Starting Chemotherapy? Here’s What You Can Expect.

Chemotherapy will most likely disrupt your normal routine and family life. In between chemotherapy treatments, labs, scans and oncology visits, you will have a pretty tight schedule.

When most people hear the word “Cancer” they automatically think death sentence! Cancer is something no one wants to experience, but you can’t help but see cancer everywhere you look. Most people have had some encounter with this terrible disease. Whether it’s with a family member, a close friend or even a co-worker, cancer is hard to escape.

Over the past decade, there have been many advances and cutting-edge research to help patients live longer and have a better quality of life. In my work as an oncology nurse, I have seen cancer up close and personal. Chemotherapy is one of the most common ways used to treat cancer.

This can be scary for patients who don’t know what to expect. I want to share with you exactly what to expect while you or a family member are going through treatment. I would also like to share with you a few self-care tips to make the process a little easier.

Be Flexible

Chemotherapy will most likely disrupt your normal routine and family life. In between chemotherapy treatments, labs, scans and oncology visits, you will have a pretty tight schedule. This is where a good strong support system comes in.

If you have children, this would be a good time to arrange for someone to pick up the kids or help with homework in case you don’t feel well. Also, make sure you give yourself a couple of hours in the clinic if you are receiving chemotherapy infusion. Some infusions can take as long as 5 or 6 hours especially if you are just starting treatments.

Write it down

When you are going through chemotherapy it’s important to keep track of what you may be experiencing. I educate my patients to write down their side effects, symptoms, or any questions they want to ask the doctor in between treatments.

This is important because the oncologist and the oncology nurse will want to keep note of what symptoms you are having. Your healthcare team may need to adjust the dose of the medications if your symptoms are not manageable.

If you don’t say anything this can be harmful and detrimental to your progress. For example, If you notice after you receive the treatment you have tingling in your hands and feet, make sure the physician is aware, so they can proceed accordingly.

Labs are important

Chemotherapy works systemically. This means that chemotherapy not only kills cancer cells but also kills other healthy rapid dividing cells as well. Rapid dividing cells in our body include your intestines, the lining of your mouth, the cells on your scalp, and your blood cells. Therefore, having labs taken are extremely important.

The oncologist will have lab drawn before chemotherapy treatments, to make sure you can receive treatment without putting you at risk. Frequent labs drawn will most likely include white blood cell count, red blood cell count, hemoglobin & hematocrit, kidney function test, and liver enzymes. These labs are important to make sure you are not at risk for infection or organ failure.

Avoid Germs

Whenever you are receiving chemotherapy this can cause you to be at high risk for infection. This is why it’s not only important to get labs drawn but to also know the signs of infection. Signs of infection include fever, chills, fatigue, burning on urination, sore throat, diarrhea, vomiting, and changes in mental status.

This where handwashing is extremely important. Not only wash your hands but avoid being around people who you know are sick, keep anti-bacterial wipes with you, and keep your living space as clean as possible.

Emotional & Mental Health

Going through chemotherapy can take a toll on anyone, including the caregiver. It’s important to talk out how you feel. Joining a support group and finding someone to confide in is beneficial to a success health journey.

You must be willing to speak with someone about your fears and frustrations. You don’t want to keep all your emotions bottled in because this is not good for your health. If you don’t have a strong support system, talk to your oncology nurse about speaking to a licensed clinical counselor at your health institution.

Don’t withdraw from your friends and loved ones because this can be more harmful to your mental state. Be open to the support of those you may not even know, because that may be just the person God has to support you in this season.

Financial Support

Being diagnosed with cancer can be very expensive and can take a toll on your household finances. When you are going through chemotherapy, you may be tired and not always feel the best, which will limit the amount of time you may be able to work.

However, most people must work to have insurance, so they can keep receiving treatment and seeing the doctor. During this time, plan to see what programs are available through your work, and investigate short-term disability, and community programs that will assist families going through cancer.

Another recommendation would be to make a payment arrangement with your bills if money is tight. Call and let them know you are having a hardship and you are going through cancer. No one wants to deal with bill collectors in general, let alone while going through chemo.


  • American Cancer Society – Will direct people to services in their community.
  • Cancer Care (800-813-4673) provides limited financial assistance for co-pays, transportation, home care, and child care
  • Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition– National organizations that provide financial help to patients. CFAC provides a searchable database of financial resources.
  • Health Well Foundation (800-675-8416) -Non-profit organization that helps patients with a chronic, life-altering disease afford their medications when health insurance is not enough.
  • The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s patient financial aid program (800-955-4572)- Provides limited financial assistance to help defray treatment-related expenses for patients diagnosed with a blood cancer, such as leukemia, lymphoma, or multiple myeloma, who have a significant financial need.
  • Local service or volunteer organizations such as Catholic Charities, Jewish Social Services, the Lions Club,


On Key

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