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How to make chemotherapy less miserable

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amanda62.jpgBy Amanda Woodward

Let's be honest, chemotherapy sucks. But during my own melanoma treatment, which included surgery and chemotherapy, I found a few ways to make the whole experience a little less miserable.

Of course, every cancer, every patient and every treatment is different, so what worked for me may not work for everyone. I'm speaking in generalities. Here are my tips for making chemo a little less miserable.

Pack right: My hospital bag always included my computer, some music, a blanket, something to read, a change of clothes and lip balm (goodbye, dry lips!).  

Bring a friend: One, if not both, of my parents were with me for each and every infusion. Sometimes a friend even came and sat with me. I'd say 80% of the time this was a good thing. I was pretty over chemo toward the end of it (see photo below), so it became my quiet time. But in the beginning, it really helped to have some support. 

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Stay hydrated: Keep water stashed everywhere. During chemotherapy, it is more important than ever to stay hydrated. Not only is it good for your health, but it will help you actually feel better.

Ask for restaurant gift cards: When your friends and family offer to help, suggest they purchase random restaurant gift cards. Your appetite will likely be wildly unpredictable or non-existent. Gift cards will work better than prepared meals because who knows what you will be in the mood for. The gift cards will give you a variety of options. Added bonus: you won't have to smell the food for an extended period of time.

Reward  yourself: Set small goals for yourself. Sometimes getting through the day without going crazy is unbelievably hard. Small manageable goals are the name of the game, folks. Wake up before noon. Eat two normal meals. Shave your legs. Anything goes! Then, reward yourself for meeting these goals. New nail polish? Yes, please.

Show some gratitude:
Make a point to show gratitude to those who are walking with you in this journey. Not only do they need and deserve this, but it will help you to feel less dependent on them.

Leave the house:
This was one of my daily goals. I needed to leave the house in order to feel normal, even if I was just running up to the gas station or taking a drive, leaving the house made a huge difference.
 
Exercise: The first step is to accept the fact that your former definition of exercise no longer applies. As long as your doctor says it's OK, do something physical daily. My dog  Schatzi, helped me out by frequently insisting that we go for a walk.

AmandaWoodward.jpgSleep more: This one's a no-brainer. Not only are you exhausted, but your body needs sleep to heal. Make time to sleep -- and get help if you can't sleep. Do it!
 
Listen to your doctor: Follow his or her instructions. Keep it simple. Also, listen to your body and communicate effectively and regularly with your doctor. This cancer treatment business is a team effort.
 
Fake it 'til you make it: When all else fails, go through the motions. Shower. Put on makeup. Get dressed. Run errands. Whatever your normal is, do it if you can. I found that it really improved my mental health during chemo.

Choose your attitude: To be completely honest with you, I have some fond memories of my induction month. Sitting in the open bay of chemo chairs with other patients was nothing short of hysterical. We just laughed and laughed and laughed together.

Chemotherapy sucks, for sure. But the way I see it, cancer patients have two choices: they can be miserable every day, or they can handle the situation with a little grace and a smile.
 
Amanda Woodward lives in Alaska with her husband, daughter and two dogs. Read more about her on her blog.

Read more posts by Amanda Woodward.

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Melanoma is one of the cancers MD Anderson is focusing on as part of our Moon Shots Program to dramatically reduce cancer deaths. Learn more about our Melanoma Moon Shot.

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