Let’s Get Chemo Underway

Lillie Shockney, RN, BS, MAS, has advice that can help you deal with chemotherapy treatment and keep your spirits up for the journey ahead.

Lillie Shockney, RN, BS, MAS
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If you've been diagnosed with breast cancer, then you're probably worried about beginning chemotherapy. Fear not! These tips are sure to help you kick-start your chemo sessions.

Don't let chemo dominate your life
Whenever possible, see if you can negotiate to have your chemo scheduled so you are still able to optimize your usually activities, including going to work. For example, if side effects are anticipated 24 hours after the administration of the chemo and they last for 48 hours, it would seem logical then to get the chemotherapy on a Friday afternoon, rest up over the weekend when you can recruit help at home, then hopefully all going well, back to work on Monday.

Why did I say "work?" Because whatever can be done to maintain your routine will help reduce anxiety and stress. The Family Medical Disabilities Act protects you so that you can work out a flexible schedule to still get work done and have treatment.

Dealing with hair loss
Hair loss is based on the drug's side effects and not on whether you have thin or thick hair. Some people even take charge by getting a buzz cut in advance of the projected date that their hair is due to fall out.

Have a coming out party for your hair. Your friends can bring you head coverings, hats, turbans and such. It's like having a baby shower but for your head instead. Remember your hair will return.

Nutrition & exercise
Eating well-balanced meals is important. You may do best, however, having several smaller meals versus three larger ones. Avoid spicy foods, fatty foods and very rich foods that can send your stomach down the "I don't feel good" path. Don't over indulge either.

Your friends and family will make you comfort foods because they assume you are going to lose weight as a result of getting chemo. Though this sometimes happens, more often for many, patients gain weight. Part of the reason is taking steroids with the chemotherapy and being more sedentary than usual. The other is receiving from well intended people foods that are high in fat and calories. And because it was made with love you feel obligated to eat it. Prepare for your pants not buttoning within a few weeks then.

So that brings us to exercise. It has been scientifically proven that exercise, like power walking, helps reduce fatigue caused by chemotherapy. So strut your stuff. Take a friend with you for company. If it's raining, head to an indoor facility like the mall and power walk there for an hour.

Is chemo working?
If you are receiving chemo as the first line of treatment, than more than likely scans will be periodically done along with possible blood tests to evaluate how well it is working. If surgery removed the cancer and the chemotherapy is being given just in case any cells got away and are growing elsewhere in your body, then for the most part you and your doctor are relying on good faith that it is working. The proof will be reaching milestones and finding yourself to still be cancer free.

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 HealthMonitor.com.

October 2010