Saturday, 15 November 2014

What Should You Take To Chemotherapy?

Going to your first session of chemotherapy can be intimidating.  It's difficult to know what to expect, and what you should bring with you.

Even my limited experience of chemotherapy has shown me that the experience varies a great deal depending what regime you are following.  When I was on FEC, I would spend a good four hours or longer at hospital while the contents of five different bags dripped into me one after the other.  But, because I had a PICC line inserted, I could easily type emails, surf the net, write.  Now that I am on Taxol, my session is more like two to three hours.  But it is administered by IV so I have a needle stuck into the crook of my arm and have to keep it completely straight.  The needle has to be in my right arm due to my left breast mastectomy and, given that I'm right handed, suddenly it is frustratingly difficult to do anything except read.

The environment can be quite different in different hospitals too.  I'm lucky that my hospital uses two bed roomed rooms, so we are reasonably private, have a bed with a TV and space for visitors.  Other hospitals put everyone together in a large ward in reclining chairs.  It's worth getting an idea of what to expect from your oncologist before you start.

It helps to come prepared for anything.  Here are a few tips based on the things that I think are important to bring with you.

·         A relaxed attitude.  Even if your oncologist has explained things in advance, it might not turn out as you expect.  Hospitals are busy places and things can, sometimes, take forever.  When I had my first chemo session I had a PICC line inserted and had to go down to surgery to be seen by the anaesthetist and I ended up waiting for two hours before I was seen.  So I was in hospital a good three hours before I even started chemo.  Then, every time a bag finished I had to call the nurse to change to the next bag.   Sometimes it can take twenty minutes before someone comes and when you have five bags to get through, that adds significantly to the time.  But, I can pretty much guarantee that those nurses aren't hanging out in the office having a gossip.  They're working flat out and there's no point getting angry.  Come prepared to take as long as it takes, get comfy and wait it out.

·         Make sure you have all your paperwork and any hospital ID with you.  It helps to have an idea where you are going before you arrive.  It's also a good idea to have a notebook and paper so you can take notes: for FEC I needed to remember lots of instructions about the drugs I might need to take.  It's also useful to have your diary with you so you can schedule in future appointments. 

·         Wear comfy clothes and warm socks so your feet don't get cold!  I prefer not to wear my wig and tend to just wear a comfortable headscarf.

·         Bring some reading material.  You might be there for some time.

·         I love my smart phone.  There is free WI-FI at my hospital so I can use it to surf the net and send emails (though I need to type left handed these days.)  When I started with FEC I tried bringing my laptop so that I could blog but I found it awkward to manage on the bed and there were no sockets in the room so the battery died anyway.  On Taxol, with the IV in my arm, it would be impossible to use a laptop.  Obviously it's also important to have a phone so that you can let people know if you are delayed.  Whatever device you use, make sure its charged up.

·         I also use my phone to listen to music.  Don't forget headphones.

·         I always bring a bottle of water.  I find it helps to keep hydrated and if I have to ask for water I never drink enough. So I bring a litre bottle of my favourite sparkling water and make sure I drink the lot.
·         It's a good idea to have some snacks to hand too.  Funnily enough, I never fancy sweet stuff when I'm chemo though normally I'm a chocolate fiend.  I like to have dried fruit, nuts or corn cakes handy for when the munchies strike.

·         You can bring a friend too.  The first time, it's particularly useful if someone can come with you.  Normally I go in on my own now but I text my room number around when I am settled and often a friend pops in for a chat which is a lovely way to pass the time.  Last time my friend brought a flask of hot water and herbal tea bags with her - an excellent visitor!

·         A pre-arranged pick up.  The first time you try any new regime, you really need someone to take you home afterwards as people can react badly.  For me, I've always felt absolutely fine to drive myself home afterwards and I have done that on a couple of occasions.  But my friends are eager to help and want to offer lifts and I must admit that it is lovely to have a chauffeur waiting at the door to take me home.  It helps with the parking fees too which can add up quickly if you have to leave your car in the hospital car park most of the day.

I hate that I have to spend so much time at hospital.  But now I'm well prepared to make the most of my chemo time.  When I arrive, I get straight on my bed, spread myself out and use the time to catch up on emails, have a chat with a friend or just as some relaxing reading time.  It's not so bad.

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