All things A-Z for coping through chemotherapy
Updated: Jan 7, 2018
This is not a detailed list, however I would like to show the symptoms and side effects chemotherapy had on my body:-
A - Allergic reaction
I must admit this was one side effect I was most scared of! When chemo is given intravenously your body could react within a couple of minutes of it entering your veins and flowing through your blood stream. I witnessed a lady in her 80's have a severe reaction to the chemo she was given. Her hands and face went as red as a tomato and her temperature was over 100. She was rushed to another hospital where she was treated successfully but witnessing this made my chemo sessions more intense and frightening.
B - Bruising and Bleeding
Chemo can reduce the number of platelets in your blood and these stop severe bleeding if you cut or injure yourself.
Your skin could bruise easily, have bleeding gums and nosebleeds.
I suffered with nosebleeds quite a lot and bleeding gums but soon stopped once my treatment finished.
C - Comfort
The main thing whilst receiving your treatment is that you feel comfortable. Wear joggers and baggy tops as you will be sat in the chair for some time (depending on your treatment plan).
Choose the chair which reclines and always accept the extra pillow. I needed this for when I had my pre meds as they made me drowsy - more like off my face. You know when you get into bed after a heavy night on the town and the room is spinning, this lasted for about 20 minutes.
D - Drugs (prescribed)
Before chemo and after, the nurses will prescribe you drugs to help your body cope with the effects. The drugs I was prescribed were Steroids, to help build my body up during and for 3 days after, and anti-sickness for during and after.
E - Exhaustion
This can take effect at any point throughout your treatment but I found I was most vulnerable 4 days after chemo and when I hit my double dose every 3 weeks. To help tackle this side effect, always rest and do not do too much. The cleaning can wait and try and get family friends to help out with school runs and general everyday errands.
F - Family and Friends
Always be open with the people close to you. Let them know how you are feeling and when you need help, tell them! It is true when they say, it is hardest for the loved ones of a cancer patient because they feel helpless.
G - Gaining or losing weight
The normal stigma is if your going through chemotherapy, you will lose weight. Well, for me I put on a stone. This was due to the steroids I was on. You will always be given advice on how to eat healthy through chemo from your Macmillan support team. I found I always had a sweet tooth a day after my chemo session.
H - Hair loss
As with weight loss, losing your hair is also an association with cancer. Depending on the treatment you have, you may lose or keep your hair. The chemotherapy I had was very aggressive, which unfortunately made my hair fall out within 2 weeks. There is the cold cap which is designed to freeze your hair follicles to try and keep your hair. The success rate of this depends on each person but my oncologist said it is not really worth the pain.
I will also be doing a more detailed insight into my hair loss and what is available to help with this.
I - Infection and Isolation
You do not realise until you are have a serious illness, how important it is to stay away from colds/flu and anything that can affect your immune system. Due to your white blood cells being near non-existent, it is very difficult for our bodies to fight infection.
I found myself in hospital, in isolation on 3 occasions due to my temperature being over 37. They will always treat you as if you have sepsis and will give you anti-biotics to ensure your body is protected.
J - Journal
Before I started chemo, my nurse said it is a good idea to keep a journal of your journey. I wrote all the positive and negative stages of my treatment.
K - Keeping positive
I know it is hard to keep positive when you are faced with the fight of your life, but trust me, it helps to keep your head in the right place and focus on recovery. When your mind is positive, I believe your body does the rest.
L - Lymphoedema
This is a condition of localized fluid retention and tissue swelling caused by a compromised lymphatic system, which normally returns interstitial fluid to the thoracic duct, then the bloodstream.
This was specific for me because I would be having surgery to my left side, the nurses did not want to use my left arm to put the needle in for the intravenous chemotherapy. Every time I had a chemo session they had to use my right side. They even used a vein in my thumb at one stage as my veins in my hand were awful.
I have to be careful now with having my blood pressure taken (needs to be done on my right arm), infections on the left fingers, hand and arm. I also have to be careful with any scratches or bites from insects as this could cause infection and then lead to lymphoedema.
M - Menopause
For women, chemotherapy can cause issues with fertility, which is why they ask you at the beginning (depending on your age) whether you would like to freeze your eggs. I opted not to as I do not intend on having any more children, one is enough.
Whilst going though treatment, I started early menopause which meant hot flushes, no periods and the dreaded mood swings. Once treatment finished, my body pretty much went back to normal and the hot flushes stopped, my periods retuned (unfortunately) but I was still moody :).
This is not something that a 28 year old should have to endure, seeing that I was fertile and never had any issues previously as I had my daughter 4 years prior.
To help with the hot flushes, I constantly had the fan on whilst I was in bed and used a cold flannel before I went to sleep for my forehead.
N - Nails and nerve damage
Before chemotherapy is started, the nurses will run through the do's and don't's. They always stressed to never wear nail varnish as they use your finger to monitor your heart rate for observations and the polish can cause the machine to not pick up the correct readings.
My nails went really brittle and disgusting when I was going through chemo. They didn't really grow that much either and turned a pale yellow colour, so I made sure I always filed them and tried to keep them in as good condition as possible.
Again, depending on the chemotherapy you are receiving, it can cause nerve damage. The main areas they are concerned with is your feet and hands. My hands did suffer from a little nerve damage but thank god I have managed to regain most of the strength in my hands. The nurses would always ask you the question about the feeling in your feet and hands to ensure the chemotherapy is not too strong for your body to deal with.
One lady did have her treatment delayed for a week and the dosage reduces due to nerve damage.
O - Oncologist
My view on these professionals is simple - THEY ARE AMAZING!
They are so intelligent and know their profession inside and out. They are the people who decide on the treatment you receive and a lot of the research is carried out but them which they will combine different cancer drugs for more successful results.
Without my oncologist Dr Innes, I would not be here today.
P - Painkillers and Steroids
The painkillers I could only really receive whilst I was at home was paracetamol or ibuprofen, if needed. I got severe sciatica whilst I was receiving my immune booster injections throughout my 2nd stage of chemotherapy and needed many of these painkillers.
Steroids were a massive boost for me through chemo. They would give me them 30 minutes before chemo treatment was given and then I needed to take them for 3 days after. They built my body up so the effects were not as debilitating
Q - Quacks
This is a term used for your doctors, surgeons, nurses and other specialists. I had many whilst I was going through treatment. My surgeon (Dr Ray), Macmillan Nurse (Chris Bebb - my angel) and Oncologist (Dr Innes).
These specialists all form a team to help you tackle the fight of your life.
R - Realisation
I came to realisation of my situation when I was sat in the chemo chair for the first time and the nurse had put the drip in. I cannot explain the nerves or how frightened I was when she pressed the button to start the treatment bag.
S - Skin care
If you read up on the effects of chemotherapy, you will find most articles or blogs mentioning the effects on your skin. Chemotherapy dries out your skin and can make it cracked in certain areas.
I found what helped with me was just moisturising with Simple moisturiser (no perfumes etc) every night and this kept my skin hydrated and I did not have any problems with cracked skin.
T - Taste buds
Now this is a peculiar side effect. Chemotherapy can distort your taste buds, therefore you will not taste most foods for a few days. I lost all taste around the 3rd day after chemotherapy, which lasted around 3 days.
Unfortunately, there isn't really much the professionals can help with this, just need to ride it out. I just didn't eat anything worth eating during the period of them 3 days. I would save my goodies for after.
U - Urine and Bladder changes
Whilst I was having the Adriamycin chemo (red devil), for the first day I would have red urine. I found I would be constantly on the toilet the night after my chemo session but then would return to my normal habits.
Chemotherapy can cause irritation when urinating, diarrhoea and constipation. I won't go into detail as these side effects can be found on the NHS website.
V - Vomiting and sickness
This is a very common side effect of chemotherapy. I was very lucky as I didn't really get too sick with my treatment, more nauseous than anything.
The anti-sickness drugs they prescribe you are a god send and if needed, they can give you stronger ones.
Don't get me wrong, there were days when I had my head down the toilet, whilst my daughter was rubbing my back but this was on a few occasions. On the other hand, I have known of women who have been sick constantly throughout their treatment. It is just how our body copes with having poison running through our veins.
W - Waiting
Having to go through Chemotherapy is one thing but the waiting to have the poison which can save your life is painfully long. I would turn up to have my chemo but end up waiting for 3/4 hours.
I never moaned though as the nurses are brilliant and there are so many people having treatment each day, I am surprised they got through everyone.
We would sometimes be waiting all day but on the plus side, you would get free food and drinks.
X - X-rays and other scans
This comes hand in hand when going through cancer treatment. You will have x-rays, ultrasounds to locate the cancer, if you have a tumour and also CT scans.
The technology today is remarkable.
I had the full shebang when I was diagnosed. I had the Ultrasound, CT, MRI and X-rays but there is such a thing as scanxiety. I have this still today but I think this is just programmed into us as the generation today will automatically expect the worst.
Y - Yes I CAN attitue
Z - Zap those evil cancer cells
Chemo is designed to target the specific cancer area or location and kill it.
As I had breast cancer, I had two lumps in my left breast and my nurse explained that when the chemo hits the cancer site, it will destroy the cells formed and can create a cheese like effect. So the lump could still remain but the chemo will create pockets in the tumour. Luckily enough, the chemo worked and I had a full response to the chemotherapy and no cancer remained in my breast.
I then went on to have surgery (left mastectomy and 8 lymph nodes) and radiotherapy to further zap the cancer site and neck.