What to expect on your first day of chemotherapy

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rachel chemo.JPGBy Rachel Midgett

. It's not a word people want to hear and certainly not something they want to go through. But, for those of us with cancer, we often don't have a choice.  

I remember how terrified I was of getting my first chemotherapy treatment.  

Would I be sick? Would I have a reaction to the medication? Would I be in a room by myself or with other chemo patients?

I really didn't know what to expect the first day. However, almost 4 years later, I feel like a pro.

Preparing for chemotherapy

First, you may be told to show up a couple of hours early to get blood work drawn. This is to make sure you're able to get your chemotherapy treatment.

It can be a pain, but, believe me, it's in your best interest. 

Use the extra time to relax before you go to your chemotherapy appointment.

When you arrive at the infusion floor and they have your lab results and a room available, you'll be called back to have your vital signs taken.  

Once you are cleared at the vitals station, you will be taken to your chemotherapy room for your infusion.   

At MD Anderson, you will have a TV, Internet access, a bed or a recliner and best of all warm blankets.

They also have food service at lunch and dinner if you're hungry.  

At MD Anderson, you're allowed to have one caregiver with you in the infusion room.  

Getting started with chemotherapy

Once you're in the infusion suite, the nurse will order your chemotherapy cocktail and any pre-medications that are required from the pharmacy.  

It usually takes at least 30 minutes for the drugs to arrive. Some of the pre-medications may be steroids, anti-nausea medications and/or anxiety medications.  

Each doctor will send an order to the infusion room telling them what chemotherapy and pre-medications to administer.  

In the meantime, your nurse will access your "Power Port" or "Port a Cath," if you have one, or will just start an IV in your arm.

Your nurse will begin with a saline solution through your IV.  

As soon as the medications are delivered, your nurse will hang the bags of medication on the IV stand and then start the different IVs.  

You'll be given pre-medications first, then the chemotherapy.
During chemotherapy
The steroids may give you energy; the allergy drugs and anti-anxiety drugs may make you sleepy. 

It's important that you have a caregiver with you to get you to and from chemotherapy the first time, as you don't know how you'll feel after you're done. 

The length of time for chemotherapy regimens can range from a 5 minutes to 8 or more hours. It all depends on the chemotherapy. 

Throughout the chemotherapy, your nurse will come in and check your vitals and make sure you aren't reacting to the medications. 

In the meantime, use your infusion time to relax, visit, eat, work, whatever you want to do. 

The IV stand will even roll with you in case you want to take a walk or sit outside. 

After the chemotherapy is finished, the nurse will "flush" your IV line with saline and then de-access your port or take out your IV. 

They may have you wait 30 minutes after the chemotherapy is done to make sure you don't have any reactions to the medications. 

At that point, you can go home. Again, depending on your pre-medications and chemotherapy, you may have lots of energy or may feel very sleepy later in the day.

Rachel Midgett is a 41-year-old stage IV breast cancer patient. Her journey started with her trying to get pregnant by IVF (in vitro fertilization). She was about to start round 2 of IVF when she found a cyst on her left breast. The cyst ended up being benign, but underneath the cyst was a 4.5 cm malignant tumor.

She underwent a radical mastectomy of her left breast and started chemotherapy treatments that same week. As devastating as her prognosis may be, she has faith that God will heal her and give her a miracle. 

Read more posts by Rachel Midgett


I was recently diagnosed with breast CA really scared but after seeing you.... i know i can make it through... I am ready. I just need some people to tell me everything is going to be ok...

You're in our thoughts and prayers, Malou. Please let us know if you need anything.

Thank you for taking the time to let us know what to expect. My mother recently had a mastectomy and we just got the news that she still has to have chemo. I'm scared to death but knowing what to expect will make it easier. Thank you.

Thank you for posting this. As I sit here in Pennsylvania and my sister is in Florida this very minute getting her first treatment I was wondering what she is going thru. Her daughter is with her and in good hands. Thank you for the step by step as I can visualize my sister. My prayers and thoughts go out to you and your family.

I will go for my first chemo treatment this Friday. I'm very nervous about the the treatment and the side effects, this post is very helpful because I now what to expect more or less..Thank-you!

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