Tips to Make Cancer Treatment a Little Easier

OncoLink mTeam
Last Modified: November 1, 2001

There are a number of ways that you can help yourself during chemotherapy treatment for cancer. This article reviews a few ideas to help you.

What do I want and need to know?

Before starting chemotherapy, you need to ask yourself how much you want to know about your treatment. Even if you don’t want to know every detail, understanding your treatment plan and possible side effects can help you take better care of yourself and feel more in control. Questions to ask your care team include:

  • Why do I need chemotherapy?
  • Which medications will I be getting and what are the benefits and risks of these medications?
  • How will the treatments be given and how long will they take?
  • Where will I get my treatments?
  • What are the possible side effects?
  • Are there any side effects that I should report right away?

This is a basic list. Remember, there is no such thing as a "dumb" question. If you don't understand something, ask your provider to explain it again or in a different way. You may find it helpful to take a list of questions to your appointment, so you don’t forget to ask something. It can be helpful to keep a "running list", jotting down questions as you think of them.

You should take a friend or family member to your appointments to listen, take notes and help you remember the details later. Ask your providers for patient education materials about your treatments and possible side effects to review later.

How Chemotherapy Affects Your Emotions

Chemotherapy, and cancer treatment in general, can bring huge changes to your life. It can affect overall health, disrupt day-to-day schedules, and put a strain on your personal life. It is not uncommon to be scared, worried, angry, or depressed. These emotions are normal, but challenging. OncoLink has several articles about coping with cancer to help. If these feelings become overwhelming, or you feel that you want to hurt yourself or someone else, contact your care team immediately.

How can I get the support I need?

There are many resources for support. Some include:

  • Counseling. There are many kinds of counselors who can help you process, understand, and cope with your diagnosis, treatment, and how it is affecting your life. Depending on your preferences and needs, you might want to talk with a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, sex therapist, or member of the clergy. Your care team can suggest someone.
  • Friends and family members. Talking with friends or family members can be comforting. They may know you best and know what you need to hear. You may find, though, that you'll need to help them help you. At a time when you might expect that others will rush to your aid, you may need to ask for their help.
  • Other patients. Many people find it helpful to speak to other people in their situation. Strike up a conversation with another person in the waiting area. You may be surprised to find how similar your thoughts are. It helps some people to feel that they are not alone.
  • Many people do not understand cancer, and they may pull away from you because they're afraid of your illness. Others may worry that they will offend you by saying "the wrong thing."
  • You can help ease these fears by being open. Talk with others about your illness, your treatment, your needs, and your feelings. This way, you can correct mistaken ideas about cancer. You can also let people know that there's no single "right" thing to say, so long as their caring comes through loud and clear. Once people know they can talk with you honestly, they may be more willing and able to open up and lend their support.
    • Support groups. Support groups provide a safe space with other people who have “been there”. Many people with cancer find they can share thoughts and feelings with group members that they don't feel comfortable sharing with family or friends. Ask your social worker about appropriate support groups that can meet your needs.
    • Support can also be found in one-to-one programs (also called buddy programs) that put you in touch with another person very similar to you in terms of age, sex, type and possibly stage of cancer. This may be done by phone, in person or online, depending on the program.

What can I do to make the chemotherapy visit more comfortable?

  • It may be helpful to have a friend or family member drive you to and from treatment and to keep you company during the infusion.
  • Items that distract you are always helpful – a book, a craft, knitting, electronics like a tablet or something to play music on (with headphones).
  • Some patients get a metal taste in their mouth as a result of the chemotherapy; sugar free mints, candies or gum can help eliminate this taste.
  • It is a good idea to bring a snack and drink. It can be a long day and you can eat and drink while you are there.
  • The infusion room may be cold, so an extra sweatshirt or blanket can be helpful.

How can I make my daily life easier?

Here are some tips to help make life easier while you are getting chemotherapy:

  • Try to keep your treatment goals in mind. This will help you keep a positive attitude on days when the going gets rough.
  • Remember that eating well is very important. Your body needs food to rebuild tissues and regain strength.
  • Take care of yourself. Some days you will want to stay at home and have a "pajama day". This can be very therapeutic. However, as much as you can, try to keep your daily personal care routine intact.
  • Learn as much as you want to know about your disease and its treatment. This can lessen your fear of the unknown and increase your feeling of control.
  • Keep a journal or diary while you're in treatment. This can help you understand the feelings you have as you go through treatment, and remember questions you need to ask your doctor or nurse.
  • You also can use your journal to record the steps you take to cope with side effects, and how well those steps work. That way, you'll know which methods worked best for you in case you have the same side effects again.
  • Set realistic goals and don't be too hard on yourself. You may not have as much energy as usual, so rest when you need to, let the "small stuff" slide, and only do the things that are most important to you.
  • Try new hobbies and learn new skills.
  • Exercise if you can. Exercise can give you energy, make you feel better about yourself, help you get rid of tension or anger, and build your appetite. Ask your doctor or nurse about a safe and practical exercise program.

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