A calendar shows a weekly appointment for chemo

Living Your Best Life as a Chemotherapy Patient!

One of the worst things a person can ever realize in their life is that they will need chemotherapy. All of those images from movies and television come to mind while the knot tightens in your stomach as you digest the severity of your situation.

Chemotherapy can feel overwhelming and terrifying - but it does not have to be!

It has been five months since I began receiving IV chemotherapy for stage IV triple-negative breast cancer and I have learned a lot of ways to still live my best life as a chemotherapy patient.

This is not my first soirée with IV chemotherapy. I was on a regime of eight rounds total- Adriamycin Cytoxan and Taxol - back as a stage II "early stager".

Certainly, the chemotherapy was hard on me, physically as well as emotionally, but it was measurable. Finite. I could countdown each treatment, mark it on the calendar. Plan my life accordingly. Ring the bell, right on schedule!

Chemotherapy treatment often looks different when you have stage IV breast cancer

A lot of people do not understand that we have to live our lives a bit differently. Unlike early stagers, our treatments are often infinite. As metastatic breast cancer patients, most of us live in a cycle of scan, treat, and repeat.

There is no marking days off of the calendar or ringing of bells. It seemed as if I did not have much autonomy over my life, as to adhere to such a rigorous chemotherapy schedule, but upon further reflection, I realized that actually, I did. I could still do most of the things I have always done if I planned and prepared accordingly.

Instead of trying to make chemotherapy fit around my life, I made my life fit around chemotherapy. I did this by asking myself the following questions:

When should I make my chemo day?

I analyzed how I felt and realized it was the first two days afterward when I felt my worst. Because of that, I decided to switch my chemo day from Friday to Monday. That way, I would have all weekend to feel great, and Sunday evening to prepare for treatment.

What does my body needs during the Infusion?

Everyone has different needs, and for me personally, I cannot allow myself to get hungry because it triggers my nausea. I eat small portions at different intervals, and I find bringing my own food-salad with grilled chicken, as well as fresh fruit, crackers, nuts, and yogurt - is empowering as well as nutritious! My infusion takes about four hours, so I eat something hourly.

What is my "pre-chemo ritual"?

Like a lot of people, I get the pre-chemo jitters. Will I feel okay tomorrow, or feel sick? I never know. So the night before, I treat myself to a nice dinner. Sometimes it is alone, or with family or friends. Either way, it is something I look forward to every Sunday night as my pre-chemo ritual. It calms me down!

How can I keep things simple after chemotherapy?

Once I get home I am really exhausted, but as a single mother not only do I not get to rest after chemo, but I also have three other people to take care of. This is why the day before chemo I do all of my cleaning, run any errands, and make sure I have all of the things that I need. This includes making sure my medications are filled.

What do I need to make chemo day as enjoyable as possible?

On chemo day, I wear something comfortable and make sure my chest port is accessible from my shirt. A button shirt or loose top is ideal. I pack my hospital bag. Some people bring blankets and pillows, but I use the ones the hospital supplies. They are so warm and cozy! Chemotherapy makes me feel cold, so I wear a cardigan that is easy to take on and off with an IV protruding out of my chest. My hospital bag usually has my lunchbox, a book, and a laptop and charger.

What is it like once I am at the hospital?

Once at the hospital, I make sure I have any numbing cream on my port to ease the needle sting and to get some hard candy from the reception area. This comes in handy when they are flushing my port, to help with the taste. After my labs are drawn I meet with my oncologist or PA. If you use numbing cream, you would put it on an hour prior to your port being accessed. Then I am sent down to Infusion, where I am either assigned a chair or allowed to choose. I have received chemotherapy at three different hospitals and each one is different. Once hooked up, I typically eat a bit, read, go on the internet, and rest. Some days I listen to music or watch a movie if I have my earbuds, or even sleep most of the time.

What happens after treatment?

Up until recently, I was able to drive myself there and back, but now I am given IV Benadryl, which makes me feel a little groggy. Since I do not have anyone to drive me, the hospital has arranged for LYFT to bring me back and forth. Most hospital social workers can help chemotherapy patients arrange rides. After my treatment, I wait for my LYFT driver and come home. I arrange for someone to pick up my children from school, or sometimes they spend that night with their father. If you have responsibilities at home, such as caretaking, I suggest you find help after your chemotherapy. Once settled in, I have a shower, eat a light dinner, and get in bed early. It is crucial for me to stay on top of my medications to keep nausea away.

How do I feel on the days after chemotherapy?

Luckily I usually feel well, but I make sure to rest and not plan anything too laborious or stressful just in case. No one wants to be at a vet appointment or play date when they are weak and nauseated! By day three, I feel almost normal and honestly forget I even have cancer. With weekly chemotherapy, there can be lingering fatigue, but I am able to do most things, like go to the gym, do yoga, even walk the dog for a few miles!

By the weekend-on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays-I truly live my best life. I even flew to Colorado and summited a small mountain near the Rockies! You would never know I had just had chemotherapy five days earlier.

Some weekends I have what some call a "chemo hangover", where I feel exhausted. Our bodies go through a lot, and some weeks they need more rest than others. Still, I am well enough to do a lot of other fun things that are easier on my body, such as going to a museum or the movies. The main thing is, I am able to have a full life, even when I am feeling tired.

Living your best life as a chemotherapy patient

It may seem daunting to be given a chemotherapy schedule with no end in sight, and having to plan your life around weekly hospital visits can be enormously frustrating. Luckily, with the right preparation, you can still live your best life!

My chemo day prep list

1. Prepare your home

Complete any tasks while you still feel well, such as laundry, cleaning, and errands.

2. Prepare your hospital bag

What foods do you crave during chemo? Do you like to read? Listen to music? Browse the internet? Sleep? Pack whatever you need to do those things while ‘’in the chair’’.

3. Prepare your family

What caretaking responsibilities do you have? Whether it is children, parents, or pets, try and secure some help in case you need it.

4. Prepare yourself!

What do you like to do the night before chemo? Find a ritual and stick with it. Maybe it is a relaxing bath or a fun date night. For me, it is a quiet dinner. Sometimes I even spoil myself with dessert!

Editor’s Note: We are extremely saddened to share that on Friday, October 29, 2021, Danielle Thurston passed away. We know that Danielle’s voice and perspective continue to reach so many. She will be deeply missed.

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