Health

Chemotherapy: 7 Helpful Things To Know About Chemo

A coward, fear of needles and hospitals like me but then had to undergo 8 rounds of chemotherapy. Looking back in the time I had spent, it went very fast, but when I started my treatment, it had been a long time since the doctor announced that I had to get 8 cycles in 6 months to treat my cancer. My chemo cycle was every 3 weeks but usually lasted longer when my white blood cell count was low. And it took time to bring my WBC back to a normal range for the next infusion. I was suffering from fatigue at the first 3 waves of chemotherapy that the drugs were given into veins in my two arms all day from morning till late. Besides, I had to inject a specific medicine into the spinal cord. And luckily my body responded well to chemotherapy so my cancer for non-Hodgkin lymphoma is in remission. In my personal experience, I would like to share 7 important things to know before and after chemotherapy that helped me to overcome the days of infusion with common side effects such as fatigue, weakness, nausea and vomiting during chemo treatment.

1. Have knowledge of chemotherapy

Before I started my first round of chemotherapy, I have read a lot of articles about chemotherapy as well as the side effects I might face. At that time, I was vague about how toxic chemotherapy was and how chemotherapy was given in the body. You don’t think that a better understanding of chemotherapy made me feel anxious, afraid or depressed, but actually this helped me to figure out on what would happen to me during the treatment. So I got myself ready for what was ahead and knew how to manage side effects without confusing questions like what chemotherapy is, how it works, and what to expect. You can ask your medical oncologist for advice about treatment regimens, potential risks and what symptoms you should pay attention to.

2. Stay positive and optimistic

Stay positive and optimistic during chemotherapy - MorningNhu

Turn your face towards the sun. Photograph: Nhu Le

A positive attitude is important to cancer resilience, it helps me to cope with disease and recovery from chemotherapy regimen. Just think like an optimist and stay positive then most adverse effects are usually mild or gradually go away when chemotherapy is over. When I was diagnosed with stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, I felt quite well at that time without fear or depression (feeling like I don’t care). I didn’t think too much about what was going on, disease caused aches and pains throughout my body so there was no reason to make my mind miserable. That time I was in the same room with a woman, who also had blood cancer, she looked very healthy and not weak like me. But she often cried a lot and worried too much about her family. Everyone in the room encouraged her to stay positive and optimistic, in order not to adversely affect health. After that I went to the hospital for the next round of chemotherapy,  I was shocked to hear the sad news that she passed away because of a blood infection and respiratory failure after the first chemotherapy. No matter what happens in life, never stop believing in hope that you will somehow make it and be happy and stay strong every day. I will share an article about how to keep a positive attitude with cancer in another post on morningnhu.com.

3. Avoid crowds and sick people

Avoid crowds and sick people during chemotherapy - MorningNhu

Wear the surgical mask when going out. Photograph: Nhu Le

When my body was weak, I avoided going to crowded places, also mostly wore surgical masks all the time. I often had low white blood cell counts after each cycle of chemotherapy that could increase my risk of all sorts of infections. I had to be careful not to get infected by bacteria, diseases, and dust through the respiratory system.  Because a weak immune system might have difficulty fighting off infections so it is important to minimize risk of exposure to pathogens and have a good health care plan, so that it might help to not prolong in the treatment of cancer. To me, the first 3 cycles of chemotherapy were very important that I felt weak and tired extremely but I tried to manage the serious complications during cancer chemotherapy. And my body gradually adapted in the next infusions, the symptoms of nausea and vomiting subsided.

4. Maintain good oral hygiene during chemotherapy

Maintain good oral hygiene during chemotherapy - MorningNhu

Always maintain good oral hygiene during chemotherapy. Photograph: Nhu Le

Before I started chemotherapy, I spent two weeks for thrombocytopenia (low platelet count) treatment with many medicines of antibiotic, anti-allergy, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, gastro-esophageal reflux, and hemostasis. There were drugs when injected into my vein causing a very pungent taste in the mouth, sometimes nurses had to tell me to open my mouth then breathed out in reducing strong smell. At that time, I got canker sores so it was very painful and hard for me to eat or drink. Especially when brushing my teeth was terrible soreness; but I still tried to brush my teeth twice a day and rinsed my mouth thoroughly after every meal. In addition, I kept my hands clean that being the good way to prevent the spread of infection. Besides, I drank a lot of water, fresh fruit juice and did not eat hot or spicy foods. After a week, I had no longer any painful ulcers in the mouth. Good oral and dental hygiene can help you stay healthy, as well as reducing the risk of serious dental complications caused by cancer treatment. So it is important to maintain good oral hygiene before, during and after chemotherapy, it helps to improve the quality of life and recovery from cancer treatment.

5. Light exercise during chemotherapy

Light exercise - MorningNhu

Cycling through the countryside. Photograph: Nhu Le

The first days in hospital I was too weak that I lost 10kg weight in 2 months. There were lymph nodes in many parts of my body including neck, armpit, groin and in my tummy. My blood platelet count was very low; sometimes I only got 3 while a normal human platelet count ranges from 150 to 450 billion platelets per liter of blood. For two weeks I was just hanging around in a hospital bed, I was given injections 3 times a day in the morning, afternoon and evening; every time I got about 4 or 5 drug ampoules. At that time, I only wanted my doctor to give medicines by mouth than by injection because I was in so much pain from needles (omg I still feel very painful when writing these sentences). But without any bills, I had to take injections and infusions all day and night. It was an obsession with physical exhaustion severely during the treatment to get back a normal platelet count. I couldn’t walk as usual, I needed to grab hold of bed rails or touch the wall to go to toilet. And I used the wheelchair to move to the other departments for tests. Every step I took was absent-minded, feeling like I was weightless, I needed to hold onto something to sit down and stand up. In addition, it was difficult to lift my arms up due to the painful needles and bruises. But then the encouragements from my family and friends, I felt stronger and I didn’t want to lie down in the hospital bed all day that I wanted to go out, climb mountains, and ride my scooter through the streets. And then every day, I practiced lifting fingers, hands, legs up, massaging my body from head to toe and doing deep breathing exercises. So these helped to dispel muscle pain and weakness, then I gradually became stronger. Now I still keep exercising daily, I like walking, climbing, cycling and never forget to massage my whole body before go to bed.

6. Healthy eating

Healthy eating - MorningNhu

A lunch full of vegetable flavors. Photograph: Nhu Le

My friends and family often told me that “Try to eat a lot of healthy food to stay strong that fight off disease” when they came to visit me, and my doctor advised me that “Remember to eat cooked food, drink safe and clean water” every time the doctor examined me. During cancer treatment, I tried to eat a lot and divided into small meals a day. I didn’t follow a specific diet, I just didn’t eat any raw vegetables and food must be cooked thoroughly that using fresh ingredients. I only ate fruits after a week of chemotherapy, because my immune system was very weak after chemo infusion, so I had to eat cooked food and drink clean water to eliminate the risk of infection. And fruits must be fresh and had their origin clearly. Before I was admitted to the hospital for treatment, I went on a diet without eating meat but sometimes did eat fish. Mainly I ate vegetables, grains, legumes, fruits and nuts. Besides, I took herbal medicine in the hope of shrinking my splenic tumors (this time I still didn’t know I had cancer, I just knew I had many tumors in my spleen).  But that didn’t help me to be healthier; also I experienced fatigue and loss of appetite along with sudden weight loss. And then I realized one thing, dieting isn’t always good, it will vary depending on many factors, including age, gender, general state of health etc. Healthy eating doesn’t have to be about dieting; it should rather be all about enjoying fresh, tasty food, wholesome ingredients. Currently, my cancer is in remission and I am building back strength after treatment by eating a healthy diet filled with fresh fruits and vegetables and other unprocessed, low-fat foods.

7. Have time to rest

When I got a serious illness, I couldn’t sit and work for more than an hour, so I decided to quit my job that I had time to rest and treat my disease. And I spent time to do what I liked to regain a sense of peace and well-being. After three cycles of chemotherapy, I was able to go back to my normal routine and traveled to some places. Before making the Europe trip, I asked my doctor if I needed any special medicines to have a safe trip. So I was injected the drug which stimulating the growth of white blood cells after 3rd chemotherapy, besides I took the anti-sickness tablets daily according to the doctor’s instructions. So you don’t worry too much about cancer, just listen to your body and rest if you need and let’s do what you want that bring you back to vitality, peace of mind and happiness. It’s very important that you should never give up hope in cancer treatment.

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