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Coping with Chemotherapy

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Once the decision has been made to have chemotherapy, patients may have many different concerns.

Three common questions are:

  • Will I lose my hair?
  • How will my chemotherapy be given?
  • What can be done to control nausea and other unpleasant side effects of treatment?

 

Will I lose my hair?
Many chemo drugs cause hair loss. If you plan to wear a wig, we suggest that you:

  • Have your hair cut as short as possible before starting treatment.
  • Save a large lock of hair from the front/top of your head where the color is lighter as a color reference.
  • Purchase a synthetic wig (they are cheaper and easier to maintain) before you lose your hair. This makes it easier to match the color and style your hair. Make sure that the wig is returnable in case you change your mind after you get it home.

Hair usually doesn't start falling out until 2-3 weeks after treatment starts. If you lose the hair on your head, you may also lose your eyebrows and eyelashes, as well as body hair. To manage the hair lost at night, consider buying a mesh cap or other type of headwear, or put a towel over your pillow. You may also want to use a plastic drain catch in the tub or shower to keep hair from clogging the drain. Use a mild shampoo and the low heat setting on your blow drier. Hair straighteners, perms, brush rollers, and hair dyes will cause your hair to come out faster. Once your hair is gone, if your scalp or other parts of your body are dry, apply a mild moisturizer often. Hair may grow back in a slightly different color or texture, but it will grow back after treatment.

A wig or hair piece needed as a result of cancer treatment is a tax-deductible expense. Also, it may be at least partially covered by your health insurance. If so, ask your doctor for a prescription for a "cranial prosthesis" – do not use the word “wig” on the prescription.

Hair loss is often the hardest part of cancer treatment to accept. If you feel angry and depressed, know that these feelings are normal. Try to share how you feel with family and close friends. Support groups, either in person or online, are also helpful.

How Will My Chemotherapy Be Given?
Chemotherapy or chemo is usually given in pill form or into a vein (intravenously or IV). The IV drugs are given through a thin, soft catheter, usually in a vein in your hand or lower arm. If you’ve had surgery as part of your treatment, make sure the IV is not put in on that side. This is to help avoid causing lymphedema (swelling) and possible infection. Also, do not have blood drawn, or your blood pressure taken on that side.

Instead of having an IV put into a vein for every treatment, many women opt for a more permanent access, such as a PICC line or implanted port. The PICC line is a thin silicone tube put into a large vein, that exits through your arm. A port is a drum-like device with a tube that goes into a large vein in the chest. It’s completely under the skin and requires minimal care. Both can be left in for months or even years.

Getting chemotherapy may take a long time.Most infusion centers have TVs, but you may want to take a book, computer, music, knitting, and even a pillow and blanket. A drink and snacks for the wait and drive home are also a good idea. If possible, bring someone with you to keep you company and help with the drive home in case you don't feel well.

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