Chemo! Yikes! If you’re starting chemotherapy soon, you might be freaking out. But before you do, remember that lots of people have braved this path before you and many more will follow. Here’s what I learned along the way. I hope these lessons will help as you take this leap toward recovery.
1. Chemo Is Scary.
Go ahead and indulge your fears, disappointment, worries and anger. Then, pull yourself together. We all do what we have to do.
2. Chemo Is Not Poison.
It’s your lifesaving elixir. Say it with me: This concoction saves lives. So, if someone refers to it as poison in your presence, remind them of what it really is: a gift. Brilliant, inspired people have dedicated themselves to creating it. Don’t say poison; say thank you.
3. Ignore the Fine Print.
That horrific, hour-long chemo education session you have to sit through before they give you the meds? Listen to it with one ear closed. Of course, you have to know the risks. But if you take in this information too deeply, it’ll scare your pants off. It’s like listening to those laughable disclaimers they list on TV after advertisements for medicine. The U.S. is a litigious society, and doctors have to tell us all the scary stuff to avoid getting sued. But it doesn’t mean all those unlikely, crazy chemo side effects are going to happen to you. Listen politely, but indulge in a little daydreaming, too. Balance is everything.
4. Let Go.
Some people are naturally predisposed to worry. I’ve always believed things will somehow work out, and so far, I’ve been right. If you’re a worrier, try to use that tool God gave you to overcome your angst. That’s right, your brain. Men, women and children have been getting chemo all over the globe for decades. You’ll get through it, too.
5. Chemo Nurses Rock.
They are the bravest people on the planet. Every day they put on their hazmat suits and deliver this critical medication. They’ve seen it all. They’ve done this before. They know what they’re doing and want to make you well. Let them inspire you.
6. Bring Your Stuff.
Your blanket. Your teddy bear. Your headset. Some ginger ale. Good books. Whatever. Try to make yourself as comfortable as you can.
7. About Your Hair …
I tried hard to save my hair during chemo. I froze my head with expensive rented gel caps hoping that the chemo meds wouldn’t make it to my scalp and that my hair would be saved. For me, it didn’t work. When I realized I’d lose my hair, I snipped a locket and saved it in my recovery journal. Then, my family and I cut my remaining hair and cast it to the wind for the birds. As horrifying as it is to go bald, remember that hair grows back. My new hair is better than my old hair! Maybe yours will be, too.
8. Have a Milkshake.
You have to take care of yourself while getting this treatment. I’ve always wanted to be a skinny girl, but when I started losing weight during chemo, my doctor suggested a milkshake. It hadn’t even occurred to me, because middle-agers like me learned a long time ago that decadent food is for lucky young people. After the doctor reminded me of the pleasure of milkshakes, I let myself have anything I wanted that tasted good. That philosophy helped me sail right through it.
9. Lean into Faith.
For me, cancer, and particularly chemo, were great opportunities to strengthen my faith. While I put confidence in the medical experts who delivered my care and let my family and friends help me in immeasurable ways, I prayed to God for peace and acceptance. I prayed for it and got it. Faith can be a real blessing during this part of life.
10. Attitude Is Everything.
It impacts your experience more than anything else. Lots of people will be taking good care of you close to home and praying for you from afar. What you can do is have a good attitude. Your mindset is your decision. Choose peace. Choose happiness. And know that Doris Day had it right: Whatever will be, will be.
This column is dedicated to my brave friend Joanne who begins her walk with chemo soon. Godspeed.
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