So before you can have chemo, they (usually) do surgery to put a tube into your chest/arm so they don’t have to keep poking needles into veins. This is called a Hickman/PICC line, and I don’t think I explained it very well earlier. You keep that tube in for the duration of treatment (months).
You have to go into hospital on set days. It is given in ‘cycles’ which are 28 days long, and you might have to go in three times the first week and once the second week, for example, and then you get two weeks off to recover. At my clinic, you turn up in the morning, they take your vitals, and then two nurses check that the chemo is right (because if you get the wrong stuff you’re pretty much screwed) before they hook it up to your central line. It can feel very cold when it goes into the vein.
Then basically you sit there for a few hours, attached the drip, to let it all go in. If you are having more than one kind of chemo that day, it takes even longer. The side-effects are usually pretty quick. They vary a lot depending on the type of chemo. Most people get nausea (and there are anti-sickness pills to help with this, but they aren’t fullproof). You get very tired. Food tastes funny, especially if it’s sweet. Pain in muscles and bones is another common one.
When it’s done, you’re allowed to go home again. Some people need a wheelchair to get back to their cars. The side-effects are usually worse for the first day after each chemo. Hair starts falling out after a few weeks, slowly at first, and then a lot faster. Most people shave their heads because it’s such a pain washing your pillowcase everyday. The hair literally gets everywhere. You also lose leg hair, etc, but eyebrows stay for most people. Idk why.
Mouth sores usually happen at some point during treatment, and that makes it painful to eat, drink and sometimes talk. There are problems with thinking, memory and concentration. You get really weak and sleepy a lot of the time. If you are having steroids (pills to take with meals, which a lot of people are given alongside chemo), then you get really, really hungry and often grumpy. They can keep you awake all night at high enough doses.
I was bed-ridden within an hour of being diagnosed, because they started medicating me that quick. It’s often not the cancer that gets you. It’s the chemo. A lot of people will be up and walking about just fine, and then have some more chemo and end up bedridden for a few days, and then be fine again. There are good days and bad days. If you get an infection at any point, you’re gonna be bedridden until it’s gone again.
If you do spend large periods bedridden, you’re going to lose muscle mass and stamina, and even when chemo is finished, people have a hard time going back to their usual activities. You have to build up to it.
The precautions are usually because of lowered immunity.
- Avoid anyone who is sick, because you can catch it.
- Avoid public places where someone could cough on you (especially during corona, I mean, I doubt many chemo patients are leaving the house atm).
- Be careful with takeaways because if you get food poisoning, you’re screwed. I was warned off fast food specifically. Make sure things like chicken are very thoroughly cooked.
- Don’t shower, and if you take a bath, you have to be careful not to get any water on your central line. You have to put a bag over it. The lines get infected very easily.
- Avoid any dangerous activities, like horse-riding, and heights because hitting your head while on chemo can make you bleed into your brain. Which is bad, for obvious reasons.
- Drink a lot of water.
Like I said, chemo is organised in cycles. I had four cycles - so four months straight. They don’t tend to give you breaks in between, unless you get a nasty infection and need time to recover. I would go in Monday to Friday the first week, Monday and Wednesday the second week and then have two weeks with no chemo, and that would be one full cycle. The next month you do it all over again, usually in the same pattern. Steroids are taken for the first two weeks of each cycle.
It’s all really complicated, honestly. And if you decide on a particular kind of cancer to use, I can help find what particular cycles and drugs they would use for that. But you probably don’t need to go into that level of detail. Most chemo cycles involve at least three drugs and even the patients themselves might not know what they are.