Chemo is a tough slog, but advice from others who have been there can help make it a bit easier.
Tori Tomalia is a two-time cancer survivor currently living with stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer since May of 2013. Her first cancer experience was childhood osteogenic sarcoma, for which she received chemotherapy and curative surgery, and had been cancer-free for over 20 years prior to the lung cancer diagnosis. Along with cancer, Tori juggles life as a mom of 3 small children, a wife, a theatre artist, writer and lung cancer awareness advocate.
Thanks to my awesome targeted medicine, a pill that I take twice a day, it has been almost two years since I have been on IV chemo. While my scans still look great, my hemoglobin is low so I am having several weeks of iron infusions. I am so out of practice with IV medicine that I had forgotten all the hints I picked up during my time in the chair. I couldn't believe all the newbie mistakes I made, so I am writing down some tips here to help myself and you, my lovely readers.
Fluids, fluids, fluids. Drink as much as you can the night before and the morning of your infusion. This will make it easier to find a vein for the IV, and it will help to flush the chemo out. I was kicking myself that I forgot about this when I went in for my infusion. After the third failed attempt at starting an IV I realized that the half-glass of apple juice I had had that morning just wasn’t going to cut it.
2) Pass the Salt
This goes along with no. 1, but I would always have a salty dinner the night before chemo to help keep me nice and thirsty. (Note – I have low blood pressure naturally, so salt is my pal. If you have blood pressure issues, go easy with this.)
3) Get Hot
I mean this is the most literal sense. I used to wear long sleeves and a sweater, and would sometimes even leave my coat on in the waiting area to keep my body temperature up. This helped my veins to dilate, and become nice and visible to the people starting the IV.
I foolishly showed up for my 10 a.m. infusion with nothing to occupy my time, thinking I would be in and out quickly. HA!
When they finally started the IV an hour and a half later, my phone battery was just about gone and I was left twiddling my thumbs for the next hour or so. When I was going through chemo, I would always bring a tablet, headphones, and a charger and would settle in for a nice movie festival during the long wait and infusion. My husband and I would turn it into a bizarre date night. Hey, you gotta make your fun where you can.
Infusion days tend to be very long, so pack a couple of easy-to-eat snacks. I find that an empty stomach is an upset stomach, so keep something in your belly to stay ahead of the hunger. Many cancer centers also have a snack room, so have a poke around there and see what takes your fancy.
Your doctor should be able to predict how many days after your infusion your immune system will weaken. I managed to go through four months of chemo with a kindergartener and two toddlers in the house without getting sick. It is possible! During my low white blood cell count days, I would wash my hands very frequently (some might say obsessively), and I would avoid touching my face. I never realized how often I would scratch my nose or rub my eyes until my physician's assistant explained that this is how most viruses get passed between people. Try it, you will be amazed how often you touch your face in a day.
Chemo is notorious for causing a whole host of side effects; some of the most common are nausea, diarrhea and constipation. Talk to your doctor about these possibilities before
your infusion so you can have the medications on hand when the side effects hit.
Now it's your turn. What tips have you learned from your time in the chair?
Tori Tomalia is many things: a mom, a wife, a theatre artist, a mediocre cook, a Buffy fan, a stinky cheese aficionado. She is also, unfortunately, a repeat visitor to CancerLand. Stay tuned for her continued adventures.
Blog: "A Lil Lytnin' Strikes Lung Cancer" lil-lytnin.blogspot.com