As an oncology nurse, I know when a patient first hears the word “chemotherapy” it can be very frightening. However, for many cancer patients, another choice is not an option.
Providers understand that the fear and stress associated with the first day of chemo can emotionally overwhelm patients before they even arrive at the clinic. Our goal is to help make this nerve-racking experience as easy as possible and to provide the resources upfront that patients need to feel comfortable.
Below are some of the tips I give my patients to help them get ready for their first day of chemotherapy.
If Possible, Prepare In Advance
For patients requiring IV chemotherapy in our chemotherapy infusion center, I highly recommend that they attend a chemo education class beforehand. In these classes, patients are educated on what to expect during their treatment and are even given a tour of the infusion center.
By attending one of these classes, patients gain a better understanding of what to expect on their first day, which in turn helps to make the whole experience a little less stressful.
Make Your Visit as Comfortable as Possible
On their first day, patients check-in and will have a nurse assigned to them who will provide a tour of the unit. The nurse will show them where everything is, from the closest bathroom to the snack area. Snacks usually consist of sodas, juices, crackers, and chips; however, we highly recommend that patients bring their own lunch if they had a lengthy treatment ahead of them.
Once the nurse shows the patient over to their assigned chair, they will bring out warm blankets and pillows. There are some patients who prefer to bring special blankets from home to help make their visit more comfortable which is also fine. Nurses will also provide the Wi-Fi information so patients can bring laptops or tablets with them to help pass the time.
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Arrange a Ride Ahead of Time
After the patient is settled, the nurse will take their vital signs (blood pressure, pulse, temperature, and respiration). From there, they will either start an IV or access the patient’s port-a-cath, which is where the chemotherapy will be infused.
On the first treatment day, we always recommend (if at all possible) to have someone drive patients to the clinic and pick them up afterward. Some individuals will receive medications prior to chemo which will make them drowsy. Once a patient starts to see how they will respond to their treatment therapy, they can decide whether or not they feel comfortable enough to drive themselves home.
During the patient's first treatment, the nurse will explain everything she or he is doing step-by-step in order to help make the experience as pleasant as possible and diminish any fears. In addition, the nurse will explain each drug being administered and any potential side effects.
Once treatment is done for the day, we remove the patient’s IV, or their port is de-accessed. The nurse then goes over future appointments prior to the patient leaving.
The first treatment day is usually always the longest because of all the education occurring, however, we always want to encourage patients to ask us any questions they have no matter what. The ultimate goal is to make the experience as easy and as painless for them as possible.