Thursday, 25 October 2012

A Guide to What happens on YOUR First Day of Chemo.

I have had some people call me and ask me what chemo is really like.   Sometimes when people ask this they are looking for the true answer, no matter what it may be, however quite often they want to hear that you made it through and it wasn't so bad, because then they feel they can manage it.

Chemo is very different for everyone, it's not just the drugs you are given that are different, it is also the way your body reacts to these drugs that varies greatly.  It's not an exact science.  So for those reading this, you must be forewarned that the experience will be written with the good, the bad and the ugly,  all shall be revealed.  However, that being said, if you are on different drugs your side affects can be different.  Also if you into chemo out of shape and not well to start with, then of course you will experience tougher side effects.

Before leaving home make sure you are properly dressed for Chemo.  I suggest comfortable pants (LuLu Lemon yoga pants work), socks, a t-shirt and zip up lightweight hoodie or yoga jacket.  As your chemo progresses you women reading this who haven't already, will find their body getting pushed into menopause, so to be able to quickly remove layers is a must!  If you have, wear slip on shoes, and of course, after you loose your hair, you should wear a nice comfortable toque or scarf.   Do not wear all your fancy jewellery, do not wear perfume.  Bring something that will keep you busy, a book, an iPod or other music player with headphones.  I bring my laptop and watch shows on NetFlix or listen to audiobooks on my iPhone.  Make sure your ride home is organized as you will not be in any state to drive yourself.  Finally, try to meditate and put yourself into a positive frame of mind going in there each time.  I know this may be hard for beginners, but it does help make things easier on you.  If you show up positive, your vibes will be felt by others and returned.

One of the big things about chemo is that you had to get your blood drawn the day prior, and then use another vein for chemo the day of.  The challenges with using veins for chemo can be; the veins are hard to find, the veins disappear or roll when the needle goes though, the needle may not sit properly and the chemo could go into the skin area rather than the vein - serious issue.  So, for those of you facing 4 or more chemo session I high recommend you speak to your Oncologist about a port-a-cath or port for short  Once it has been implanted into your chest wall, then all your blood draws can be taken from there.  No more poking around for a vein, missing the vein and having the chemo go into the skin, and also no risk of the vein collapsing from the chemo.  (If you want me to write a separate blog about the port installation, please let me know.)

So here goes.  My first round of chemo was Adriamycin (Doxorubicin) and Cyclophosphamide.  Now both these drugs are strong drugs which have brutal side affects.  Your cocktail maybe different although I'm sure just as potent.  So no fun to look forward to.  Your first experience walking into the Chemo ward could be quite dramatic, prepare yourself for that.  Like me, you may still have your hair, and you may never have been sick in your life.  So to walk into a clinic where people are lined up like cows ready to be milked, with IV lines hooked into each one of them, in different states of alertness, can be very frightening.  My suggestion here is to find a nurse or one of the lovely volunteers and let them know how you are feeling.  They understand and they will do everything they can to shelter you and help you to relax and feel at home.

If you are new, the nurses will probably find you a nice bed, get your IV set up and begin your pre-meds.  If you don't already have a port installed at this point, don't worry about it, I got mine in after my 6th chemo session, wish I had done it sooner.  Depending on the chemo you are getting the pre-meds can be everything from steroids to anti nausea meds and also allergy medications.  These can leave you feeling sleepy or wired.  If you become totally wired and start leaning towards an anxiety attack, talk to your nurse, she may be able to give you an ativan to help calm you down.

Your first chemo session takes a long time as the drugs need to be made when you get there, and then they need to drip slowly into you as the nurses watch for reactions.  During this time, you will feel scared, nervous, perhaps even sick to the stomach or maybe even wired from the steroids.  That's all okay, just ask as many questions as you can if that helps calm you down, or close your eyes and try to sleep through it, or bring out that book or iPod and rock to some tunes.

Four to five hours later you will be ready to go home.  Hopefully your driver is there or has been called.  He/she may have to pick up some medications for you to bring home to help you manage the side affects that are about to come.  It is best if they can get these medications before you are picked up so you can just go straight home from chemo, you will not feel like going anywhere else.  Now is when the difficult stuff starts.  The long list of chemo (and pre-med) side affects will start to kick in within 10-24 hours of being home.  As these are so varied, I'll leave them to another blog.  This blogs focus was to help you know a little more about the actual chemo experience at the hospital and what you can do to help yourself through it.

I think I've covered most of it, however please post in the comments or message me if you have questions on specific areas around "the first day of chemo" and I'll do my best to get you some answers.

Be strong!

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