Chemotherapy: Preparing Mind, Body and Spirit
Chemotherapy is a longstanding treatment for people diagnosed with cancer, especially ovarian cancer. It includes a class of drugs known as "cytotoxins," which literally "kill" off cells. The aim is to prevent the reproduction of cancer cells which grow faster than other cells in your body.
When prescribed chemotherapy, it may be one or several drugs, usually delivered by an IV and repeated over time. The intent is to cure, contain or palliate. Palliation occurs when the goal is no longer cure or containment but symptom relief.
Depending on the drug, the dosage is determined by body weight in kilograms, body surface, and age. Hopefully, physicians will evaluate the whole person: labs, previous chronic conditions/experience with chemotherapy, kidney and liver function, general health status, and stamina.
Honor the whole of you
I am not an expert on chemotherapy or the response from a scientific and cellular perspective. However, as an advanced practice nurse for the last fifty years, along with my history of starting the third round of chemotherapy, I have some credible knowledge about this adventure.
While some of our AOC members report that "undergoing chemo was not as bad as they thought," this is an individual experience to which we can hope to aspire. The human experience of undergoing chemotherapy remains in my thoughts, feelings, and soul. It frightens me to be so lost in a place that takes over all my biological functions and reduces my ability to eat or drink. At one point, I only had the remnants of my faith and resilience. The impact is remarkable.
Chemotherapy presents many requirements. I recommend that each of us reach a place of emotional readiness. Begin by knowing yourself. If you tend to turn people away when they offer help, rethink it. Defining the help you need may be challenging, but you do not want to leave yourself vulnerable.
Things to consider during chemo
- Request instructions from your doctor to address nausea and diarrhea, typical side effects. Have a prescription in your home before you begin.
- Develop a plan to isolate yourself when white blood cells and platelets decline. Chemotherapy creates a condition called neutropenia, making it difficult to fight infection. Your doctors may provide an antibiotic in the event you develop a fever. Be sure you know the use parameters and when to call the team. Do not hesitate to reach out with this information.
- Create a support team at home. Select a few trusting friends or family members who can coach you, transport you, and sometimes even help reorient you to time and place.
- Ask someone to accompany you to your infusion and doctor visits. They can assist in reporting your physical and emotional responses and encourage you to get the help you need.
- Consider tangible safety items: a shower chair, a walker, and bed rails.
- To support your home life, consider ordering disposable underpads for the bed, the couch, and chairs in which you might sit. In addition, I ordered small plastic odor sealing plastic bags [used for diapers] just in case of nausea and vomiting.
- Ask for help laundering clothing, changing sheets, and addressing bills and finances. Consider anything that potentiates stress and hand it on.
- While emotionally taxing, plan for hair loss. I found it helpful to prepare myself and my family for this eventuality. Hair loss may stimulate anticipatory grieving and the realities you are facing.
Maintaining balanced nutrition
I realize that when enveloped in persistent gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea/vomiting), the last thing a person wants to address is eating and fluid intake. It is a matter of math. You can reach a point where your output exceeds your input, leaving your body lacking the fluid to sustain life. Rather quickly, your kidneys and liver can be affected. Therefore, it is imperative to send information to the treatment team. This news could easily prompt a plan to return to the treatment center to replace fluids.
Yet, before your chemo journey, consider foods and drinks you may be able to have on hand. For me, everything tasted like metal, likely from the Cisplatin. I resorted to childhood memories and requested pastina with butter or Lipton's Noodle Soup, both of which added some sodium and water. I could not consider plain water, but able to try Sprite. Please make this effort and do this preparation.
You are a rock star
While cancer creates a shallow place in our personal history, chemotherapy can challenge the core of our being. So consistently remind yourself that you are worthy of returning to a healthy life where you can once again enjoy family and friends and plan for years to come.
I wish you the best outcome and the strength to make it through.
Did you have a hysterectomy to treat your ovarian cancer?
Join the conversation