Lessons I Learned

Only your medical team can give you advice and information about your specific condition, symptoms, and treatment. Always consult your medical team if you have any questions.

Naturally, some of the suggestions below may not apply to your particular situation or state of progress of your case, but as usual, take from it what you do find helpful and apply to your own situation. Best of possible wishes.

  • Regular Physical – I am as guilty as the next person for not getting regular physical exams. When one is feeling fine this is one of the things that gets put off. I strongly recommend getting a regular physical as often as your physician suggests. Early detection of cancer is critical to the overall outcome.
    If at anytime you see blood in your stool or urine, make an appointment for a complete physical as soon as possible. It could be nothing, or it could be something very serious.
  • Second set of ears – I recommend taking another person with you to your medical appointments when possible. There will be a lot of information being exchanged and it is easy to misunderstand, or miss completely something that has been said. Having a second set of ears with you, followed up with a discussion, can go a long way to make sure you don’t miss out on any of the information shared. Take notes to refer back to as well.
  • PICC (peripherally inserted central catheters) – When I started my chemotherapy I was taking the chemo drugs cisplatin and gemcitabine through a regular IV. As time wore on, damage to the veins at the injection sites developed. Everyone is different and the amount of damage, or if in fact damage occurs at all, is an individual situation.
    This is not a good time to be a hero. If you have any discomfort while receiving the chemo drugs through an IV, let your nurse know immediately. He/she will have a number of “tricks” that can be employed to reduce the discomfort. They would rather you be comfortable than brave.
    The PICC will deliver the meds through a plastic tube inserted directly along a vein in your arm and exit in a large vein in your chest near your heart. This allows the flow of the meds to be faster into your system, but also eliminates damage to the smaller veins used by the IV.
    An addition bonus that I didn’t avail myself of is the ability to have your blood work drawn through it. This draw has to be done by a RN – lab technicians are not qualified to take blood through a PICC. If you wish to do the blood work through the PICC, contact your oncologist or cancer clinic to make arrangements for appointments to get that done.
  • Protecting your loved ones – Chemotherapy drugs like cisplatin and gemcitabine are extremely toxic. You will notice the nursing staff dress themselves in protective clothing when dealing with these drugs and it is for good reason.
    For the first 48-72 hours after your therapy, your body will excrete traces of these drugs through your waste as well as through perspiration, and other body fluids.
    Don’t share drinking glasses. It is also highly recommended that toilet facilities be sanitized after use to prevent the passing of these toxins to others. Flushing twice and wiping the seat area with sanitized wipes will do the trick. We also found that the bed linens stain from body fluids during this period. I would recommend giving linens a good wash 72 hours after chemo. Consult the literature you receive from the cancer clinic for other useful tips.
  • Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy sessions can, sometimes, use up a significant part of your day. It is a good idea to make sure you dress as comfortably as possible. Some people like to bring snacks, a favorite blanket, a book to read, and some of their best jokes to share.
  • Chemotherapy is exhausting – Chemo takes a lot out of you. You will be tired – very tired at times. Rest. Rest. Rest. Your body needs time to deal with the drugs it has been given and it is in your best interest to let it do its job. You may feel compelled to do things, but the days of chemo are your ‘me’ days and should be all about you and your rest. The chores can wait.
  • Constipation – An unpleasant side effect of chemotherapy and the anti-nausea medications is constipation. This can be a battle that is faced after every chemo session. It is a good idea to stay on top of this. If you notice that you are constipated, make sure you act as soon as possible to get things moving again.
    I found starting a laxative the second day after chemo worked well. On those occasions when that wasn’t enough, I would also uses a glycerin suppository to help kick-start things. Not fun, but in my case, necessary. As always consult with your oncologist about methods and brands he/she recommends.
  • Water, water, water – Water is your best friend when on chemo. The drugs are very toxic and can potentially cause issues with kidneys and the like. It is strongly recommended that one drinks a lot of water to help flush toxins from your system as quickly as possible. A good rule of thumb, if you think you have had enough water, have some more. Your medical team can recommend the volume of water they would like you to consume daily.
  • Chemo Brain – I am sure if this an actual condition or not, but many swear it is. Personally, I found that my vision became blurrier while I was on chemo and I found myself to be a little more absent-minded. I was assured this was normal, but consult with your medical team if you notice these symptoms.
  • Family and Friends – Family and friends will often offer to help in any way they can. Don’t be a hero, this is no time for heroics – take advantage of whatever offers come your way. Having this important support network will go a long way in helping you along your road. Forgive anything they may say that may seem odd to you during this time – they are offering support even if they don’t communicate it in the best way.
  • Medical Advice – Don’t get medical advice from the internet, your babysitter, your neighbor, or a buddy who knew someone who tried this or that. Their intentions are noble, but there are a lot of wacky ideas out there, and a lot of natural cures that have no solid evidence behind them. You could do yourself more harm than good. If you have any questions about something you have read or heard, consult with your medical team. They have heard about pretty much each one of these ‘cures’ and can offer solid advice. They are the experts and they know what they are doing.
  • Anti-nausea drugs – I was prescribed the anti-nausea drug with the brand name of Emend. It is a very expensive drug, but, in my opinion, it was worth every dime. That med in conjunction with the other anti-nausea drug and steroid I was prescribed made the first 4 days after each chemo session much more manageable. I would recommend discussing these options with your oncologist.
  • Food and Drink – I noticed that on chemo day my appetite was much greater than normal, but the first few days after chemo, food and beverages tasted off. You may need to experiment with different flavors to find something that will agree with your palette for those few days.
  • Stay Positive – I can’t stress this enough. A positive attitude and a sense of humor will go a long way in helping you get through much of what you will be dealing with. It isn’t always that easy to do. It can be very easy to fall into a funk or depression. Do whatever you need to do to pull yourself back up, and if you can’t do it alone, seek medical help or help from the cancer agency – they know how to help. There are real medical options. You don’t need to suffer needlessly.
  • Journal – Maintaining a diary or journal as you move down this path isn’t for everyone, but I have found it very therapeutic. I have often referred back through the pages to read what I have written. It does help to see how far I have come and helps me stay positive.
  • Keep moving – Exercise is an important part of the healing process. It doesn’t have to be exotic – simply going for regular walks can make a big difference. Anything that helps with making yourself feel better is a good thing, and a walk is one of those things.