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When Chemo Day Arrives

When chemo day arrives.

Are you facing chemotherapy for the first time soon, or do you care about someone who is? Are you (or are they) feeling afraid? Are you wondering what to expect on that first infusion day?

Facing the unknown is always hard. When facing chemo there are a lot of unknowns. No wonder it’s so terrifying!

If you are facing chemo for the first time, I hope reading this excerpt from my book, Getting Past the Fear:  A Guide to Help You Mentally Prepare for1 Chemotherapy, helps just a bit.

When Chemo Day Arrives

When the day arrives marking the beginning of your chemo campaign, expect to feel many emotions, the greatest one more than likely being fear mixed with plenty of dread.

I remember that day well. I was terrified, but at the same time, outwardly quite calm.

Before getting started, the chemo nurse asked me, “Well, how do you feel, Nancy? Are you nervous?”

Dumb question.

It wasn’t possible for her, or anyone, to completely understand how fearful I was actually feeling. If truth be told, I felt like leaping out of the brown fake-leather recliner I had carefully chosen and running out the door as fast as possible.

This is why I wrote this book, to help alleviate some of your fear.

If you know what to expect, at least somewhat, hopefully some of the fear can be tamped down a bit. Sometimes getting rid of even a little bit of fear makes a difference.

Before you begin chemo, your doctor may or may not recommend a port. If you have a choice in the matter, in my opinion, a port is the way to go once you get over the shock of needing such a God–awful thing.

Generally, a port is surgically inserted on a day before chemo starts. It’s a fairly minor procedure, but many like to get it out of the way early. My surgeon wanted to put my port in place a week or so before chemo started, but I bawled like a baby when he told me this because Dear Hubby and I had a getaway planned and the thought of going on our mini-vacation with a port in, caused me considerable distress. Go figure.

I guess this was one of my breaking points. My tears and pleading quickly changed the surgeon’s mind, and my port was surgically put in place on the same day as my first chemo infusion. That worked out fine.

Who said tears can’t get you what you want?

Just kidding.

You might find it helpful to have your partner, another loved one or a friend accompany you, especially for your first chemo infusion. Others prefer to go it alone. Decide before the day arrives. Certain drugs may make you too sleepy to drive safely, so find out beforehand if you’ll even be allowed to drive home.

It’s usually a good idea to eat something before your infusion if you can, although they usually have soup, crackers, juice and the like available, so don’t worry if you can’t eat beforehand.

Don’t expect to sleep much the night before. Also, chemo takes several hours, so be sure to wear comfortable clothing.

When you arrive at the clinic or hospital for your first chemo infusion, generally speaking, here is what you can expect:

  •  You will check in with the receptionist like usual at your cancer center.

  • Your weight will be recorded as it will be closely monitored for fluctuations throughout chemotherapy.

  • You will have an appointment with your oncologist either before or after your infusion to go over things and to have a quick physical exam.

  • You will have blood taken to check and subsequently monitor your red and white blood cells, as well as other markers. If you have a port, blood can be drawn through that. I always liked to receive a copy of my blood work report. If you want one, ask for it.

  • You will meet the chemo nurse who will be responsible for your infusion. He or she will double check your name and birthdate and help you get comfortable.

  • Some cancer centers allow you to choose between a private room or a group setting. In a group setting, depending upon how busy your facility is, there may be just a couple of others receiving chemo or a dozen or more. If you’re put in a large group setting, there may be little privacy. This can vary quite a lot. Think about which you might prefer if you do get a choice. Be sure to ask about available options.

  • You may very likely receive anti-nausea or pre-chemotherapy drugs first through an IV, again via your port if you have one. This usually takes about half an hour. In addition, you may also be given fluids to help drugs work more effectively and to keep you hydrated. Don’t be afraid to drink fluids as well. Don’t worry about bathroom breaks. You can easily use the restroom during infusions. Dragging the IV along with you is no big deal. Just be sure to ask the nurse the first time what you can and cannot disconnect.

  • The infusion of your prescribed chemotherapy drug(s) will then begin. The process may take several hours to complete, so be sure to bring reading material or music to listen to. Some people sleep or watch TV. I could never do either.

  • When the infusion is complete, your IV will be removed and your vitals may be checked again.

  • Your oncology nurse should go over any possible side effects to expect and give you a chance to ask questions. If you have any, be sure to ask.

  • You may receive prescriptions for anti-nausea drugs to take at home for a day or two. It’s even better if you get these filled before your first chemo day. Be sure to fill all prescriptions and start taking medication(s) as directed before you feel ill. You want to stay ahead of the game and prevent side effects from developing if at all possible.    

Yay! You’re done!

Next time should be a little easier.

Now, go home and try to get some rest, chemo is exhausting both physically and mentally.

Knowing what to expect on chemo day can help you feel more relaxed. I hope this post helps.

Are you facing chemo soon, or do you care about someone who is?

If you’ve had chemo, what did I miss?

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Getting Past the Fear:  A guide to help you mentally prepare for #chemotherapy #cancer #chemo

  For more information about Getting Past the Fear, click on the image.

Getting Past the Fear:  A guide to help you mentally prepare for chemotherapy #cancer #chemo

When chemo day arrives, knowing what to expect can really help ease your stress. #chemotherapy #breastcancer #cancer #healthcare #womenshealth


Saturday 18th of April 2015

Thank you for this. I am about to embark on my chemo journey. Some days I feel mentally prepared, others I don't. I am currently obsessing with a need to buy hats, whilst my family sing from the sidelines 'get a wig' lol. Funny how the smallest of things can be irritating despite understanding it is their way of trying to relate and support, and knowing that losing hair would be their worst nightmare in their individual minds makes it no easier to be patient. Right now the wig just isn't important to me. I'm bad I know, maybe I'm unappreciative, that I don't know, but I have so many other things to organise in my mind, hats will be fine. An idea of how the chemo process might roll is really helpful and something I needed to consider, so thank you thank you thank you.


Sunday 19th of April 2015

Jay, I'm glad this post was timely and helpful for you. You might wish to read the entire book. Good luck with your chemo and thank you for the feedback.

Cindy Sanders

Wednesday 15th of April 2015

my husband had cancer and he had to have a pic-line. That's what I thought a port would be. So I had first chemo into the vein in my arm. It's easy to tell which arm; the one with the burned vein showing through the skin. The second chemo came AFTER I had the port put in. Get a port! I also felt wonderful on the Thursday and Friday I had infusions. The bottom didn't fall out until Saturday evening. Then I found that couldn't hold my cell phone to my ear. I was exhausted! This kind of tired can not be fixed with a good nights sleep. I had infusions on Thursday and Friday three weeks apart. I missed a total of 12 days from my part-time teaching job. My students learned more than physics that semester.


Wednesday 15th of April 2015

Cindy, I agree about the port. I freaked out when I learned I had to have one, but I was really glad I had it. Sorry about your burned vein. Ouch. I felt pretty good for a day or two as well, the steroids I guess. Then after that, the bottom dropped out for me too. Talk about mood swings. Pretty intense. And fatigue. And sleep issues. Well, you understand all too well. Your students definitely learned more than physics that semester. Cancer has a bigger than we realize ripple effect. Thank you for sharing. And I'm sorry your husband had cancer too.


Wednesday 15th of April 2015

For me there were two bits of advice that were the most valuable - 1st was to approach chemo with a sense of curiosity/exploration, and the second was to bring foods that you like but not ones that you love, as you may never want to eat them again! I've put my words of wisdom in a page here -

At Stanford Cancer Center, they didn't have any food available at the infusion center other than crackers and juice. I learned to bring along a bag of carrots because I liked to have something to mindlessly crunch on ... I did an infusion over at Stanford Redwood City and found myself wishing I had discovered that option earlier - as it was so much nicer then the cancer center (and more timely too) ...


Wednesday 15th of April 2015

Becky, I like your approach about curiosity/exploration, but I don't think it would have worked for me. My fear would have 'busted' right through that. Totally agree about the food. Someone did warn me about not eating my favorite foods on infusion day as they might never again be favorites. Thanks for sharing the link to your tips. I'll have to do a separate post for that sometime. My intent for this post was to prepare for that first day emotionally/mentally on what to expect, but all these tips from everyone are just wonderful. Thanks for yours.

Tracy Bowman

Wednesday 15th of April 2015

1. Tell nurses about any symptomscan may experience no matter how small when they start the infusion. The chemo nurse told me to tell her, but I didn't want to bother her with this funny feeling in my feet. When she came by, I casually mentioned it. Wow, she got me up immediately as the agents were likely pooling. Boy was she mad at me! Listen to those nurses...they are the best in the hospital.

2. Depending on what you are getting you may receive steroids. Those can make you wakeful. Conversely, you may receive IV Benadryl to mitigate side effects...that can make you very sleepy. Bring a comfy blankie to keep yourself warm. I cannot sleep anywhere, but I would fall asleep there!

3. I have a pharmacist friend who told me that chemo orders are among the most complex. They expect side effects and have all kinds of drugs ordered up in case they happen. Those nurses watch patients get infused many more times and for longer than the doctors. They really take good care of us!


Wednesday 15th of April 2015

Tracey, Great tips. Thank you. Why do we so often feel like we don't want to bother the nurses? Craziness. It's kind of our 'job' to do that when you think about it. And I totally agree about the chemo nurses, although I did have one that totally irritated me, but that was a personality conflict thing. They most certainly do see it all and take wonderful care of us indeed. Thanks again for sharing.


Wednesday 15th of April 2015

I will never forget the first day of chemo. That was the day I convinced myself I should write fiction - my imagination ran wild.

Everyone reacts so differently to chemo but based on my experience, I would highly suggest eating very small portions of foods more frequently, starting two days prior to the treatment. Because...constipation was the WORST side effect for me. Also, eating small portions of food more frequently will help with nausea.

My other two suggestions are to start taking stool softeners a day before and to be sure to keep all prescriptions handy, in case you face any side effects from the chemo. (My recommendation about stool softeners only applies to the chemo that can cause constipation.)

Nancy, you just reminded me of an experience I had with AC which I'll share soon.

I need to get your book. By the way, is it in Spanish?


Wednesday 15th of April 2015

Rebecca, I'll never forget my first chemo day either. I know what you mean about that wild imagination. Bowel issues do become high on your list of importance, that's for sure. I look forward to that post you mentioned and my book isn't available in Spanish as far as I know. I should look into that. Thank you for reading and commenting.

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