Going to my first chemotherapy infusion, I felt like a ball of nerves. The shock of being diagnosed with lung cancer was still fresh in my mind, and I didn’t feel ready to start this terrifying journey. But I had my wife by my side, and an army of friends and family praying for me, so I felt like I had everything I needed.
While having to go through chemo and radiation at all is not something I’d have chosen, my experience couldn’t have gone smoother. Now that it’s all over, at least for now, I’d like to pass along my experience to others and prepare them for what’s to come. Here are my top ten recommendations for those preparing for chemotherapy.
1. Take notes
My wife did an excellent job of documenting every single appointment in a notebook. It was so helpful because it’s easy to forget details when your mind is consumed with surviving cancer. Many times, I forgot what the doctor told me and when my next appointment was. I also forgot what questions I had for my doctor and my nurse, so writing them down was critical. As soon as I arrived at the Cancer Center for an appointment, my wife wrote the date at the top of my notebook. When a question popped into either of our minds, we wrote it down. When the nurse told us something important, we wrote it down. If the doctor spoke to us that day about something new, we wrote it down. Even information that seemed trivial, we wrote down because maybe tomorrow it wouldn’t seem so trivial. There were days we never wrote anything under the date, and that was OK too.
2. Trust your doctors and nurses
The physicians and nurses at Metro Health are fantastic! When you’re there for treatments every single day for weeks on end, it’s hard not to build relationships with them. They were there on my darkest days, and they cheered with me on my best days. Find that one nurse or staff member who makes you feel the most comfortable, and confide in them. The staff at the Cancer Center is so knowledgeable and they don’t mind answering questions like: What’s in my chemo infusion? What does this machine do, or why is this process done this way? I took advantage of the financial and social work counselors, and even chatted with the pharmacists making my infusions. They’re all so professional, so caring and they truly have the expertise to treat what you’re going through.
3. Resist the urge to feel overwhelmed
Appointments, exhaustion, stress and anxiety can all seem overwhelming throughout this process. You’re in a battle for your health, and your loved ones are fighting alongside you. The small stuff can turn into big problems if you let it. Allow your friends and family to keep you grounded. Don’t let the weight of it all consume you. Metro is there for you too. Whatever burden is weighing heavy, if possible, let them handle it. If you’re concerned about finances, talk to the financial counselors. If you’re feeling low, speak up to the social workers. You don’t have to do this by yourself.
4. Listen to your body
Don’t try to be a hero! To fight this enemy raging inside of you, you have to have courage, strength and determination, but you don’t have to pretend you feel fine. If you feel tired, sleep. If your body says stop, then stop. That’s not a sign of weakness, it’s being smart. It’s making your health and well-being a priority and ensuring that the treatment you’re getting has the best chance of working.
5. An open infusion room isn’t weird
At first, I thought it was strange to have a bunch of sick people in an infusion room together, but it’s actually the opposite. It would be so isolating and lonely to endure hours of infusions in a room by yourself. Metro’s infusion suite is wonderful. The space is comfortable, and being able to walk outside into the healing garden on a nice day was fantastic. I loved watching the nurses working around me, and I enjoyed talking with patients next to me. Hearing other people’s stories and what they’re going through creates camaraderie amongst us all.