What I Learned From My Chemo Team

As you proceed along your journey, don’t forget to tap the wisdom of the special care team at your side—oncology nurses, social workers, chemo infusion nurses and others. That’s what these chemo patients did, and it made their journeys so much easier. If you’d like to try any of their tips, be sure to get your oncologist’s okay.

Oncology Nurse
“Soothe mouth sores” 

“I had trouble with mouth sores, and my oncology nurse recommended Biotene as a moisturizing mouth rinse, and also a lidocaine spray to numb the areas that were particularly painful,” says a grateful Deb Merrifield, a breast cancer survivor from Buffalo, NY. “She would listen to anything, look at anything I asked—no complaint, no question was too small.”

Oncology Nutritionist
“Get clearance for any supplements you take”
“My cancer center’s nutritionist advised me that some common supplements, like vitamin C and CoQ10, could interfere with my chemo combo,” says Cheryl Solimini, a Milford, PA, endometrial cancer survivor. “She did say I could continue taking calcium and vitamin D3 for bone health, and add B6 to reduce or prevent nerve damage.”

“Ease chemo after-effects with glutamine” 
“After my treatments were over, I visited the nutritionist about my lingering side effects,” says Cheryl. “She suggested glutamine, a naturally occurring amino acid that treatment can deplete. Within a week, I felt remarkably better—I had more energy, a calmer tummy, less numbness in my hands and feet, even my brain seemed more focused.”

“Quell nausea with ginger”
“My nutritionist suggested that ginger was a good, natural antinausea supplement,” says Jake Bouma, a Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor in Des Moines. “We purchased ginger snaps and my wife, Libby, found a recipe for ginger chicken-noodle soup, which became a diet staple.”

Breast Cancer Support Service Retreat
“Restorative yoga works wonders!”

Barbara Gallagher discovered Breast Cancer Options, a nonprofit group near her home in Florida, NY, and signed on for a free retreat for people with metastatic breast cancer. “The weekend was incredible, with discussions and workshops, including one on restorative yoga, a series of relaxing, supported movements. Afterward, a friend gave me a bolster pillow and I bought a yoga DVD. I now do yoga for 15 minutes in the morning and an hour every night. It works wonders to ease my back pain.”

Social Worker
“There's financial help out there!”

“I lost my job and benefits just before I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer,” says Debra Musolino, a fitness instructor in Manalapan, NJ. “That my cancer was caught early was a fluke: My dog jumped on my stomach—something he’d never done before—and the pain I felt turned out to be the tumor. But now I was looking at four months of chemotherapy and no way to pay for it. I also couldn’t afford to delay treatment. The social worker at the hospital steered me toward programs that could help and taught me how to bargain with the billing department. I learned about a local organization, Raising Hope for Others, that contributed $20,000 toward my medical expenses.”

Chemo Infusion Nurse
“Consider a port”
“My infusion nurse explained that having a port put in your chest would spare the veins in your arm and allow doctors and nurses intravenous access any time it was needed,” says breast cancer survivor Jennifer Chudy Simon, from Long Valley, NJ. “After doing some research, I decided to go ahead and have the surgical procedure done. I've always been grateful to that nurse. It so happened that, because of dehydration, I needed fluid transfusions on days three and four after the chemo infusion. If I had not had the port, I would really have suffered, and there is a possibility the damage could have been permanent!”

“It’s okay to let your moods do the talking!”
“For about five days after receiving chemo, I’d feel angry and just not myself,” says breast cancer survivor Denise McCroskey from Oregon, OH. “Nurse Lynn told me I was having mood swings because of the steroids given before chemo. ‘Be patient with yourself. It will go away,’ she said, adding, ‘Take advantage of it, too! It’s the drugs talking, but some people need to hear what your mood swings have to say.’ From that day on, I was much easier on myself. And I was also able to warn others about my seesaw emotions.”

Oncology Massage Therapist
“Oncological massage can ease neuropathy”
“My cancer center offered free hand and foot massages during chemotherapy,” says Betsy Busby, a breast cancer survivor in Austin, TX. “It was such a nurturing and relaxing experience that I scheduled regular massages with the oncological massage therapist, Geri Ruane, a few days before chemo and a few days after. She explained that oncological massage, which is gentler than the usual deep-tissue massage, can help with circulation, improve sleep and ease neuropathy!” To find a certified therapist near you, check with your healthcare provider or the Society for Oncological Massage (s4om.org).

Published September 2013

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