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Chemotherapy: What To Do While In Treatment


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While undergoing chemotherapy, consider the following guidelines:

  • Follow the treatment schedule. 
    • Do not miss a scheduled chemotherapy session or test. If you have no choice but to miss an appointment, immediately contact the doctor who is supervising the treatment so he or she can decide what steps to take to limit the negative impact on your treatment.
    • Transportation is available if needed.         
    • After treatment ends, follow-up appointments are scheduled for bood medical reason. Do your best not to miss them.
  • Medications 
    • Take all drugs as directed. 
      • If you have difficulty swallowing a drug, click here. 
      • If you have difficulty taking a drug on schedule, click here.
      • To learn what to do if you miss a dose, click here.
    • Do not take any prescription drugs, over the counter drugs, vitamins or supplements without clearing it first with your doctor. They may affect your treatment.
    • If you have difficulty taking medications or doing whatever else you are supposed to do, or not do, because of another health condition - speak with both the doctor who is treating the other condition and your oncologist. They will likely have a solution to help you through.
    • Check with your doctor or pharmacist to find out whether any of the drugs you take, or any combination of drugs, create a hazard while driving. For instance, whether the drugs make you drowsy, or slow your response time.
  • Do not expect immediate results. Standard practice is to wait for 2 full cycles of treatment before looking for any response to it. This can take 2 to 3 months. Response is checked by repeating the tests that show the cancer.
  • Learn when to call your cancer doctor or nurse or go to the emergency room without delay. For example, If you have a fever over 100.5, call your doctor immediately - even if it is nighttime or a weekend. If there is a question, it is safer to call than to do nothing.
  • Chemotherapy is usually accompanied by side effects. 
    • Side effects do not tell you whether the chemotherapy is working or not. 
    • Most side effects can be minimized or eliminated entirely. 
    • If your platelet count becomes low, take the necessary steps to help avoid problems.
    • To learn about side effects that often accompany a particular chemotherapy treatment, click here. For tips about dealing with side effects, click here.
    • Report all side effects to your doctor or nurse. For example, nausea, vomiting, mouth sores, difficulty swallowing, rashes, changes in your urine or stool, or fatigue. Side effects can either be minimized or eliminated all together.   
  • Chemotherapy is often accompanied by low white blood cells. A low white blood cell count decreases your body's ability to fight infections. 
    • Learn how to avoid unnecessary infections such as staying away from crowds and people with infectious diseases. 
    • Watch for signs that indicate you have an infection. Call your doctor immediately if there are any signs of inection that you would normally treat on your own. For instance, fever over 99 degrees fahrenheit; white patches or painful areas in your mouth; pain, swelling or redness on your skin.
  • During the entire chemotherapy process, keep your intake of fluids high. Chemotherapy poisons are flushed out of your system through your kidneys and bladder. Fluids help keep the amount of toxins in your system reasonable. 
  • Do not:
    • Start taking any new drugs or treatments, or otherwise change the drug schedule you were on before chemo started without speaking with your doctor first.
    • Take vitamins, minerals, herbs,antioxidants or other dietary supplements without first asking your doctor, nurse or dietitian whether it is okay. Some of these substances can be harmful. Some may reduce the effectiveness of the chemotherapy.
  • Do what you can to avoid unnecessary infections. For example, wash your hands often and avoid being close to anyone who is ill. Postpone teeth cleaning, other dental work or inoculations. To learn more, see: How To Lower Your Risk Of Infection
  • If medical personnel suggest or allow you take vitamins, minerals, herbs, antioxidants or other dietary supplements, do not take more than is recommended without first checking with medical personnel.
  • Be active. Research has found many positive effects of physical activity during treatment, including helping to reduce cancer-related fatigue and anxiety and improve mood,amother other positive benefits.
  • Practice wellness.
    • Pay special attention to what you consume, your hygiene, amount of activities and emotions. Exercise to the extent that you can and as permitted by your doctor.
    • Do what you can to avoid losing weight (unless you are excessively overweight). Weight loss can make fatigue or other side effects worse. Lack of food makes fatigue worse. 
    • Do not ignore any other health conditions you have. Chemotherapy and side effects can take over your focus to the detriment of other health conditions. 
  • It is best not to get pregnant during chemo. 
  • Be open about your emotions. Make contact with someone going through the same thing you are. Consider joining a support group or at least talk with a buddy.
  • Keep family and friends in the loop. Lean on them for support and assistance. Your doctor will let you know if you are in a situation in which you may have to stay away from people for awhile - including family and friends. 

Your cancer care team will measure how well your treatments are working by doing certain tests. This will include physical exams, blood tests, bone marrow biopsies, scans, and x-rays. 

  • Ask if you can take lab tests ahead of time so you can review the results with your doctor at your appointment.  
  • Ask your doctor about the test results and what they show about your progress.

Expect that your healthcare providers will take safety precautions. Chemo drugs can be harmful in unintended situations.

Consider other matters common to all cancer treatments, such as how to pay for treatment, how to deal with work, and whether and how to travel. Those subjects, as well as how to deal with emotional changes, are covered in Survivorship A to Z's document: In Treatment.

For additional information, see:

NOTE: If you are feeing too sick to read or write, get access to television or to streaming videos. If you do not have a television, you can watch on a computer through an internet connection. A funny movie or t.v. show can be good for your mood.

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