Chemotherapy for cancer treatment can be scary, especially when approaching the first session. What will I feel like during the treatment? What will I feel like afterward? The answer is that everyone responds to chemotherapy differently, but here are some of the most common reactions.
Many chemotherapy drugs are delivered intravenously similar to a standard IV. Some are delivered by infusion therapy, with a wearable to mounted pump, which can allow patients to be treated at home.
A typical chemotherapy session starts with a blood test to ensure the patient’s white blood cell count is adequate for therapy. Next, pre-treatment drugs which can include anti-nausea medications such as Benadryl and/or Ativan are delivered to make it easier for the patient to accept the drugs. Patients often feel lightheaded, sleepy or numbed as these drugs function much like sedatives. Many take advantage of this effect to sleep through the remaining hours of drug delivery.
During Chemotherapy Experience
Many patients experience a low-level warmth or mild burning sensation during chemotherapy. It is important to let the therapists know how you feel, especially if you experience any serious pain. It may be an indication that your body cannot tolerate one or more of the drugs being used, and your doctor may be able to prescribe an alternative or otherwise intervene to make the treatment less painful.
One of the things patients often find difficult is determining how to spend their time when receiving chemotherapy in an outpatient facility. Often, there are several patients receiving therapy in the same room at the same time. Some people like to talk to one another, some read, watch TV or entertain themselves on a phone or tablet, and some even use the time to work. How you choose to spend your time will likely depend on how you feel. Many patients have developed lifelong friendships that began while receiving chemotherapy.
Post Chemotherapy Experience
The pre-therapy drugs help patients get through the therapy session, but the side effects that these drugs mask are likely to appear later. These can include nausea, bone pain, fatigue, mouth sores, numbness, insomnia and more. Hair loss varies as to its timing and extent.
For many people, the side effects of chemotherapy subside for up to after a week after the therapy. Depending on the frequency of the treatment, this can make life pretty manageable. If you are receiving treatment once a month or every six weeks, your downtime is fairly limited. If you are receiving treatment more frequently, then you may feel more like a ping pong ball going back and from feeling fine to feeling sick.
The Bottom Line
Chemotherapy is different for different people, but in most cases, it is far less painful and debilitating than people think it is going to be. Some people say that the worst part of chemotherapy is the prick when the IV needle is inserted. The people involved in delivering chemotherapy, from the drugmakers to the specialty pharmacists that prepare the specific combinations of drugs, do the doctors, nurses, and technicians that prescribe and deliver the therapy, all work very hard to make it as comfortable and successful as possible.