Laura tells us about her experience of chemotherapy and shares her top tips for getting through treatment.
In December 2012 I had just finished the last of six rounds of chemotherapy and was preparing for my first post-chemo Christmas. I found it hard to believe a whole year had gone by, particularly as I still remember the day I was 'sentenced' to eight months of treatment as if it were yesterday.
Since then I’ve met a lot of people going through chemo and I’ve been surprised at the varying advice given to them by different hospitals, for example the woman whose nails went black and started falling off after chemo because she had never been given a simple tip to help protect them.
So below I’ve listed a few tips from my own chemo experience that I hope will be beneficial to all. My particular regime (for breast cancer) was called FEC-T and there are many different types but hopefully some of the advice will still apply.
1. Preventing hair loss
Having chemo doesn’t always mean losing all your hair. If you’re willing to sit for hours with an ice-cold cap on your head you might be able to minimise your hair loss with cold-cap treatment, so ask your doctor if it’s an option. Though I didn’t choose it myself I’ve met women who had the cold-cap treatment and I could barely tell they had had chemo at all. With cold-cap your hair can also grow back faster because it doesn’t have to grow from below the root.
2. Going for the chop
If you decide against cold-cap therapy, don’t shave your head as soon as you find out you’re going to have chemo. Consider cutting it short before the treatment starts then shave when it starts falling out (usually two-three weeks after your first chemo session) to minimise the shock of going bald.
3. Wig shopping
Don’t buy all your wigs before you start chemo – they’ll look completely different once you lose your hair and they can be very expensive.
Take all the anti-sickness medication your oncologist prescribes but avoid the anti-sickness bands you can buy at the chemist. They’re great for anti-sickness but can squeeze and damage the veins around the wrist if you wear them for too long.
5. ‘Light relief’
Stock up on Senokot – a brilliant natural remedy for constipation, which is common during chemo and can make for a very unpleasant experience. Start taking them a night or two before each chemo and continue until everything is working as normal.
6. Ice-cold cravings
Consider investing in an ice lolly maker to give yourself something cold to eat during chemo. Treatment affects the taste buds and often leaves you craving icy drinks so these are a good option. I got one from Zoku which is great but can be a bit of an effort when you’re feeling zonked, so make sure you’ve got someone to help you out with it. Or maybe just stock up on ice cream instead…
7. Getting your five a day
Consider buying a good quality juicer. It’s natural to start looking at ways to improve your diet after diagnosis and juicing is a great way to stock up on loads of good vitamins that may help lessen the side effects of your treatment. The L’Equip Omni Juicers are absolutely brilliant, though quite an investment.
8. Nail paint
If you’re having Taxotere (the T in FEC-T), paint your nails in dark colours at the beginning of chemo and keep it on throughout the treatment. This will stop your nails going black and falling off. (There’s no harm in doing this for other types of chemo too.)
9. Ice gloves
If you’re having Taxotere ask the hospital to provide ice gloves for your hands and feet. These aren’t always available but it’s worth asking. It makes for a very uncomfortable experience wearing ice-cold gloves on your hands and feet for several hours each treatment but again it can stop your nails going black and falling off.
10. Catching ‘z’s
Sleep sleep sleep – and avoid technology. The first few nights of each treatment can feel like the worst hangover combined with the worst migraine in history so the more sleep you can get and water you can drink, the better.
Read more about the side effects of chemotherapy.