Managing Chemo: How To Take Care Of Yourself Before, During, and After Treatment

You may not really know what to expect if you’re going to go through chemotherapy for the first time. It’s likely you’re not going to be able to play as big of a role in the day to day management of your household, at least for a period of time. And that can lead to stress about whether things will get done, and how everyone will manage. Here are some ideas that can really help you worry less about the details and focus more on your health and recovering.

Things You Can Do to Prepare for Chemotherapy

1. Arrange transportation to and from chemotherapy.

Chemo appointments can take hours, and by the end, you’ll likely want to take a break and relax. Having someone there to drive you home can be a welcome chance to rest. When friends and family find out that you’re going to start chemo, they’ll often ask what they can do to help. Asking for a ride to and from a chemo appointment can be a great way for you to spend time with them while also easing some of the burdens of cancer treatment.

2. Keep your employer in the loop. 

If you’re working, it’s a big decision to tell your employer you have cancer. It’s an important conversation to have, however. That’s because you’re going to need time off for appointments and you’ll need a few days at least where you’re not concerned about work responsibilities after each treatment. You’ll know more about how you feel once you start treatment, but most people need 2-5 days to start feeling pretty good again. 

Be sure you have this conversation, even if you’re working from home as many people are these days. You don’t want to look like you’re avoiding your job or just goofing off if you’re not at the office. Being up front will go a long way in getting the understanding and backup support you need to be able to stay employed. Your employer may also have specific benefits for people with long-term illnesses that they can discuss with you. 

3. Schedule a dental cleaning. 

Dental issues and mouth sores are common during chemo, so it’s smart to get a dental cleaning and any other necessary dental work before you undergo treatment. While you’re there, talk to your dentist about proper oral hygiene during chemotherapy, and the best ways to deal with dental issues that come up. 

4. Prepare for hair changes… for men and women!

Many people lose at least some hair during chemotherapy. If you lose a significant amount of hair as you go through treatment, you have options. Many men purchase stocking caps to keep the head warm in anticipation of possible chemo-related hair loss. Some women (and some men) choose to wear a wig

You can also cover your head with a scarf or hat, or you can embrace your new look with pride. If you think you might want to wear a wig, it can be a good idea to go to a wig shop before you begin treatment. A stylist will be able to look at your current hair and help you choose a similar wig. If you’d like to try something new, a wig stylist can help you choose a wig that’s flattering for your features and face shape.

A trip to the salon or barber shop before treatment is also a good idea. Getting a shorter haircut before treatment can make it less traumatic if your hair begins to fall out. 

If you’re concerned about hair loss, Minnesota Oncology does offer Paxman Cold Cap, a scalp cooling treatment that can help reduce hair loss during chemotherapy. Learn more about Paxman and scalp cooling, and talk to your oncology team if you’re interested in pursuing this option.

5. Ask for help with pet care.

You love spending time with your pets, but taking care of them can be time and energy-consuming. Asking a loved one or a friend to take over pet care while you go through chemotherapy can take some stress off of your plate. As you learn how chemotherapy affects your body, you may find that taking care of pets is manageable, or you may find that you need someone to take care of them daily. Taking your pet outside can be a great way to get some exercise and enjoy fresh air, but it's a good idea to have someone on call if you don't feel up to talking your furry friend out for a stroll. 

Things to Do During Chemotherapy to Help You Stay Positive and Well-Rested

1. Schedule treatments and then prepare for your down time.

It’s a good idea to plan for some time at home for a few days after treatment. Don’t schedule any appointments or outings on the day of or the couple days after you have chemotherapy – at least till you know how you react. Plan to rest a lot, get some good nutrition and just focus on your mental, physical and spiritual well-being.

2. Ask for help with meals, especially if you live with others and usually prepare food. 

It can be hard to ask for help, but during chemotherapy, you’ll likely welcome assistance from those who want to make your life a little bit easier. Asking loved ones to send meals can save you time, and can make it easier to eat healthy food without going through meal prep. Having meals readily available for your loved ones can lift stress from your family as a whole. 

Fresh cut fruits and veggies can be helpful, as can meals that you can pop into the oven to heat up without having to do any preparation. If there's a food that you're craving, ask for it. If you have a loved one who makes a dish you look forward to every holiday, this is the time to ask them to make it for you.

Staying hydrated can ease the side effects of chemotherapy. Be sure to have a steady supply of water that’s easily accessible. Soft fruits and veggies are a great way to bolster your immune system and energy levels as you go through the chemo process. Remember, you’re especially at risk for mouth sores during chemo, so you may want to blend acidic fruits and/or veggies into soups or smoothies. 

3. Have a plan to stay busy at chemo appointments. 

Due to COVID-19 regulations, many treatment centers do not allow friends and family to visit with patients in chemo infusion rooms. Take advantage of the alone time during treatments by stocking your iPad with movies you've been meaning to watch, loading up on some books you can't wait to read, bringing some challenging Sudoku puzzles – anything that passes the time easily. You'll also want to stock your chemo bag with comforting items, such as a soft blanket, comfy socks, and even a high fiber snack (this can ease some of the digestive effects often associated with chemotherapy).

4. Consider birth control. 

If you have not gone through menopause, have a conversation with your doctor about the effects of chemotherapy on the reproductive system. Chemo can be hard on your reproductive organs, and it’s not a good idea to get pregnant while you undergo cancer treatment. Doing so can cause damage to your body, birth defects to a baby, and more. Use birth control or condoms if you’re intimate with a partner. If you want to have children, you may want to meet with a reproductive therapist to talk about freezing your eggs, sperm, or embryos, as chemo can affect fertility

Taking Care of Yourself After Chemotherapy: What You Need to Know

1. Keep up with self-care. 

After chemo, it’s important to put in the work necessary to keep your body healthy. You may have radiation or surgery are on the horizon after you finish chemotherapy, and it's important to be gentle with your body. The healing process can be tiring, and you mustn't try to take on too much too soon. Rest when you need it, and don't be afraid to say no to obligations that interfere with your rest. Keep up with doctor’s appointments and medications, exercise, and continue to eat well. Your body just went through a lot – self-care is more essential than ever. 

2. Consider talking it out. 

Going through chemotherapy isn’t just tough on the body – it can be tough on the mind as well. Meeting with a support group in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area can be a first step in processing the mental and emotional tolls of treatment. If you feel that you need to talk further about your individual experience with chemotherapy, working with a therapist can be a healing option. 

We know that going through chemo can be hard, and we’re here for you as you work hard to allow your body to heal. At Minnesota Oncology, we’re here to answer your questions and support you as you go through the chemotherapy process. If you are currently a patient, feel free to talk to your cancer care team about any tips they have for you as well!




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