Tips to ease the stress of getting chemotherapy treatments.
Nearly everyone facing their first chemotherapy appointment feels they are stepping out of their comfort zone and into the unknown. “Many people who are recommended to start chemotherapy treatments due to a diagnosis of cancer become very anxious and scared,” says Dr. Sara Sadan, Director of Breast and Women’s Medical Oncology at White Plains Hospital. “This response is expected in the realm of a cancer diagnosis as they face the implications of this diagnosis as well as realizing the frailty of life. The need for chemotherapy, and a cancer diagnosis itself, brings out an overwhelming anxiety.”
There are many ways to help manage the stress associated with chemotherapy, including:
Being a passenger. Oncologists highly recommend that for your first treatment you have someone drive you and stay with you in the infusion suite. You can evaluate the need for this as you evaluate your response and ability to tolerate treatment. This will reduce the anxiety of being responsible for the commute and the stress associated with being in new surroundings.
Help at home. Chemotherapy treatments can be exhausting. “Getting help with daily chores can be emotionally uplifting and physically relieving,” says Dr. Sadan. “Having friends or family take on household responsibilities can aid in your journey.”
Putting together a treatment bag. Treatment times can vary, so it’s nice to bring personal items of comfort. A favorite pillow or blanket, your favorite books or music, or your laptop can help create a homier atmosphere in the infusion suite.
Food preparations. Some regimens of chemotherapy can be associated with nausea. Your doctor will recommend if you should eat something prior to treatment. Usually, doctors recommend a light meal of non-greasy food and avoid meals or snacks that create a feeling of heaviness, which can be uncomfortable. Recommendations for foods during treatment include healthy proteins, mild seasoning, complex carbohydrates such as simple vegetables and whole grains, and of course water to stay hydrated. Try to avoid white sugar, white flour, and processed foods.
Caring for your oral health. Maintaining dental cleanings for healthy teeth and gums is always recommended. Should you experience mouth sores, your doctor will have multiple options to overcome any mild pain associated with chemotherapy.
Taking control of your hairline. Hair loss may be associated with some types of chemotherapy (but not all.) You have an option to use “cooling caps” to reduce the risk of hair loss. Many times, doctors find that preparing for such toxicity will help the patients prepare themselves. Some preparations include:
- Buying a wig in your color and style in anticipation of hair loss
- Getting a short haircut so, if there is hair loss, the impact won’t be as intense
- Also, if desired, one can choose to infuse some sense of fun in this difficult time by adding different colors or fun hats and other hair accessories.
Talking with your oncology care team can help demystify the myths surrounding chemotherapy and help you organize your life both before and after your first treatment.
Dr. Sara Sadan is the Director of Breast and Women’s’ Medical Oncology at White Plains Hospital.She sees patients at the Center for Cancer Care, 2 Longview Avenue in White Plains, and at 1296 North Avenue, New Rochelle. For an appointment please call, 914-849-7600.