Chemo Preparation Checklist

What To Expect, Side Effects, And More

Jan 21 2021

The following blog post is to help prepare you or someone you love for their first chemo treatment. This first treatment is really scary! We’re here to provide some perspective based on our own lived experiences.

The GRYT Health Perspective – from those that have been in your shoes: This resource was written primarily from Christian Bullock with additional input from the rest of the GRYT Health team. It is information written by cancer patients who have gone through chemotherapy. We want to impart what we wish we knew back then with this resource!

Want to watch a video overview of this article? Watch below!

Your First Chemo Treatment: What To Expect

You’ve been staring at the calendar with the big red “chemo” sharpie note and finally today is the day.

Depending on the chemotherapy you’re receiving, your first infusion can take several minutes to several hours to be administered. This expected time won’t change based on how it is being administered (via a port, PICC line, or regular IV).

You’ll receive your infusion in a chemotherapy and infusion therapy room. These rooms are meant to be used only for patients receiving infusions. They are kept extra clean and typically are not cluttered. Oncology nurses will be staffed and will likely be monitoring and walking around the room frequently. 

What you can expect is a large amount of downtime when you’re sitting in (hopefully!) a comfy chair while chemotherapy drugs are being administered. During my own infusions, I did several things to try to pass the time. Those were:

  • Read a book
  • Listen to music / podcasts
  • Nap (yes – if your chair can recline and your oncology nurse approves it, you can try to get some sleep during your infusion!)
  • Use a device such as a computer, tablet, or video game console

Depending on the drugs used and how they’re being administered, you can get up and walk around a bit using a walking IV pole. During my own Hodgkin Lymphoma infusions of ABVD, I was personally able to get up and use the pole to walk around (in my instance, it was to grab some ice cubes and to go to the bathroom).

The GRYT Health Perspective – from those that have been in your shoes: Lauren – GRYT Health’s Program Director and a cervical cancer survivor – says to ask questions! Chemo nurses are super helpful and give infusions all day, every day. They have different tips, tricks and knowledge than the doctors who prescribe the chemo! Additionally don’t forget to hydrate, eat what you can and what makes you feel comfortable, use chapstick and lotion to keep your body in decent shape.

The GRYT Health Perspective – from those that have been in your shoes: Nichole – a breast cancer survivor – says to use the numbing lidocaine ointment they give you at least an hour before your appointment and cover it with Saran Wrap. She noted they always had trouble accessing her port and with the numbing agent, it didn’t bother her. Additionally – she wants everyone to remember that chemo reacts differently for all. Some people get nauseous and lose weight, some gain weight from the steroids. Listen to your body, monitor your symptoms and keep your care team informed. For her first infusion, they gave her a high dose of steroids with an anti-anxiety medicine and she felt all hyped up, but couldn’t think straight. She told her doctor and for the next infusion they lowered the amount of steroids. She also found it helpful to eat right before or during treatment – something healthy so she felt like she was fueling her body to more effectively fight the cancer. Her husband came with her and we watched a lot of movies together on a laptop during infusions. If you have more than one person, invest in a headphone splitter so you both can plug in and listen!

Your First Chemo Treatment: Premedication

When you start your infusion, you likely won’t be receiving your chemotherapy right away. What you will be receiving is one more premeds. These premeds can often take hours to administer, lengthening the total infusion time.

However – this is worthwhile! These premeds are meant to help curb side effects such as nausea and anxiety that you might be having. While it won’t likely make it so you experience no side effects, it can cut down on the severity.

We’ll have some more about chemo premeds in the side effects section of this article.

Does Chemo Hurt?

Most chemotherapy drugs when administered do not hurt. You might experience a slight burning sensation for some drugs but typically it shouldn’t be noticeable by the patient. During my own infusions, none of the drugs I received felt painful.

One thing that is always noticeable is when saline is used to flush out a PICC line or port. For me personally – that was the most noticeable infusion of anything I received! A cold rush to the body along with some saltiness in the mouth accompanied every time my PICC line was flushed out. Think of it as an opposite reaction to CT contrast where the iodine makes you flush and it feels like you’ve peed your pants.

Chemotherapy Side Effects: What To Look Out For

Many different side effects can happen to you depending on your chemo regimen. Some of the most common ones reported are:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Lack of energy / lethargy
  • Bone and joint pain
  • Constipation

Chemo premeds can also contribute to several of these reported side effects. I had heard from my oncologist about these but one that I didn’t specifically hear about but experienced was constipation. I found that eating foods high in fiber as well as taking “Smooth Move” tea helped me combat this issue.

In Conclusion

We hope this resource is helpful for patients and caregivers preparing for their first chemo appointment.