The other day as I was sitting with a family member during their chemo, I noticed a couple walk into the clinic with a look of confusion and overwhelming fear. In recent years I’ve attended weekly chemo treatments with family members and (sadly) have become somewhat proficient in the associated procedures. However, this couple made me think about what I would have wanted to know before coming for my loved ones first treatment.
Here are a few suggestions for those of you whose loved one is or may be facing chemo down the road.
- Everything is important – the littlest change in during the treatment could be important (i.e.: a new cough, rash, headache, etc.). The best way to track changes is by keeping a daily journal of temperature, food intake and even output (yes I’m talking bowel movements again). Bring the journal to doctor appointments and even if it seems insignificant make sure they bring it up to the doctor. You never know what could be an important health concern.
- Be prepared for everything and nothing.
- Treatments can take several hours so bring things to do such as a deck of cards or books/magazines to read as well as snack and bottles of water in case either of you get hungry or thirsty during the treatment.
- There may be times when you show up ready to sit for several hours and are sent home because of low platelets. Low platelet counts could change the timeline and/or type of treatment ordered. Be flexible and supportive for your loved one if this happens.
- Not everyone has side-effects but be prepared just in case. My aunt had no side-effects, others had nausea and hair loss. Encourage your loved one to take anti-nausea medicine pro-actively just in case. Talk to a cancer advocate through your doctor/hospital or the Cancer Association to find out about support programs (i.e. providing wigs and caps for hair loss). Some also offer meditation, massage therapy and stress reduction programs that are beneficial to both the patient and caregiver. Take advantage of programs offered in your area.
- Let your loved one tell their own story. I have a tendency of sharing information and/or fill-in the gaps at doctor appointments that are not mine. Over time I have gotten somewhat better at keeping my mouth shut and only offering other information/asking questions after they share everything they want to.
- Chemo Brain is REAL!( Chemo Brain Info) So what if they have told you the same story 5 times or if they say the same thing over and over again to the doctor and staff! There is no need to embarrass them or make them feel foolish for repeating themselves. You can either gently remind them that you heard the story or better yet listen to it again and ask different questions about the story they are sharing. Who knows, you may learn something new.
Your SUPPORT is KEY during their recovery. Although it affects you, remember that they are the one going through treatment. Your job is to support them in whatever they need and provide love and encouragement along the way.