Hints 'N Tips
The following are some hints and tips that may help those of you just starting your treatments:
When I was going through chemo, I never read of anyone's experience detailing the process of chemo. So many women have a great fear of having chemo. I was one of them. When I went for my first chemo treatment, the nurse walked me into the chemo clinic and I felt as if I was being led to the electric chair. I had no idea what was going to happen to me and what I was going to feel...whether it was going to be painful, or what. I would like to briefly tell you what my experience was, in hopes that it will help to eliminate some of your fear.
I had chemo in my HMO's Onclology Clinic. After registering, seeing my Onc and waiting a short while, I was taken into the chemo room. This large room was full of recliner chairs, with chemo nurses busily attending to their patients. It was a very comfortable atmosphere. At my facility, each recliner had a small tv attached to a movable arm, which allowed one to watch tv, if they chose to. I was taken to my recliner and as I sat in the chair, the nurse put a warm towel over my arm. After a short time, she started an IV, which contained premeds of steroids and anti-nausea medications, etc. Some women have a port-o-cath or a picc line inserted so that chemo treatments can be administered directly through these devices, which saves the veins. Some of what you are given in your treatment may make you slightly drowsy and cause you to doze for short time. It is very comfortable. The chemo drip is then started. Aside from the prick of the needle, for me there was no pain or uncomfortable feelings. I actually took a newspaper or book to read. Some women do have reactions from Taxol and that is the reason it has to be administered slowly, initially. If you are having AC, the nurse will do a manual push of the Adriamycin, as it has to be administered slowly (15-20 minutes). Once the chemo drip is finished, the nurse will hang a bag of normal saline solution, to flush the veins. Once this is done, the treatment is over. The whole process can take about 4-6 hours. At the time chemo administration is finished, you still feel very normal. Later that evening or the next day is when the queasiness starts (AC). The queasiness equates to the queasiness that is experienced with first trimester pregnancy or the beginning stages of flu. It lasts for about 3-4 days (for some, a little longer), then you begin to recover. Some women do have a more difficult time with nausea and vomiting...but, for the most part, extreme nausea and vomiting are no longer the norm, as there are a lot of good anti-nausea meds that help greatly, today. The doc just has to find what works best for the patient. You may want to request a patch for the nausea. Some women have problems with fatigue. I did not have any fatigue problems with AC, but "crashed" on day three of Taxotere, remaining fatigued for a few days, after which time I bounced back (from fatigue) as if nothing had happened...aside from a sore tongue and residual joint, bone and muscle aches. Remember, though, that everyone is different and some women do have severe reactions. Chemo is definitely not a walk in the park...but it is quite "doable". With the Taxanes (Taxol and Taxotere), you will feel pretty much normal, until day 3. Around day 3, you will begin to feel very fatigued, with total loss of energy (crash day). Best to just lay in bed and rest. You will start to have bone, joint and muscle aches, possibly a sore tongue, which can be helped with "magic mouthwash" (ask your onc for a prescription) and other side effects. Side effects will last for a few days and then you will start to recover. Recovery may take about a week. Most women say that Taxotere and Taxol are a breeze compared to AC. For me, it was the opposite. AC was a breeze. With AC, I had queasiness, headaches, sinusitis and periods of dizziness. Taxotere kicked me in the patoot, causing bone, joint, muscle aches and pains, sore mouth, sciatica, coccxydynia and what I thought was arthritis but turned out to be a trigger thumb. The pain and stiffness was in the thumb joint. I did not have any queasiness, with Taxotere. Some women experience numbness and tenderness of fingers, hands, feet and toes. This is called neuropathy and is usually temporary. It may last for a while, post treatment, as will the bone, joint and muscle aches, which will feel better after about a year. For a year, I felt like I was in a very old body.
- Drink plenty of water or other fluids before, during and after chemo treatment. This will help to flush the excess chemo through your system and your bladder, and will help to keep the bladder from becoming irritated. I took a cold, two liter bottle of Ginger Ale, with me, and sipped on that, in a cup of ice, though my clinic did have sodas and crackers available for the patients.
- If you have AC, don't be frightened if your urine is red or pink tinged, for 1-2 days post administration. It is the Adriamycin (aka Red Devil).
- Don't look at the whole picture. Take baby steps...one treatment at a time. Focus only on the current treatment or test and then move on to the next one. When you go through 6 weeks of rads...don't look at the whole 6 weeks ahead of you. Focus on getting your treatment done for that day, then move to the next day, and so on. Before you know it, your treatments will be over and done with.
- Take your nausea meds on time, every time...even if you feel you do not need them. It is the anti-nausea med that is keeping you from feeling so bad.
- If you have nausea or queasiness, eat frequent, small meals, during the day. Dry toast, crackers, cool drinks, such as smoothies, ginger ale, shakes, etc. Eat dry cereals or whatever your tummy can tolerate. It is very important to get SOMETHING down, even if it is sherbet. If that is impossible, drink as much fluid as possible, to keep hydrated, and notify your doc.
- Do not eat sweet, greasy or spicy foods, unless you can tolerate it.
- You can take ginger caps in between nausea meds, but check with your onc, for approval. I use to take two ginger caps before heading to my chemo appointment and then took them in between my nausea meds.
- With the Taxanes (Taxol and Taxotere), you may have sore fingertips, sore toenail beds and body aches. Nails may turn orange looking. The soreness and body aches will go away. Your nails may die and drop off. I lost only one, but by the time it dropped off, there was a beautiful new one beneath it. Your nails will recover. As for neuropathy, where you have pain/numbness in your hands and feet, you may want to ask your onc about taking vitamin B6, B12 and Glutamine. I took B6 and did not have any problems with neuropathy from the Taxotere.
- For itchy eyes, put cool compresses on the eyes. Take a container and put ice cubes and water in it. Take a wash cloth and cool it in the water. Put the wash cloth over the eyes and just rest a bit. Repeat until the itching stops.
- It would be wise not to eat the foods that you normally love, during the queasy days after chemo, as this will cause you to have "flashback queasiness" when you see or smell those foods, after treatment is over. It may cause you to dislike them, forever.
- If your nausea meds are not working, call your onc and have the prescription changed. They have really good anti-nausea meds, today, and it is not necessary to suffer through chemo nausea. Have doc change prescriptions, until you find what works. A new anti-nausea med (Aloxi) came out a while ago. One dose last 5 days. It is administered, via IV, 30 minutes prior to the chemo infusion. There is also Emend, which I hear is quite good. I took Kytril, as Aloxi and Emend were not on the market at that time. I have recently come across some information that "seabands" work just as good for chemo nausea as it does for anesthesia nausea , sea sickness and morning sickness. You may want to give it a try. If it does work well, it would be a blessing to those who cannot afford the cost of anti-nausea medications, or as an addition to nausea meds. I think the seabands run about $9.00 a pair, or less. You many want to request a patch to be placed behind the ear, prior to chemo. This patch will disperse anti-nause meds into the body, via the skin, and will keep you comfortable.
- You will lose your hair between days 14 and 19, though rarely, it has been longer for some women. Your scalp will feel sore and prickly just days prior to it falling out. That will be your clue that the time is close. Some women have more fear of losing their hair than of the cancer, itself. Just remember, your hair will grow back, AND...you will be able to try new styles as the hair begins to grow back in. My hair actually started growing back in after the 4th AC, only to have some of the growth fall out, after the first Taxotere. It then started to grow back...but that is when my lashes and brows fell out...go figure.
- Your eyebrows and lashes will thin considerably or your will lose them altogether. Take an eyeliner and line your eyes. With your finger or a q-tip, smudge the line so that it is not too harsh. Draw in your eyebrows, with eyebrow pencil. Do not draw a deep, hard line. Sketch it on, lightly. Then take your finger and smudge the line, by rubbing, lightly, back and forth. This will take the edge off of the line and it will look more natural. You will have a normal appearance until they can grow back in.
- If you choose to wear a head covering, shop for your wig, scarves or hats, prior to chemo. You can find some very nice headscarves at The BeauBeau and Chemo Beanies. They come in many colors and designs and are prestyled for fit. I think these scarves are so beautiful that I am contemplating purchasing a few...just for style wear.
When we go through surgery, many of us end up with drains that can certainly be a nuisance in our everyday existence. Here are some hints as to what you can do with them:
- Take the belt from a terry cloth robe and tie it around your neck, when you shower. Take your drains and pin them to the belt. This will allow your hands to be free for washing. When finished, just wring it out and hang it to dry.
- Take a housedress and wear it inside out. Put your drains on the inside pockets.
- Wear a fannypack and put the drains inside.
- If your doc doesn't provide one, you can make your own elastic drain belt. Take a 3" wide section of elastic and fit to the width of your waist. Sew on a 3" length of velcro at each end tip, so that you can wrap it around your waist and have one velcro end attach to the other velcro end, to make a complete circle around your waist. Then, take four to six 3-4" lengths of elastic, and sew one end to the belt, at different locations around the belt. Attach velcro to the tips of each end so that you can attach one end of the elastic to the other end of the elastic, to form a loop. The drain tubes will be carried by these loops. This will allow the drains to hang through the loops, from the belt.
- Apply pure aloe or aloe lotion on the breast *AFTER* your chemo treatment.
- Wash with a gentle soap. Natural and unscented is best
See whereisthecure.com or habierose.com.
- Do not put anything on the breast prior to your treatment, especially oil.
- Do not wear deodorant to your sessions.
- Apply cool compresses to your breast to ease discomfort.
- Wet two or three washcloths and wring them out. Put them in a zip-lock bag and keep refrigerated. They will be cool and available if you need them for discomfort.
- For those of you wondering what the radiation treatment is like, during the time of the "zap"...you do not feel a thing. After the initial simulation, where they measure and mark (tattoo) the areas for treatment, you will return on a daily basis (5 days/wk), for 6 weeks. You will remove your clothing and put on a provided hospital gown. You go into the room and lay down on a table. The machines are large and robotic looking. The techs will leave the room and these large machines will move into position. I assume the techs just press a button. You really do not hear anything. It is then over. After your first few weeks, or maybe less, your breast will begin to look and feel like a bad sunburn (redness). Make sure that you slather it with the aloe and put cool compresses on it/them, if you are uncomfortable.
- After radiation, your breast will start to feel firmer, with the skin being a little leathery. Continue to put the aloe on the breast(s) and moisturize. It will take years, but eventually your breast skin will go back to normal or near normal. I ended up having skin-sparing bilateral mastectomies with immediate DIEP resonstruction, so I can't tell you weather the firmness of the interior breast tissue will return to normal or become firmer. I can say, however, that my outer breast skin returned to normal and lost the leatheryness. Having the DIEP reconstruction restored my breast to its normal look and feel.
PREPARE YOUR BODY FOR SURGERY
- A good, well balanced diet will help you to heal properly.
- Eliminate simple carbs/sugars from your diet and start eating complex carbs and adequate amounts of protein rich foods.
- It is very important to mellow out your glucose levels. High glucose levels slow healing.
- I discontinued all herbs and supplements and took one multi-vitamin, twice daily, and one vitamin C tab (500mg), once per day, starting one month prior to surgery. This enhances healing. Talk to your physician to find out when you should stop taking your supplements prior to surgery. Some docs say three weeks, some say one week, some advocate taking a multi all the way up until surgery, which is what mine did.
- Do not ingest any kinds of COX2 inhibitors, at least 3-4 weeks prior to surgery. COX2 inhibitors will extend bleed time and slow healing. Foods, such as garlic, onion, ginger, green teas, turmeric, and others are natural COX2 inhibitors. No flax oil/seed, vitamin E (check with your doc to see if it is okay within your multivitamin. It is generally safe at 200-400iu; however, you want the final word to be from your doc.). No fish oils/omega 3. No aspirin, aspirin compounds, ibuprophen, herbs, etc.
- Drink plenty of water to ensure that your body is kept adequately hydrated.
- Exercise helps to prepare you for the surgical marathon. I started climbing 4 flights of stairs 2-3 times per day, about 6-7 months, prior to surgery. However, even one month of exercise would be helpful.
- Take good, deep breaths and slowly exhale to exercise your lungs.
- For three days prior to surgery, as well as the morning of surgery, wash your body from neck to thighs with Hibiclens soap. Hibiclens is an antibacterial soap that helps to eliminate staph bacteria from our bodies. Our skin surfaces contain staph bacteria, naturally. The goal is to eliminate as much of the bacteria as is possible, in a effort to reduce the chance of exposure around the surgical area. You can purchase Hibiclens from drug stores, such as Walgreens, for about $10 a bottle.
If you smoke...stop, preferably for good, but at least 4-6 weeks prior to surgery. Smoking can cause issues with your vessels and healing. You want to be in the best of health when you go in for surgery.
It is your responsibility to ensure that you have done the best that you can to make your body as healthy as you can get it, prior to surgery. It is a team effort. You do the best you can for yourself, and the docs will do the rest. Wishing you an easy and speedy recovery.
Disclaimer: Information presented within the pages of this website is, for the most part, that of my opinion and for informational purposes only and not to be used in place of the advice of your medical provider. You are strongly encouraged to seek the advice of your medical provider and to conduct your own research on any topic of interest, for fact finding.