First time at chemo: what do you need to know?
While getting chemo for the first time might be a bit stressful, at least you can prepare yourself well. I've bundled my own experiences into a few tips that hopefully can help you prepare for your first chemo.
Chemo as an ally
When I was being treated for breast cancer, I realised how important it is to be very calm and not to treat chemo like an enemy. By just embracing chemotherapy and seeing it as an ally that makes you stronger, you open up your body to it more. Don't try to fight it, because your body needs it to recover.
Make the most of it
Are you facing your first chemotherapy? You don't have everything under control but try to make the experience as pleasant as possible for yourself. You get everything in the hospital - tea, coffee, water, lunch... - but it can be a pleasure to have your own things with you. So prepare a bag with your own stuff, just like you do when you go work out.
For example, bring a nice drinking bottle containing a refreshing mint leaf, make your own coffee or tea bag, your own lunch and some fruit or biscuits ... Because let's face it: a sandwich in a plastic bag and a pale white hospital mug won't cheer anyone up, will it?
I was given a bed in the hospital, but not a blanket. So feel free to make it a little more cosy with a warm blanket and soft slippers.
You never know exactly how long the day will last. So be sure to bring your favourite books or your iPad with Netflix and headphones. Golden tip: don't forget your charger.
Just be yourself
I wasn't sure which clothes to wear, so the first time I wore sweats to chemo. I even bought new ones especially for it. In the morning it was quite easy, but when I headed back home in the afternoon, it made me feel even sicker.
Next time I just put on my normal clothes, something I felt much better about! So feel free to put on your regular clothes but make sure you're comfortable. If you have a port catheter, a blouse with buttons, a V-neck T-shirt or a waistcoat is a real must for smooth handling.
Keep the day free
I know this sounds obvious, but keep the rest of the day free and have your children picked up by your partner or someone else. This way you can go home quietly after the chemo without worrying about what you still have to do.
Take someone with you
The first time you have chemo, it's more comfortable when someone's with you. To sit next to you, to take you home afterwards, to share the difficult moments... On the other hand, don't bring too much company with you because it can also quickly
become too busy in the department. During my first chemos, my husband Bram kept me company and in the afternoon he went for a light lunch. That was a little pampering that was extra gratifying then.
I always let a friend or my sister-in-law know when I had to go to the chemo. Then I sometimes got someone to visit me for a short time. If I felt good enough, we would do something together that I would never have time for as a mom: watch a series together, paint my nails, apply a nourishing hand cream... By the way, I highly recommend this last one because during this time your nails and skin need extra attention anyway. An additional advantage is that this way you can have some visitors in the hospital instead of at home, so that your house stays calm.
Be prepared for when you see the doctor
Be reassured: you'll be well looked after by doctors and super kind nurses throughout the process. However, keep in mind that doctors often don't have much time, so prepare for the doctor's visits and write down all your questions in a notebook. For example, I kept track of when I didn't feel well between chemos, or when I was taking extra medication. When I suddenly had a question, I wrote it down. This way, at the next - sometimes unexpected - visit from the doctor, you can immediately grab your notebook and you won't forget to ask any questions.
Are you preparing for your chemo treatment and do you want to read more about it? I'm also happy to give you some tips on how to prepare for breast surgery. Maybe you'll find that useful too.
Take courage and don't forget: you can do this!