Chemo – suggestions and thoughts about your first infusion

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After being diagnosed with breast cancer in April, I had my first chemo treatment today.

As I am new at this, which you might be, too, this article is about my current understanding about how to prepare for the experience, followed by pictures of an “infusion” center.

My understanding is that the effect of chemo is not felt until a few days after the first infusion, so I will update this story about “what happens next” later this week. Whatever happens will come as a complete surprise to me, as I am sure it will be for you if you are in a similar situation.

Before Starting

  • Avoid being rushed into a course of action.
  • Get a second opinion. Even though the diagnosis might be the same, treatments vary widely. Compare!
  • Get a list of all the tests you will need, then make sure the tests are completed before setting up a course of action.  Always double-check to make sure that your tests have been scheduled. Do not be pushed into chemo therapy before you know what is going on.
  • Identify a coordinator who reports the results of tests and recommends a course of action. There are a lot of doctors involved, but only one should be “in charge” of your progress. Make sure you get the results of every test and understand what the results mean. Usually, you’ll need to double-check everything despite your team’s best efforts.
  • Keep a diary that includes dates, tests, names of physicians in charge (and their assistants), and results that you can easily access anywhere at any time. Also keep a medications diary. Consider keeping all of this information in Google Docs or other cloud storage area.
  • Check costs! They can vary significantly between hospitals and providers. Know what your insurance will pay up front, especially if you pay a deductible. If you can’t pay, see if you can get assistance of some type before you start treatment. Pray.

Your Overall Health

  • I recommend the advice given in the book, “How Not To Die” by Dr. Michael Greger. The website, NutritionFacts.org, supports information found in the book, plus much more, including easy-to-understand, short videos on a variety of topics.
  • During your course of treatment, move your body frequently! Consider investing in some type of a weight-bearing exercise equipment, such as a treadmill or Gazelle (the small device I own which is easy on arthritic joints). If you can’t afford one, pace your room for 5 or 10 minutes several times a day, as well as go for walks.

Anti-nausea foods

  • While your doctor will provide anti-nausea medicine, this website, ChemoCare.com, has the best advice on what to eat while undergoing chemo treatment.
  • You might find that your own medical team will not give you highly detailed advice because “every patient is different,” so try to figure out what you should eat through online research.
  • I recommend Quaker Lightly Salted Rice Cakes (puffed rice), simple saltine crackers, potatoes (white or sweet), a pot of rice, veggies you like that do not have a strong odor, and anything with ginger in it (ginger ail, ginger tea, ginger candy, etc.)
  • Whenever possible, make the potatoes and/or rice in advance so you can warm it up and eat small amounts whenever you want.
  • Drink water all day, but not when you eat.
  • Do not eat fatty foods, like pizza. Eat lean meat. If you are a vegan, make sure you eat protein-rich foods, such as beans and lentils.

Hair

  • Before you lose hair, have it professionally shaved, an inexpensive procedure. While you can shave your hair yourself, a professional will shape your hairline and make sure everything is even.
  • Before you shave your head, buy a wig at a wig store so you understand what styling and fit considerations you need to make. After you own that perfect wig, then consider buying another one online. While wig wearing is temporary,  owning two might be handy.
  • Buy a synthetic wig as it is easier to manage during the short time you need it. Do not, however, wear the wig when cooking as a burst of steam or heat from your range can melt its fibers.

The Infusion Room

An Infusion Room is where chemo is infused via an intravenous drip into your body. Check it out before you actually need to be there.

The photo below is the Infusion Room at Holy Name Hospital Regional Cancer Center in Teaneck, NJ where I go. Behind each curtain is a chair, an  intravenous (IV) pole, and a TV/Computer that you can rent. Free, high speed Internet is available throughout the building.

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Infusion centers vary in looks. The picture below is where patients at Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, NJ are treated. If decor is important to you, that might influence your decision on where you want to receive care. This room is stunning!

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The picture below shows an individual treatment room at Holy Name. Although it is plain, it is quite comfortable. The arm seen in the picture holds a TV/computer combination which you can rent. My husband and I used the free high-speed Internet connection instead.

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My treatment began with a hand full of pills, one of which was a sedative. That pill made me drowsy through out the procedure, which was a good way to pass time.

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Before the procedure started, I had to wait for the pills to be digested. During treatment, many patients sat up during their session, conversed with friends, or watched TV.  I, however, fell asleep . . .

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I got so sleepy, in fact, that before the procedure began, my nurse lowered my chair, gave me a pillow, and covered me with two blankets. If you undergo treatment, but feel uncomfortable at any time, just ask the nursing staff to fluff things up.

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My treatment consisted of three medications, the last of which was chemo. All medications were pumped individually through an IV setup.

Some people have a port inserted into an arm so that injection needles didn’t have to be reapplied for each visit. I, however, do not have a port.

In my case, the IV needle was inserted under the bandage on my right hand, where it stayed until removed at the end of the treatment.

I am told that the first two days after treatment patients feel “normal,” and the chemo affect does not kick in until the third day. As I have not yet experienced the third day, you will find out more in my followup article. To minimize the side affects of chemo, I was advised to do a lot of walking exercises. I have been! We’ll find out what happens next . . .

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This article was written by Karen Little on October 11, 2016. Photos by Karen and Philip Little. All rights reserved by Karen Little and Littleviews.com. Contact Karen at Karen@littleviews.com with questions or ask permission to reproduce any part of this article.