What is it like during Chemotherapy Infusion?

Update:  It has been 13 months post chemo.  I am doing well – just had another 3 month checkup yesterday.  I just opened an online store “Hello Courage” for breast cancer patients at www.hellocourage.com  to help pay my medical expenses and help others.   Please click on my cute chemo caps and check it out.    Thank you,   Denise

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Very few people have asked me what the process of Chemotherapy is like.  I found this surprising as I thought a few people might be curious.  But in retrospect, I never asked that question to any cancer patient previously.  When I went for my first Chemo treatment, which was the most frightening day of my life, I had absolutely no idea what to expect because I had never asked the question.

Recently, my Chemo Nurse explained that she has been an Oncology Nurse for 35 years!   She has seen many changes in that time period.  Nurse Deb was telling me how Chemotherapy used to require a 3 day hospital stay.  Admission the day before, Chemotherapy on Day 2, and rest and releasing on Day 3.  She felt that when Outpatient Chemotherapy Centers were established it was a very positive change because patients do better at home and away from hospital germs.

On my first day of Chemo, I was under the wrong impression that they would hook me up to an IV of one sack of drugs and sit me out in a hallway and in about an hour I would be done.   Truly I was amazed when I discovered that the University of Michigan had at least 6 infusion areas just for adults, all staffed with Nurses and Aides and the ability to handle over 60 people at any given time.

When I was taken back to a private area set up like a hospital Emergency Room I was shocked!  It had a large team of nurses in a semi-circle with a comfortable hospital version of a La-Z-Boy type chair, a television, a chair for your companion, and room for the Chemo Nurse to maneuver.  Also, there are separate rooms equipped with beds.  On three occasions, I have been lucky enough to have those, but they try to keep those areas for the very ill patients who are bedridden.

Every time a medical team member immediately offers you and your companion warm blankets, drinks, and bagels.  I immediately felt the love.  Warm blankets and bagels will do it every time!

Almost immediately, your specifically appointed Chemo Nurse comes to introduce themselves to you.  They are specially trained Registered Nurses.  These men and women are extremely impressive.  I am thankful for their compassion, their knowledge, and their willingness to answer questions and teach you about your particular drugs.   They really do put you at ease.  Immediately I feel like they know what they are doing, and I can relax and be the patient.  On my first visit, I was given almost undivided attention which really helped the anxiety.

Only when you arrive at the Chemotherapy area are the drugs ordered for you from Pharmacy.  That is because the drugs that are administered are so expensive (mine have been over $9,000 each visit) and each “chemo cocktail” is made individually for you based on your drug, your weight, and body mass.   Thus, there is always a wait once you arrive of approximately one-half hour.

The other thing that amazed me was how many other pre-Chemo drugs are given.  For example, in my case I am given Ativan for nausea and nerves, steroids, anti-allergic medications, Pepcid, other anti-nausea drugs, all to prepare you for your “Chemo Cocktail.”   These are all given intravenously through the port that was surgically implanted.

Speaking of ports, this is always an adventure.  Sometimes they work perfectly, and other times they don’t!  I have had to literally almost stand on my head forward and backward to get mine to work.  It is comical as one time my wig fell off as I was leaning forward toward my feet with my arms reaching downward!  Thankfully, nobody cares and everyone understands as we are all in the same situation.  My positions have been hands over head, cough, hold your breath, bend over your back, lean to your left, lean to your right, and lean forward and reach.   As it has been explained to me, the ports just clog up as after all they are implanted into your body.  If they don’t work after all of the acrobatics and aerobics, an injection is given to loosen any matter that has clogged the port.

Another surprise was how long the entire process takes.  From start to finish for my “Chemo Cocktail” and other drug I receive which is “Herceptin” it can take anywhere from 3 to 5 hours for the other drugs and infusion.  Plus, before you begin your bloodwork which has been done an hour before Chemo, is checked to make sure Chemotherapy can proceed.  Always, I ask to be given a copy of my blood test results as I believe it is important to know where my blood counts are.

When your specially formulated bags of drugs arrive from the Pharmacy, another nurse accompanies the Chemo Nurse into your room.  You are instructed to read your arm band, state your name and date of birth.  This checking your armband happens over and over again as so many precautions are taken so the wrong drugs are not administered.  The additional nurse checks the statistics including your weight, height and then calculates that you have received the correct dosage.  This is also confirmed by your Chemo Nurse.  Then as an additional precaution, I always ask to see the name on the bag of the drug.  No one minds and in fact, my Chemo Nurses have always been glad that I take an interest in what I am receiving.

When I first had the drug Taxol administered to me, extra precautions were taken as it often can cause an allergic reaction.  My Chemo Nurse said that if I would begin to have a reaction, a team of medical professionals would descend on me in Code Blue fashion.  But she said, “don’t worry” and I laughed!  She went on to say that they had never lost a patient yet, but they are very careful about allergic reactions.  This was reassuring, but of course I was grateful when I had no reaction.

While the infusions occur, you can read, sleep, work on your computer, or just look around.  I prefer just look around.  There is so much going on in the Chemo areas that I find it fascinating.  Also, I really enjoy talking to other patients receiving Chemo.  They are so inspirational, and I have learned so much from them.  One thing I learned is that Taxol can cause you to lose your fingernails and toenails.  A Stage IV Breast Cancer patient told me to soak my hands and feet in ice as this would prevent that occurrence as the ice would prevent the Taxol from going to your finger tips and toe tips.  So everytime I go, I take my plastic containers with me that look like dishpans and the medical personnel fill them with ice. If I am having any tiredness from the drugs, the minute you put your hands and feet in the ice, you instantly wake up!  So far so good.  No adverse reactions and my nails are perfect!

Many times the drugs cannot be given simultaneously, which is true with the drugs I receive.   This, of course, takes more time.  But you just adjust.  I am always in shock and awe when I see some cancer patients receiving over 12 bags of drugs!   They are at the Infusion Center for hours on end!  The amazing part of the whole process is I have never seen one impatient Chemo patient.  They are always the role models for patience.

Once your infusions are getting close to being over, relief sets in.  But then a little fear sets in as well because you wonder how you will be feeling.  Once your Chemo Nurse releases you, the feeling of freedom sets in and gratitude that you have another Chemo session completed.  Thankfully, I have always felt good immediately after infusion because the steroids and other meds they give you perk you up!   The fatigue and side effects don’t usually set in for a couple of days.  You become familiar with the pattern of your particular drugs.

Hopefully, if you are awaiting Chemotherapy, this information will help inform you and remove some of the fear.  If you have a friend or family member going through Chemotherapy, please ask them questions about their Chemotherapy Infusion.  They would be very grateful to have you listen to their story.

Click on picture for cute chemo caps!

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17 thoughts on “What is it like during Chemotherapy Infusion?

  1. Thank you for getting the details out there. I think one of the reason chemotherapy is surrounded by such awe and fear is precisely because people have no idea what to expect. You bring it down to earth, make it sound tolerable–blankets and bagels!–and at least let people know what’s in store for them. It seems it is the dreaded unknown that is the worst.

  2. It’s Christmas Day 2012, I start my first Chemotheray Infusion tomorrow morning and yes, scared is a good word to say how I feel this morning. Your post helped me very much, it removed fear and made me crank up my Chemo Play list. THANKS SO MUCH FOR HELPING US ALL ANSWER THE UNASK QUESTIONS!!!! Much Hug & Love!

    • Terry, I will be thinking of you tomorrow. We are one year apart. I started my first infusion on December 27, 2011.
      I cannot remember Christmas last year because of the anxiety of it all. That’s why I wrote that post because I was a mess!
      I am so grateful it helps you and others! Please email sometime if you feel up to it and let me know how you are doing!
      b4Denise@hotmail.com
      Prayers for you, Denise

  3. It is 7 AM on Jan. 15, 2012 and my first chemo appt (TCH) starts at 10 I started on steroids yesterday so I was up most of the night, but it felt more like a high than anxiety. Your post was very very helpful, thank you writing it to us newcomers to the club!

  4. I will have my chest port implanted on this Monday and needless to say a little apprehensive for that one! Start my first Chemo on Tuesday for 4 hours, Wednesday for 4 hours, Thursday for 4 hours, then Friday to the shot room. I am so frightened, as I have heard so many horrific things that can go wrong!! If anyone can calm me down or give me some good input, it would be much appreciated. Thank you.

  5. I start my 1st chemotherapy appt tomorrow April 11, 2013. Thank you for your post…it has been informative and I am not as scared. Hopefully I can interact with some of you on the site as i go through chemo like all of you. Crystal

    • Crystal, good luck to you tomorrow. I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers. Please
      do not be afraid as I was! You truly do not have to be. The Chemo Nurses will make it
      much better than you think. Sending a hug your way! Denise

      • Hey Denise, thank you for your encouragement on my first day which unfortunately hasn’t happened yet but will hopefully very soon! Thank you for your continued prayers and encouragement.. Hugs Crystal

    • I will begin my second go-round of chemo next week. Going thru the PET Scan, echocardiogram and port re-insertion this week. It is very scary facing all of this again. I sailed thru my first chemo treatment with few side effects. Good luck to you Crystal. Attitude is everything.
      The nurses are wonderful caring people who are there for you.

      • I have had a few roadblocks on the day of my first chemo on the 11th. My doctor saw my PET scan and two hotspots..one on the liver and the other on my left hip. He ordered a bone biopsy and a MRI of the liver. I just got the results of the tests and thank goodness, my liver is fine (no cancer) and the biopsy of the bone showed negative also. My doctor because of the hip showing so bright on the PET scan is making me get another bone biopsy before I can start treatment with chemo. I cant wait until I can be more proactive in fighting this breast cancer even though I am not looking forward to chemo. I just want to get started doing something! Katie, you will like the port once you get used to it, I know I do…so much easier and saves those veins. I am still scared when I start chemo but I am thankful for your sharing with me what to expect. I look forward to talking more with you as we both go through this challenging part of our life. You are right..attitude is everything. Hugs…Crystal

      • Oh Crystal, SO SORRY you had to get delayed. But so happy liver was negative.
        I am hoping and praying bone will be too. It’s so scarey. I went through that…
        had really bright spot on bone between knee and hip showed on MRI. Went through bone
        scan – still showed. Gave me a plain old x-ray and my oncologist believed it was
        benign said let’s wait until after chemo. Had a scan after chemo and it was fine.
        Never have had any symptoms…but I was TERRIFIED. Thinking of you. Please keep
        us posted!! Hugs Denise

      • I am hoping the same thing too Denise! I am having my second bone biopsy of the same site tomorrow and will have the results by Tuesday so here is hoping and praying. I want to get this breast cancer under control and gone would be better! :) I am so thankful I have you as my new friend and can tell me exactly what to expect. I will keep you updated..Hugs Crystal

  6. I’m going with my mom to her first chemo appointment next week and it’s great to read such a positive and helpful description. Thank you for sharing your experience.

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