Keep a file to organize medical reports and research articles. Ask for a copy of all test results, path and lab reports.
BCRC staff can provide you with resource information to help you understand your reports. Your surgeon or oncologist will best be able to address your questions regarding your reports as well as review them with you.
You may want to keep a notebook to write down your questions for the health care providers, outcome of tests and appointments. This will help you to remember vital information and may become a useful record for future use during your treatment cylce.
Take a moment to write down your feelings as well. Journaling helps to relieve fears and emotions. Keeping a record of what worked and what didn't may help in planning for your next appointment or future reference.
Arrange to have someone to accompany you and assist in taking notes for your first visit with the oncologist. You might also ask if you can record the visit. Increase fluid intake the day before and the morning of chemotherapy. Eat lightly the day of chemotherapy –soda crackers and broth are good friends.
Ask your oncologist about prescriptions for anti-nausea medications. Have prescriptions filled and on hand before first chemotherapy. Ask your oncologist if you can take anti-nausea and/or anti-anxiety medications 40-45 minutes before you are scheduled to receive chemotherapy.
*The anti-anxiety medication (like Ativan) may help to reduce the stress of the first session. Be aware it may also increase your emotions and make you drowsy.
Note: some anti-nausea medications can cause constipation (Kytril is one). Continue to maintain a good fluid intake and ask your oncologist about stool softeners.
Call your oncologist with problems ANYTIME. If the anti-nausea medications are not working for you an alternative can be prescribed. If you are not able to keep fluids down post-chemo CALL YOUR ONCOLOGIST. You may need to be re-hydrated (receive fluids through a vein) in the doctor's office.
If you are feeling weak, discuss this with your oncologist.
Your oncologist will review with you the chemo treatment she/he has prescribed to treat your breast cancer, as well as the side effects of treatment. You can always contact your doctor to ask questions about your treatment.
Some of the suggestions below may help you address some of the side effects of treatment.
Find ways to relax before and during chemotherapy sessions. The BCRC Library has tapes on meditation, and a free session every Monday at noon. Consider taking someone with you to treatment. Be aware there is limited space in the "chemo circle" so discuss this with the nursing staff prior to your visit. If allowed, bring someone you feel comfortable with; someone who can anticipate your needs and "read you" without you having to talk. Bring a good book or IPOD with your favorite music or relaxation tapes.
Since chemotherapy is administered in a room with other clients you may need to find a way to create a personal space for yourself. Talk to the chemotherapy nurses if you are having a difficult time in the chemo "circle." Occasionally, a private space can be made available with advance notice.
Before and after chemo sessions, create time for yourself and your loved ones. Some survivors have mentioned that they plan ‘mini trips’ or special time at a special place –like a garden or beach, the weekend before chemo (when they are feeling their best). This provides for "good memories" during treatment. Examples: a trip to the beach to watch the sunset, a walk in the park, watching a funny movie or video, a massage, short walks by the bird refuge, or water coloring, etc. Treat yourself!!! Remember to have your rest time after a chemo treatment.
Take advantage of the weekly Reike or Reflexology services offered at the BCRC. Most Clients find that the therapy helps them relax and feel rejuvenated.
Do whatever you can to get though diagnosis and treatment. ASK FOR HELP. Family, friends, BCRC staff and volunteers want to help!!! Take care of yourself. Allow others to cook, clean, care for your children. Assign a family member or friend to field phone calls and e-mails. Put a "DO NOT DISTURB" sign on the door. Get an answering machine (if you don't already have one) and ask someone to record a daily progress update or blog for you. Remember your loved ones may be frightened; giving them a specific task will allow them to help.
You will receive a lot of information about your disease process and treatments. Read what you can then put the remainder in a file to access at a later date. You can only absorb so much emotionally. This is can be a frightening time and you may get scared reading too much initially. Do not take medical pamphlets or the like to bed with you –choose a good novel instead.
Remember you can always call the BCRC or drop in if you have questions or need support or ideas on how to handle life at home during your treatment.
Take one day at a time.
Go to a place of peace daily...whether it's in the beach, or walking, or in your favorite chair with a cup of tea.
Talk to other survivors.
Attend a support group.
Write in a journal.
Express yourself with art projects.
If you are to receive a medication that will cause your hair to fall out, consider cutting your hair short pre-chemo. The BCRC has some free wigs and hats, and new wigs are available at the Cancer Center through Beth Higgins, or at Kimberly’s downtown. Try on wigs, hats whatever you feel comfortable with before you lose your hair. If you have small children you can include them when you cut your hair or in picking out a hat or wig. Some survivors have invited their children to actually cut their hair. Children will have an easier time accepting the visual changes in their mother (or father) if allowed to participate in the preparations. Talk openly with your little ones. Note: your hat and possibly your wig will look and fit differently once your hair falls out.
Smells can be magnified and can contribute to nausea. Do not wear perfumes or strong scented lotions during treatment. And don’t hesitate to tell your friends you need a fragrance free environment. If the medications prescribed for you don't relieve your nausea and vomiting call your oncologist's office. There are many medications that can be substituted. Be aware it may take time to find the right combination that will relieve your symptoms. Don't give up. Walking may help to decrease nausea.
Going from chemo, which is usually in a more social setting type environment, and more supportive, to radiation, which is isolative (because of the nature of the treatment: you are in the room alone) can be a difficult transition for some. Our support group may help you cope with the transition.
Some questions you might consider and ask your radiation oncologist:
Talk to someone who has had a radiation so you will know first hand what to expect. (BCRC can link you with a buddy.) Check out radiation therapy information in the BCRC library. Learn as much as you can.
To prepare for the radiation treatment process your radiation oncologist will use a Computed Tomography or CT Simulation which is the process by which the area to be treated is identified with a special X-ray machine called a CT Scanner. A CT Scanner X-rays the body from many angles, allowing your doctor to accurately pinpoint the area of interest. During this test you will be asked to lie on a narrow table and hold still during the exam.
This process is scheduled after your initial meeting with the radiation oncologist and takes approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour. The time may vary depending on the number of films your doctor will need. The radiation oncologists do their best to reduce your wait time. You may then meet with a nurse to set your scheduled treatment dates and time. Treatment typically starts 5-10 days after simulation.
Even when you have had a buddy tell you their experience, yours is unique. You may or may not experience feelings of fear and anxiety when you first walk into the treatment room. Take a deep breath and remind yourself these people are here to help you and this procedure is important for your eventual healing. One survivor pretended she was the heroine in a sci-fi movie during treatment. Whatever it takes, call on your personal coping skills to relax. The actual treatment itself is brief. Most who have had chemotherapy first have found radiation therapy to be relatively easy. Your support person can accompany you to the reception area when you have treatment but they will not be able to be in the treatment room.
With your support, the Breast Cancer Resource Center continues to provide daily services, access to an amazing resource library, free educational community lectures, support groups, and a suite of complementary care and integrative therapy services.