Preparing for Cancer Treatment

If you are diagnosed with cancer, you and your doctor will discuss treatment options. As you decide what course of treatment is right for you, you may feel nervous. This is normal. Knowing what to expect during treatment and helping plan for it may help ease your mind.

Path to improved health

There are many uncertainties when it comes to cancer. Most of them, you cannot control. A few of them, you can. Planning your cancer treatment—and the personal details involved in the treatment—can make you feel at least somewhat in control. Plus, having a plan in place can help treatment go more smoothly, especially as you deal with everyday meals and chores.

Use the tips below to make your plan as detailed as possible.

Write it down

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the news you have cancer. Treatments may also seem confusing. You’re bound to have questions for your doctor.

Before visiting your doctor, you may find it useful to write down your questions. That way, you won’t forget what you want to ask during your appointment. During your appointment, take notes or ask if you may use a tape recorder to help you remember what the doctor says.

Additionally, you may want to ask a family member or friend to join you when you talk to your doctor. This person can provide emotional support and help you remember what your doctor says during the visit.

Plan for side effects

Know which side effects you may experience and make a plan for dealing with them.

Treatment for your cancer will depend on the type and location of the cancer. Some common treatments include surgery, chemotherapy (using drugs to kill cancer cells), and radiation therapy (using radiation to kill cancer cells). Chemotherapy and radiotherapy kill cancer cells, but some healthy cells also can become damaged in the process. That is what causes the side effects of cancer treatment. Some common side effects include fatigue, hair loss, nausea, and infection.

Until you begin your treatment, you won’t know which side effects you’ll experience. But you can prepare before treatment begins. One way is to ask your doctor about your chances of having side effects and what they may be. Your doctor also may provide you with a list of medicines to help with your side effects. It’s best to have these medicines on hand before your treatment begins.

Keep a positive attitude, share your feelings with your family, friends, and doctor, and learn as much as you can about your cancer and treatment. These steps may help you feel less anxious about the side effects. Keep in mind that most side effects can be controlled to some degree and will disappear after treatment ends.

Shop for the right foods and eat well

Appropriate nutrition is important for people with cancer. Your doctor can provide guidance on how you should change your diet before and during treatment. Your doctor also may refer you to a dietitian who can offer valuable information and advice.

Ask your doctor to help you plan meals that won’t make side effects worse. Before your treatment, stock up on foods that are part of your meal plan, so you won’t need to shop often. In addition, you, a friend, or family member may want to cook meals in advance and freeze them. Ready-made meals will make it easier to eat during treatment.

Get help from family and friends

Your cancer treatment may make you tired. You may need help with daily tasks. For example, someone may need to temporarily assist with chores like cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Discuss your changing needs with family members and friends before your treatment begins. It’s important that everyone agrees to and is comfortable with the new routine.

What about work?

Whether you can continue working during your cancer treatment will depend on your health status and how you feel during treatment. It may also depend on what kind of job you have. If your treatment makes you very tired or causes other side effects, you might consider adjusting your work schedule for a while. Although you won’t know what adjustments are necessary until your treatment begins, it may be useful to know the options in advance.

Find a support system

Being diagnosed with cancer and going through treatment is a difficult experience. It can leave you feeling overwhelmed and scared. Even with the support of family and friends, many people need help dealing with the emotional and physical impacts of having cancer. A support group can provide this help. Support groups provide a setting where you can talk about your feelings. You can share information with other people who are going through a similar experience. Support groups are also available to family members of people who have cancer.

Many different types of support groups are available. It’s important to find one that makes you feel comfortable and meets your needs. Your doctor or a local hospital can suggest ways to find a support group. Or you may contact your local chapter of the American Cancer Society. The National Cancer Institute is another resource for support group information.

Things to consider

A cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. You may feel there’s too much information to manage. However, don’t ignore your diagnosis. Doing so would delay the start of treatment. This could allow the cancer to spread to other parts of your body and have other negative impacts. Follow the treatment plan you and your doctor agree on and start getting better.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • What is the best way to treat this cancer?
  • What are the risks and benefits of treatment?
  • How long will treatment last?
  • How will we know if the treatment is working?