Chemotherapy: What You Need To Know

Your chemotherapy treatment experience, while daunting, can be improved if you approach it with the correct knowledge in hand. Understanding your treatment timeline, common side effects and techniques for dealing with them, as well as a basic understanding of how chemotherapy works will help give you the mental fortitude necessary to defeat your cancer.

What is chemotherapy?

Most cancers are characterized by their runaway cell reproduction. A ‘tumor’ is just a bulge of cells that have over-reproduced. Taking this into account, chemotherapy is the use of cytotoxic chemicals — chemicals which specifically affect rapidly reproducing cells — to destroy cancer cells. Unfortunately, there are other cells in the human body that reproduce rapidly enough to be affected by chemotherapy treatments, such as bone marrow, hair follicles and the lining of the digestive tract, leading to side effects.

How does chemotherapy treatment generally proceed?

Variables like cancer type, stage and health status will influence the timeline of your treatment, but chemotherapy is typically administered in cycles. One cycle might consist of five days of chemotherapy treatment administered in the form of injections, orally ingestible pills or others, followed by three weeks without treatment.

What side effects should I expect?

While chemotherapy side effects do earn their reputation in many cases, a number of misconceptions exist that you should be aware of. First, not every chemotherapy treatment will incapacitate you. In fact, with a few scheduling considerations, it’s often feasible to continue working through chemotherapy. Also, there is no correlation between side effects and treatment efficacy — just because you feel fine doesn’t mean your treatment isn’t working, and vice versa. With that being said, most people do encounter some side effects during their chemotherapy, including:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Change in food taste
  • Memory problems and brain fog, often called “chemo brain”
  • Hair loss
  • Sun sensitivity

Although less common, chemotherapy can have long-term side effects that persist after treatment has ended, such as:

  • Lung tissue damage
  • Heart problems
  • Infertility
  • Kidney problems
  • Nerve damage

How should I handle my treatment?

While you may have already started mentally preparing for the challenges of chemotherapy, there are many arrangements you can make in your immediate surroundings to ease your burden during treatment:

  • Schedule your rest – In order to fight the fatigue commonly brought on by chemotherapy, you need to give yourself plenty of time to recuperate. Take naps when you feel the need and never completely fill your daily schedule, just incase you encounter unanticipated exhaustion.
  • Consider your meals – Unfortunately, a sick stomach often comes hand-in-hand with chemotherapy. Some helpful changes you can make to reduce nausea include eating smaller and more frequent meals, drinking liquids an hour before or after eating and avoiding sweet, fried, fatty and strong-smelling foods.
  • Consult your network – Whatever you do, don’t be afraid to ask your friends and family for help. Aid can come in many forms, including driving, childcare and meal preparation — any task that you may not have the time and energy to do yourself, or that detracts from your recovery, is fit for another person.

For more information on chemotherapy and other cancer treatments, call the cancer specialists at Southeastern Medical Oncology Center at (800) 849-0203 today.

To schedule an appointment, or for more information, call 919-580-0000. You can also schedule an appointment using our easy online appointment request form.