Breast cancer survivor shares her chemotherapy tips for patients who need chemotherapy.
Finding out I needed to have chemotherapy felt almost as upsetting and frightening as finding out I had cancer. Chemotherapy is a scary word, but keep in mind that chemotherapy is a little like childbirth. No two experiences are exactly the same. Plus, they are getting better and better and helping patients with chemotherapy side effects. In addition, we can each share our experiences and help and support each other through it. You can get through chemotherapy if you need to have it.
I had chemotherapy for my breast cancer. I had an invasive ductal carcinoma stage 1, grade 2, .7 cm tumor, ER+/PR+/Her2- and no lymph nodes involved. Unfortunately, I had a high enough Oncotype DX test score at a young enough age for cancer that chemotherapy was part of my treatment.
Chemotherapy was a marathon. I had multiple treatments over months. Though everyone’s cancer, body, chemotherapy drugs and reactions are unique, I will say endurance, patience and following the doctors’ instructions were helpful. It felt like I was running a marathon physically and mentally and emotionally.
What did I wish I had known going into chemotherapy?
Sleep problems: I had steroids before, during and after each chemotherapy session. They made sleep impossible for several days around each chemotherapy treatment. I learned to lie awake relaxed for the night and to consider just getting up and doing something. Both are choices that could make the sleeplessness less emotionally upsetting.
Food: I never threw up with chemotherapy. Surprise! I always had a nervous stomach, but I didn’t throw up during chemotherapy. I did feel a little nauseated a couple times—usually when I got a little too adventurous with my eating. I ate small frequent meals of healthful foods. A calm stomach helped me to stay calm and happier.
Energy: My energy level during chemotherapy was sporadic at best. I cut back on my exercise when needed, and I learned to really, really listen to my body. The chemotherapy marathon is about learning to prioritize, and to stop and to rest when needed. When I didn’t listen to my body, I suddenly felt like I was out on a tightrope without a safety net.
Learning curve: For some, if chemotherapy goes well the first time, it goes well for the other times. For others, chemotherapy may go well the first time but get more difficult each time. Sometimes unexpected things happen. Everybody is different. Listen to your doctors and your body and communicate with the doctor quickly if something happens. Share your symptoms with the doctor and be sure you are heard.
You will get through your chemotherapy treatment. Be gentle to yourself, attentive to what your doctors and nurses tell you and communicate, communicate, communicate. Allow that it is OK if you find chemotherapy to be a challenging experience and also let your loved ones and medical team know what you need when you need it.