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Topic: Tips for getting through chemotherapy

Forum: Chemotherapy - Before, During, and After —

Regimens, side effects, and support from others going through chemo.

Posted on: Dec 5, 2006 10:45PM

melissaga wrote:

I just typed out a long post only to have it disappear in cyberspace. So, here I go again!

When I started chemo back in June, we had a thread with all sorts of helpful tips for getting through chemotherapy. I went to find that thread to BTT for a friend (hi Stef) and can't find it. It's lost in cyberspace. With a constant influx of newbies, I thought it was a good time to start a new thread and maybe keep it bumped to the top now and then.

Antiemetics -I'm always shocked when I learn that not all oncology offices follow ASCO guidelines when it comes to antiemetics. AC and similar chemos are the most emetogenic (causing you know what!) out there and need big guns. According to the guidelines, everyone should be getting Emend, a steroid (dexamethasone aka decadron is the most common), and a medication like Kytril or Zofran (the Aloxi you may get in your IV at chemo is in the same family of drugs). Drugs like phenergan and compazine are NOT considered sufficient but might be used in addition to the others. No one should be throwing up from chemo these days. If you start, call your docs right away and they'll change your drugs. {stepping off my soap box}

Meds for Constipation - Constipation is pretty common from both chemo and the anti-emetics. It can be severe. Colace (docusate sodium) is an over the counter stool softener to have on hand. Senekot-S is a gentle laxative with a little Colace added in. Take it from me, do not wait too long to take these!! A little fiber (Metamucil, Benefiber, etc) never hurts either.

Ambien CR - Lots of us have trouble with sleep during chemo. I found the steroids made me very wired and it was hard to sleep more than 2-3 hours at once. Ambien CR is great because of the "CR," controlled release. It helps you fall asleep and STAY asleep. I found chemo was easier on me overall when I was able to get some sleep.

Meds for Diarrhea - Not quite as common as constipation, but some get it after the constipation and some get it instead, so having some Immodium or a similar product on hand at home is a good idea.

NSAIDs - If you are getting Neulasta to boost your WBCs, you may want to add one of these medications. I had a wonderful nurse practitioner who had chemo herself. She recommended taking Aleve (naproxyn) at least 30 min before the injection and continuing for 2-3 days afterwards to prevent the bone pain. I never had any, so maybe it worked for me. Who knows? Aleve would be an easier choice than ibuprofen bc it lasts for about 12 hrs.. less pills to remember!

Pepcid or other H2 blocker antacids (Nexium, etc)- Lots of us end up with acid reflux/acid indigestion during chemo. For me, it lasted a few weeks afterwards too. It also seemed to help a bit with that taste in your mouth that lots of us get.

Moisturizer - Never had dry skin in my whole life until chemotherapy! 4 months later, it is still dry. During chemo, you may become sensitive to odors, so you might want to stick with unscented or lightly scented products. A good rule in general.

Manicure kit - If you are going to get a manicure or pedicure during chemo, you'll want to bring your own tools (not a bad idea anytime). Even if you are not, you should probably at least have your own nail clippers or scissors at home that you do not share. Of course, after a while, your nails may not grow at all on chemo and all kinds of things can happen to them.

Hats - Of course, you already know about hats, wigs and scarves. I did not realize until a friend told me that I would want one to sleep in. A bald head or even one with inch long hair like I have now is COLD! LOL! A sleep hat with few, if any, seams is helpful. Some also find it comfortable to have a satin or silk like pillowcase.

Plastic silverware - Some people find the metallic taste from chemo accentuated by normal metal silverware.

Fluids - Drink, drink and drink some more. When you are finished, drink more still! Staying well hydrated greatly helps with the side effects. You'll want to start even before you go to to chemo.. either that day or the day before. It's hard to predict what you will or will not like bc of the change in taste that can happen. I never had an issue with water but ended up hating some of the flavors of sorbet and Italian ices we stocked up on (it was summer ). I also stocked up on lots of soups and lived on them during my worst days.

Biotene or Oasis products - There's a mouthwash, toothpaste and I know Biotene also makes chewing gum. These are all for dry mouth, something that is inevitable during chemotherapy to some degree. Dry mouth can lead quickly to all sorts of dental issues, so it's important not just for comfort, but for preventative reasons. BTW, I never found the chewing gum on the shelves, but most pharmacies can order it for you.

I'm sure there are a ton more tips out there. Please add your own and bump this to the top now and then. Log in to post a reply

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Dec 5, 2006 10:59PM melissaga wrote:

See.. I told you I still had chemo brain

If you get mouth sores, there's a little cocktail you can whip up with liquid benadryl and Maalox.

EMLA or lidocaine cream- if you have a port, you can apply the cream to the area beforehand to numb it. You do need a prescription for this and they'll want to see that the port site is healed before you use it.
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Dec 6, 2006 01:03AM Lauri_S wrote:

I'll add to the list:

Anti-depressants - Going through all this crap is enough to depress a saint! If you are feeling down all the time, talk to you Oncologist about anti-depressants.

Anti-anxiety meds - I was SO worried at my first A/C infusion; I was sure the second the stuff hit my veins I would start puking. Obviously I was worried for nothing but it really made my first treatment worse. If you even THINK you will be over-anxious about your first (or subsequent) treatment, ask for something to help take the edge off. Remember - Better Living Through Pharmaceuticals!

Transportation - Don't try to drive yourself! The stuff they give you to help limit symptoms (steroids, anti-depressants, anti-anxiety meds, etc.) can really do a number on you. Besides, you deserve a little support at that moment! If you don't have a family member, friend or neighbor that can drive you ask your Oncologist if they (or the hospital) offer transportation. Contact your local American Cancer Society and ask if they have transport options.
Dx 3/24/2006, IDC, 2cm, Stage IIB, Grade 3, 0/7 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2+
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Dec 6, 2006 01:14AM mccarroll wrote:

I had a problem with thrush that started with my first AC and still hasn't completely gone away. If your tongue starts feeling "fuzzy", with a white coating, talk to the onc about a script for fluconazole. I also got a probiotic called "Yeast Away" from the health food store, pricey but really seemed to get a handle on the thrush.
I got single knit ski hats to sleep in. Few seams to lay on, they stayed on better than chemo turbans and were warm.
Grape juice and crangrape got me thru AC. Water was metallic and I guess the tastebuds that liked grape were all that was left.
DH bought me a memory foam pillow after I slept so much on the couch, my ears were bruised. I hate my couch now.
DON'T SUFFER WITH ANY SIDE EFFECTS!!! Tell the onc and the nurses everything. It might not be a common SE, but they will probably have something to help you out.
Okay, tag, your it. Next helper up to the post! melissa, chemo brain is REAL and a real good excuse for lots of things.
Take care, Karen
Put on your big girl panties and deal with it! Dx 5/9/2006, IDC, 3cm, Stage II, Grade 3, 4/20 nodes, ER-, HER2+
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Dec 6, 2006 06:31AM BMD wrote:

Popcicles. Sugarless or 100% juice if you like. When you can't stand the water or other drinks this might be your answer. On the days my mouth was the worst I would use these for the cold and the fluid.

There are prescription mouth rinses that numb your mouth without leaving that awful taste. You have to ask the onc for the scrip though. It makes it easier to eat with sores.
We are all in God's caring hands, BrendaBMD Dx 7/14/2006, IDC, 2cm, Stage IIA, 0/10 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2-
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Dec 6, 2006 08:17AM sugar2u wrote:

Brenda glad you remembered popsicles. I had forgotten they helped me a lot and also made me feel like a kid getting a treat for a few minutes.
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Dec 6, 2006 11:46AM mikka22 wrote:

The fluids are sooo important for sure! I'm working with a homeopath friend and doing a number of natural approaches. I have a "homeopathic valium" - 3-4 drops in a glass of mineral water for stress/emotions. I have "insomnia" pellets to help counter the steroids. I keep a dish of dried apricots on the kitchen counter and munch on those to prevent constipation (and also have a digestive enzyme supplement I take before meals - it works!). I've also had a bit of diarrhea around day 5 post-chemo and eat something with rice that day. I have an antibacterial toothpaste that really is working well and also have those neat breath tabs too. I put lemon or lime drops or slices into my water glass - the acid and Vitamin C has kept my mouth clear so far! I think these combinations are helping. I'm very sensitive to meds and chemicals so am always on the lookout for a more natural approach. For me, better living through pharmaceuticals needs to have some limits... chemical allergies and sensitivities, etc.

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Dec 6, 2006 01:03PM RoundTwoinCA wrote:

I have one - get your sleep - when you hit the wall (as some of us do) - just lie down and rest or sleep. I have a large water bottle next to me and force myself to drink every time I wake or turn over. I try to make sure that I drink enough to pee every few hours (sounds gross but it's how I know I am getting enough fluids). Popsicles help those days too!

Sometimes it's a couple days in bed and sometimes it's a few on the sofa. At first I tried to do stuff but now I let people help and I rest those days. It helps a lot!
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Dec 7, 2006 03:13PM trk_koa wrote:

Fluids are also important for those on Cytoxan. You want to flush it out of your bladder to prevent toxicity. I was even told that it would be a good idea for a night or two after getting it, to set an alarm to get up in the night to relieve myself. Don't want that stuff to sit there for 8 hours.

So it's a good thing to drink a lot and pee a lot.

Nancy Dx 10/13/2005, IDC, 2cm, Stage IIB, Grade 3, 2/6 nodes, ER-/PR-, HER2+ Surgery 10/18/2005 Lumpectomy: Right; Lymph node removal: Right, Underarm/Axillary Surgery 11/10/2005 Lumpectomy: Right Chemotherapy 12/5/2005 Cytoxan (cyclophosphamide), Ellence (epirubicin) Radiation Therapy 1/31/2006 Breast, Lymph nodes Targeted Therapy 4/4/2006 Herceptin (trastuzumab) Chemotherapy 4/4/2006 Taxol (paclitaxel)
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Dec 8, 2006 05:20AM Paula wrote:

Blender - get one if you havent got one already. Makes eating so much easier on those 'no appetite' days. Just blend everything together and drink! Pureed soups, smoothies, etc.
There is light at the end of the tunnel.. and it isn't a train!
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Dec 8, 2006 06:03AM teacher06 wrote:

Thanks for tips from all of you. This kind of support is just what we all need! I'm on day 5 after my first A/C and contrary to what I thought on day 3, I will get through this. Question: Does each treatment get worse or is it usually more of the same? After A/C I will get 4 DD of Taxotere or Taxol, not sure which yet.

Debi D.
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Dec 8, 2006 11:48AM melissaga wrote:

Everyone is so different! My days 3s were never bad. It was day 5 that was my worst day in any one cycle.

Overall, each A/C treatment was a little different.

The first one was a learning experience. For the second round, I added sleeping pills and was much more vigilant about stool softeners and laxatives (took them from the day of the infusion as recommended by the nurses and it helped). So, my second A/C was actually easier in many ways than the first. It was the easiest of all!

For me, there were some aspects that were cumulative. That awful taste was not so back in the beginning but was quite strong in the last cycle, starting from the moment the meds were infused. The fatigue level was also cumulative.
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Dec 8, 2006 12:44PM Rocktobermom wrote:

Chemo bag : pack it up and keep it packed so on chemo day, you just grab it. I replenished it night before. I brought my book, chocolate, bottled (flavored) water or ice tea, my glasses and iPod.

Your own blankie .... the hospital ones aren't as comfy.

pics of your family ... Show the nurses your pics. You are a person and they need to know you and that you have a family who will wring their necks if they keep blowing your veins!!! Actually, you want them to take good care of you and give you good treatment!!

old magazines: Have you noticed there are no current mags in the chemo clinic??? Bring your recently read People or latest paperback book and leave them so the person who forgot their reading material, or the first timers have something to read.

Kleenex: Have you used their Kleenex??? It's that sandpaper tissue!! I like my real stuff, sometimes I love the lotioned up Kleenex.
When life hands you a lemon, ask for some tequila and salt to go with it!
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Dec 23, 2006 12:49AM JT6911-2006Dec07 wrote:

My family wants to starting packing my chemo bag any great tips on what to bring and what works or thing to leave at home. Also what home supplies should I start stocking up on? Is a goog thermometer a must? Ihate spinning my wheels I like having my ducks in a row.
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Dec 23, 2006 01:21AM RoundTwoinCA wrote:

Just posted on what foods to eat a long reply to you...

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Jan 19, 2007 02:32AM melissaga wrote:

Bumping this up for newbies.

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Jan 19, 2007 06:44AM Tahoe1982 wrote:

This was great...thanks for all the tips...
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Jan 23, 2007 10:11PM dash wrote:

Wow--just found this--good tips here~!

Lots of people talk to animals...Not very many listen, though...That's the problem. ~The Tao of Pooh
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Feb 12, 2007 09:39AM melissaga wrote:

Bumping this up for the newbies.

(and waving hi to Holly!)
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Feb 16, 2007 02:49AM kimmymacbu wrote:

I didn't like the taste of our well water, so I kept a 12 pack of carbonated Canada Dry flavored water right by my bed.

Take your anti-nausea meds before you feel nauseaous.

I tried accupuncture for nausea, and had little "tacks" that I put on myself -- I think it helped for A/C, even if it was a placebo effect.

Glutamine and warm baths help Taxol pain somewhat - and there is some annecdotal evidence that Claritin (OTC allergy pill) helps too. I did all this, and still had major pain, but it might work for some.

Remember, no one has all the side effects, and some people don't get cummulative effects -- my first treatments were always the worst.

And it does go by pretty fast -- I finished 4a/c and 4 taxol 1/31/07. Yipee!
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Mar 6, 2007 09:28AM refugee wrote:

bump- these tips are so helpful!

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Mar 6, 2007 12:51PM Cynthia1962 wrote:

Thanks for bumping this up...I was just going to start a thread asking for advice about how to prepare for chemo. These are great tips.

Mets to bones Dx 1/3/2007, IDC, 2cm, Stage IIIA, Grade 2, 4/18 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2- Surgery 2/16/2007 Lumpectomy: Right; Lymph node removal: Right, Underarm/Axillary Chemotherapy 3/19/2007 Adriamycin (doxorubicin), Cytoxan (cyclophosphamide), Taxotere (docetaxel) Radiation Therapy 9/6/2007 Breast, Lymph nodes Hormonal Therapy 11/9/2007 Hormonal Therapy 11/1/2010 Arimidex (anastrozole) Dx 11/11/2010, IDC, Stage IV, ER+/PR+, HER2- Chemotherapy 6/1/2012 Xeloda (capecitabine) Chemotherapy 11/14/2012 Navelbine (vinorelbine)
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Mar 22, 2007 10:04PM melissaga wrote:

Time for another bump for our newbies.

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Mar 23, 2007 02:23AM playwriter wrote:

sign up for
they are a ministry where volunteers (usually cancer suriviors themseleves) will send u little notes or little gifts about every 10 days during yr chemo, totally free.
tell yr friends about
cancer opponent Dx 2/12/2007, IDC, Stage I, Grade 3, 0/0 nodes, PR-, HER2-
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Apr 8, 2007 09:15PM playwriter wrote:

the only thing i found to drink post-tx that didn't taste funky was gatorade.

cancer opponent Dx 2/12/2007, IDC, Stage I, Grade 3, 0/0 nodes, PR-, HER2-
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Apr 9, 2007 08:02AM jacqniel wrote:

Another tip - keep a squirt bottle by the toilet and rinse your self off with warm water after urinating for the first week or so. The chemo often burns on the way out, causing discomfort. I used an old water bottle and when I got this tip earlier on-line the person suggested a ketchup bottle.
If the water rinse doesn't help - which it did help - but still got sore - take Uristat or AZO - both over the counter. These are analgesics which help with the burning and pain. But remember to have yourself checked out if you have bladder symptoms, because lowered bloodcounts can lead to bladder infections.
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May 9, 2007 04:16AM melissaga wrote:

Time to bring this back to the first page for our May and June starters, a group I was part of just a year ago.

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May 22, 2007 08:57AM NarberthMom wrote:

bump for the new chemo starters

There are no strangers here, only friends you haven't met! Dx 12/15/2006, IDC, 2cm, Stage IB, Grade 3, 0/2 nodes, ER-/PR-, HER2-
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May 22, 2007 01:56PM QueenSansaStark wrote:

Beware neutropenia! If you have a sore throat, and/or are running a fever greater than 100 - GET THEE TO THE DOCTOR STAT. Especially during your "nadir" period you are susceptible to infection. I learned this the hard way and wound up in the hospital. You want to cook or peel everything you eat, be very careful of raw foods like raw honey, wash your hands a lot, and maybe even do a Howard Hughes during the worst nadir period so you don't catch germs. BT, DT.

Get a scarf or two in the most face-flattering color you can find. For me, that is a plum/mauve pink - I went to Crossroads consignment store and got a nice long silk scarf. I get compliments and "don't you look healthy/good!" whenever I wear it. The scarf should be silk or cotton, lightweight (because it WILL get hot as you wear it a long time), and in peach, pink, rose, bronze - something close to the color you blush. This will cast a flattering light on your complexion.

Stock up on frozen meals. Not the healthiest, I know, but you will appreciate the savings in time when you are zapped and don't want to spend your energy on cooking.

Steroids (and if you are on a taxane they WILL give you steroids) may wire you to kingdom come. Get a scrip for sleeping meds, and learn to meditate; meditation, visualization, and soothing music (I love Bach, myself) will help keep you from feeling like you want to jump out of your skin.
There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats. - Albert Schweitzer Dx 2/1/2007, IDC, 2cm, Stage IIB, Grade 2, 3/25 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2- Surgery 2/26/2007 Lumpectomy: Right; Lymph node removal: Right, Underarm/Axillary Hormonal Therapy 11/1/2007 Radiation Therapy Breast, Lymph nodes Chemotherapy Adriamycin (doxorubicin), Cytoxan (cyclophosphamide), Taxotere (docetaxel)
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May 22, 2007 10:02PM rosebud1962 wrote:

Be kind to yourself, you didn't cause this to happen. Take time out of each day to try to do something you love. Try to go for walks and I guess the most important thing that has got me through this..laugh. Our time is to short here whether we are healthily or not so don't sweat the little things and hug and tell the ones you love them!
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Jun 13, 2007 09:20AM charkleroad wrote:

I am starting chemo (T/C) tomorrow. Find this thread very helpful. I was very nervous and called the doctor's office. Asked the nurse if there is anything I can prepare. She said"nothing". so, i have spending the past hour taking notes from all of you! Thanks!!! Christine

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