Preparing for Your First Day of Infusion
Treatment days can be long. Being prepared for this can help ease stress and anxiety. Below are some ways to make your first day of chemotherapy (and beyond!) as stress-free as possible.
This article focuses on infusion therapy. Learn more about the radiation therapy treatment process here.
During your first treatment, you may be asked a lot of questions by your treatment team. Before your first appointment, take the time to think about and gather information about:
- Your diagnosis and treatment plan.
- Your treatment team.
- Scans and labs you have had done.
- Your insurance information.
- Your emergency contact information.
- Bring copies of your advance directives (living will/health care decision-maker).
You can use Oncopilot to download printable forms and organize your information. A 3-ring binder can be your best “treatment buddy” to keep your information all in one place.
How are you getting to treatment?
Make sure you know where to park and where to check-in when you get to the treatment center. Call and ask these questions before you go.
Your treatment team may not know how your treatment will affect you, so it is a good idea to have someone drive you to treatment and back home again, at least for the first treatment. If you are taking public transit or ride-sharing, you may also want to have someone ride along with you to make sure you get there and get home safely.
If you need help with getting to and from the treatment center, call your treatment center’s social worker or navigator BEFORE your scheduled treatment day for help.
When You Arrive
Try to be early or on time for your appointment. You will probably have blood work drawn before your treatment. These tests can affect your treatment plan for the day, so there may be some time between your labs being taken and when your treatment starts. After you arrive, the pharmacist in the infusion center will get your medications ready.
There are times when the results of your bloodwork may come back and your provider decides you should not get treatment that day. This is to keep you safe during treatment. Your provider will tell you why you won’t be getting treatment that day and the plan for your next treatment. Remember, this is normal throughout the course of your treatment.
What should I wear?
It is important to be comfortable. In general:
- If you have a PICC line in your arm, wear a top with short sleeves or that has sleeves that are loose enough to be pulled up past your PICC line.
- If you have a port-a-cath in your chest, wear a top with a loose-fitting neckline. You can also pull your shirt up while it is being accessed and then put your shirt back down once you are attached to your treatment.
- It may feel hot or cold in the treatment center. Think about wearing layers that are easy to take on and off with an IV line. Bring a cozy blanket if you get cold. A portable, rechargeable fan can be great if you get hot. It can also be dry, so pack a lip balm and some lotion to keep your skin and lips hydrated.
- Some treatment centers are open, with shared spaces. Try to not wear perfume or cologne. Treatment can affect the sense of smell, and you or others around you may be sensitive to smells.
Bring Snacks and Drinks
Unless your provider or nurse tells you otherwise, you can often have a snack or drink during your treatment. It is important to keep up with your nutrition and stay hydrated. You may want to pick a snack that is high in nutritional value and somewhat bland in smell and taste. Some good snack ideas are nuts, whole grain crackers, hard cheese, hummus, granola bars, and fruit. Pack a big water bottle and refill it while you are at the treatment center.
Again, because some infusion suites are open, try not to bring foods with strong odors that others may be sensitive to.
Ask your treatment center BEFORE you come if you can have family/friends stay with you (and how many are allowed in). Having someone to talk to, play a game with, and have as support can be a big help. They can also take notes for you about the treatment you are receiving and any instructions your nurse gives you for when you are home.
Bring things to keep you busy---maybe it’s a book, tablet, knitting, drawing, listening to podcasts, or binge-watching a new show. These can all help pass the time and distract you.
Your treatment center may also have services like pet therapy, art therapy, music therapy, reiki, massage, aromatherapy, and other integrative treatments. Ask your nurse or social worker if these services are offered at your treatment center.
There is no such thing as a stupid question! Medical staff are there to answer your questions. Ask your nurse or pharmacist for handouts about each medication you will be given. You can also find medication teaching sheets for all cancer medications here. You can use OncoLink's "Build My Treatment Binder" for personalized information about your treatment course and how to lessen side effects.
You may be feeling tired, relieved, anxious, and happy all at the same time after your first treatment. Once you are home, follow all instructions given to you. Take your medications on time, rest, hydrate, and eat. Keep track of any side effects or new feelings you have, and report these to your care team. Keep a list of questions you might have to bring with you on your next visit.
If you have nausea, diarrhea, or other side effects, call your provider. They can't help you if they don't know it is going on! There are many tips and medications to lessen the side effects of cancer treatment and your provider can help you figure out what works best for you.
This is also a good time to take stock of how the day went and what you might do differently next time. Did you pick a snack that you actually wanted to eat? Did you have enough to do to keep busy? Did you have all the information you needed with you? Did your nurse or provider take time to teach you about your treatment plan, and did you take notes? These are some things to think about for future treatments.
Don’t forget to take a moment and recognize---you did it! That first treatment is under your belt and now you know how to make future treatments more comfortable for you.