What to Expect During Chemotherapy

Even though it’s often an essential part of patient treatment, no one looks forward to chemotherapy.

At Roswell Park, our doctors, nurses, practitioners and physician assistants are ready to help you navigate the chemotherapy roadmap, helping to make the process as comfortable as possible by preparing you for treatment and managing side effects that may come with treatment.

“The Resource Center is an important first stop for patients and families. We’re here to offer support that can help guide patients through this unfamiliar territory,” says Nancy Bertran, MSN, OCN and Center Administrator at Roswell Park’s Chemotherapy Infusion Center.

Being prepared physically and emotionally may help make the process less stressful for patients. “Unfortunately, the good effects of the chemotherapy which kill cancer cells can have undesirable side effects when healthy cells are affected,” says Bertran. “Side effects will vary from person to person, depending on the drugs used and the individual’s general health before treatment begins. Being aware of common side effects can help make the process a little easier, especially when reminded that the good cells are likely to repair themselves after the chemotherapy has ended.”

What to Expect

Although some chemotherapy medications are taken orally, most are given through an IV (intravenous) or a PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter) which delivers the medication directly, into a vein in your arm or hand or for some patients, in the spinal canal or a cavity such as the chest, belly or pelvis. Because treatment times can take from 30 minutes to 10 hours, ask your doctor before your first infusion so that you can plan accordingly.

The goal is to help patients feel as comfortable as possible. Roswell Park's Chemotherapy & Infusion Center has recliners with color TVs and cable service as well as newspapers, blankets and light refreshments. “We encourage our patients to dress warmly or bring layers as they may feel cool after receiving IV fluids,” says Bertran.

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Managing Side Effects

Side effects from chemotherapy will vary and staff is available to help answer questions and help find ways to make the symptoms less difficult. Some guidelines to consider include:

  • Take care of yourself with adequate rest, exercise if you feel up to it and maintain good nutrition. Clinical dieticians can help you with good diet recommendations, especially if your appetite is affected during treatment.
  • Let your doctor or nurses know if you have digestive issues such as diarrhea, constipation or upset stomach or if you feel you are having an allergic reaction such as a rash, itching, hives, palpitations, dizziness or swelling or tingling in your mouth or throat.
  • Avoid tobacco (smoked or chewed) as well as products containing alcohol, citrus, vinegar, spice, and hot or acidic foods and drinks, which can be irritating.
  • Drink plenty of water (8-12 cups daily, if possible) and brush teeth gently, avoiding mouthwash that contains alcohol because it can cause mouth dryness and irritation.

More information about dealing with mouth pain is available at the Resource Center, so be sure to ask for help if you need it!

Seek and Accept Support

Social and emotional support can improve healing and make you feel better. We offer educational programs such as “Look Good…Feel Better” through the American Cancer Society where patients can receive support with others who are sharing their experiences. Roswell Park also offers CancerConnect, an Online Patient Community and a safe and secure forum for sharing ideas, experiences and concerns with others.

Precautions following Chemotherapy

Our Chemotherapy & Infusion Center includes a library of educational handouts to help you prepare for being at home after treatment, as well as how to reduce risk of infection and protect others around you. Advice for everything from food safety and food choices to oral and skin care to intimacy and child care is available, both from medical professionals at the Center as well as printed materials that you can take for future reference.

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

Not everyone experiences side effects during chemotherapy and, in fact, many are able to continue with regular or modified routines, which may help distract from discomfort. You may find it useful to make a list before you begin treatment, so that you can remind yourself of activities or people that help you feel better. Whether it’s getting lost in a good book, watching a funny favorite movie, listening to music or talking to a trusted friend, make yourself a priority during this time. Focus on your healing and remember that this is a short-term part of a long-term journey to a healthier time in your life.