For my LiveLaughLearn video, I chose to focus on tips for getting through chemotherapy treatments. Although receiving chemo isn’t exactly a walk in the park, I did learn a few little tricks to make the process a bit easier.
Here are my tips for coping with chemo:
1. Comfy Chemo Outfit – Including Herceptin, a targeted therapy for people with HER 2+ breast cancer, I had twenty-one IV treatments in total. That’s a lot of hours sitting in the chemo chair, and I quickly learned that comfort is key. My “chemo uniform” typically consisted of loose, stretchy clothes – leggings, t-shirt, and hoodie. I’d still accessorize with jewellery and fun patterns and colours, to help boost my mood a bit. But the ultimate goal was to be comfortable. You have a great excuse to wear sweatpants in public – use it
2. Numb Your Port – If you’re having a lot of treatments, or have bad veins, you will likely get a port to receive your chemo infusions. The port is a type of catheter that sits just below the skin, usually near the collarbone, and is accessed with a needle. If you’re like me, you might be nervous the first time your port is accessed and worried about the needle prick. But never fear, EMLA cream is here! EMLA cream is a numbing agent that comes in a tube that you can put on your skin to temporarily numb the area. About 90 minutes to 2 hours before your treatment, squeeze a blob of the cream over your port, using a Q-tip to apply (because you don’t want to numb your fingers, ideally). Cover the area with a Tegaderm transparent dressing (or Press ‘N Seal wrap which is much more affordable and widely available). When the nurse begins your treatment, she/he will wipe off the cream and stick you with the needle, and if all goes well, you shouldn’t feel a thing. Magic! Check with your local pharmacy to see if they carry ELMA cream and Tegaderm dressing as in my experience most do.
3. Minty Fresh – When you have a port, it needs to be flushed before you can start your treatment (and also for blood draws). This causes a weird taste to occur in your mouth. Although it is not horrendous, it’s not the best taste either, so you might want to mask it. This can easily be done by popping a mint, candy, or piece of gum into your mouth before your nurse begins the flushing. Keep the mint pressed tight to your tongue and you shouldn’t get any of the unpleasant taste. Easy peasy.
4. Cool Your Month – Most chemo wards should have popsicles in the freezer, or at the very least, some ice cubes. Sucking on something icy while receiving your chemo is thought to reduce the likelihood of developing nasty mouth sores. I’d pop in a popsicle as soon as my treatment began and munch on ice cubes while I was receiving the drug most likely to cause mouth sores. This doesn’t work for everyone, but it did seem to help me. Worst case scenario, you end up eating a delicious popsicle. I highly recommend chocolate ones.
5. And for one last bonus tip: Trash Up – Load your iPad or laptop with trashy TV shows to help make the time go by faster and give you something fun to distract your wandering mind. But don’t forget to bring your headphones – or else you might receive some angry stares from your fellow patients who don’t appreciate overhearing the trials and tribulations of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
Everyone has different ways of coping and getting through chemotherapy treatments, but hopefully these tips come in handy for you, or someone you know. It’s really a “learn-as-you-go” process, so you are likely to figure out what does (and doesn’t) work for you as you go along. And before you know it, it will be over, and you’ll likely have a list of tips to share of your very own making.
Stephanie Gilman was 28 when diagnosed with breast cancer – you can read all about her experience on her blog Pass Me Another Cupcake.