Andy Jackson
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Coping with chemotherapy

Andy Jackson
Posted by
17 Apr 2015

Starting chemotherapy for the first time is a daunting and unsettling time for blood cancer patients with many uncertain of what to expect and what they can do to help prepare themselves for the road ahead. Featuring practical advice on things to eat, anti-sickness drugs and ways to keep you in control of your chemo, here are 10 patient tips to help blood cancer patients starting chemotherapy:

1. Drink lots, eat when you fancy and be prepared for a change of taste buds!

Chemotherapy can play havoc with your appetitie and eating patterns. Whilst nutrition is important and the benefits of eating healthily are well known and to be encouraged, many patients like Emily Clark who has gone through chemo for Hodgkin lymphoma twice were keen to stress that you shouldn't feel bad about treating yourself on occasion: 

Eating lighter and drinking lots of water was also widely suggested with patient Sue Vincent also advising to be prepared for a change in your tastebuds:

There was also lots of brilliant tips on foods and drinks to stock up on to help you through treatment. Ginger biscuits, lemonade sipped slowly through a straw and pineapple chunks to keep your mouth fresh were all suggested while Rosie O'Leary also recommended freezing meals to have ready to eat on a bad day when you might not have the energy to cook.

2. Try all anti-sickness treatments

Nausea and sickness sadly come with the territory when you have to undergo chemotherapy. However, there are many anti-sickness drugs out there that can help keep this to a minimum. There are several options available and the general consensus was if a drug isn't working for you, try another one and see if that's better. Acute myeloid leukaemia survivor Helen Tait wrote:

3. Practice good oral hygiene

Painful mouth ulcers are a common side effect from chemo. To reduce the risk of developing them to a minimum practicing good oral hygiene is key as AML patient Rich Castle, who is currently penning a book about his experiences, made clear in his feedback:

4. Don't be afraid to ask questions

Chemotherapy is a daunting proposition and it's highly likely that you'll have lots of questions about all sorts of things. Don't be afraid to ask questions and if you feel something isn't working, don't be afraid to bring it up with your doctor. As Eren Johnson makes clear asking questions empowers you and you can play a big role in conjunction with your doctors and nurses by taking control and looking to understand more about what's going on.

To find out more about about chemotherapy and blood cancer, check out our Patient Information section. Forewarned is forearmed.

5. Keep a log

Keeping a log or diary in whatever form was something that a number of patients recommended for a number of reasons. For Mary Lucas writing down how her first cycle affected her helped her be prepared for what to expect next time round:

For others like Yvo McD keeping a log was really useful for consultations when she was getting bombarded with information when tired and more likely to be forgetful:

6. Try to stay active

Many patients waxed lyrical about the benefits of staying active even if it was no more than having a pace down the corridor or up and down the stairs a couple of times. Samera Razaq wrote:

7. Talk to other patients

No one understands what you're going through better than other patients also undergoing treatment. As Claire Clarkson makes clear, talking to others allows you to unload how you're feeling without having to feel guilty or that the other person no matter how much they love you doesn't quite understand:

8. Set yourself a goal to strive for when you finish treatment

Whether it's planning the holiday of a lifetime or taking up a sport or hobby that you've never tried before, setting yourself targets, big or small, to strive for and help take your mind off treatment was recommended by many. For Allie Weaver it was taking on a half marathon:

9. Surround yourself with things that remind you who you really are

Going through chemo and all that entails like losing your hair, being sick and losing weight it's easy to forget what life was like without chemo. From surrounding yourself with photos of you with friends and family to having your favourite song on standby there were a number of suggestions on ways to remind you of who you really are but one of the nicest suggestions came from Vicky Whyte:

10. Take things to do

Last and by no means least, take things to do to keep your spirits up and pass 'hospital time' which seems to go so much slower than anywhere else. Being able to take your mind off treatment was regarded as an absolute must by patients. Here are a few suggestions of things you might want to consider packing to help pass the time:

A huge thank you to everyone that provided tips and advice for this blog. You can read all the comments in full on the original Have Your Say post on Facebook.

We've also got an information booklet on chemotherapy which will give you all the basics of what to expect.