chemo makes things worse.
    * Do something that relaxes you. Go for a little trip, book a massage, try relaxation techniques.
    * Try acupuncture. It didn't help for me but who knows...maybe it will for you.
    * If you have trouble sleeping or calming down then consider asking for medication. There's no shame in taking a sedative, nausea is something that happens in your brain and if you can influence that by calming down/sleeping...then you should consider it.
    * Talk to a professional. If you get (very) sick you'll feel helpless and you might want to talk to someone about that. I know that for me, being so extremely sick for almost weeks on end, I couldn't cope with it alone any more.