Preparation Is Key to Chemo Success

Lillie Shockney, RN, BS, MAS, shares all you need to know on getting through chemo stress free.

Health Monitor Staff
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If you're like me, you can tolerate almost anything as long as you know it's not going to go on forever. Just as labor pains have an end point—the baby is delivered—chemotherapy usually does, too. And although chemo is certainly no picnic, the good news is that most chemo regimens are shorter today than they were just 20 years ago.

Ease your fears
Compare chemo with taking antibiotics. Few of us hesitate to take antibiotics to fight bacterial infections. Chemo does the same thing to cancer cells: It kills them. Interestingly, a pathologist who looked into a microscope and watched how chemotherapy "eats up" and destroys cancer cells created the original Pac-Man game!

Preparation is key
Before starting chemo, you'll meet with a medical oncologist to discuss your chemo regimen. Prior to that meeting, be sure to get a copy of your pathology report. It will contain key information about your particular cancer: how big the tumor is, how aggressive it is and much more. Keep your pathology report handy with all your medical records. You may need to show it to other doctors in the future.

So get ready. You are embarking on a course of treatment that is designed to get rid of cancer throughout your body, wherever a malignant cell might be hiding.

Here are some questions you may want to ask at your pre-chemo consultation:

  • Which chemo drugs will be used? Also ask your oncologist to explain how he or she decided that these particular drugs are the best ones for you.
  • What are the side effects of these chemo drugs? Write down what your chemo regimen entails—how many treatments you'll be receiving, and how often. You may be getting chemo every week, every other week or even less frequently.
  • How soon will the side effects show up? Also ask how many patients develop these side effects, and how long the effects typically last.
  • What measures can I take to reduce or prevent side effects? Your oncologist or oncology nurse may be able to recommend dietary or other strategies to help you feel better.

Lillie Shockney, RN, BS, MAS, is the administrative director of the Johns Hopkins Avon Foundation Breast Center. Ms. Shockney, a two-time breast cancer survivor, also speaks to audiences across the country and has written books about breast cancer. Now, she is sharing her advice with

October 2010