Top tips on how to get comfortable with chemo

Published: 25 Jul 2018

Nobody denies that chemo is tough – so you’ll want to be as prepared as possible.  
Your mental state of mind is important - but you’ve no doubt lost count of the number of times you’ve heard the phrase ‘stay positive’, so instead we’re going to focus on some of the more practical things you can do to ensure you are as comfortable as possible during your stay.   This requires proper preparation, a well-stocked chemo bag and a proactive approach to self-care.

Here are a few tips recommended by people who have first-hand experience of chemotherapy: 

  1. Get a good night’s sleep the night before. Try to relax the night before to give yourself the best chance of getting a decent night’s sleep.  Chemotherapy causes fatigue, so a well-rested body will respond better to treatment.
  2. Drink lots of liquids. Prepare your body for the dehydrating effects of chemotherapy by drinking lots of water – it will help to combat chemo related headaches and flush out chemo meds from your body faster. Another tip from chemo patients is to keep your drinks at room temperature - you may experience sensitivity to cold.
  3. Eat a light meal beforehand. Boost your strength with a light, healthy meal – chemo can be exhausting so make sure your body has the right fuel to get you through.  But keep it light – certain meds can also make you feel nauseous!
  4. Make transportation arrangements in advance.  Give yourself as little to worry about as possible.  Ask a friend or relative to drive you there and back.  Some chemo drugs can make you drowsy, so you may not feel well enough to drive yourself home! 
  5. Wear warm comfortable clothes. The general advice from patients is to wear layers since you can't predict the temperature of the room or how the treatment will affect you. And bear in mind the location of the port – you may want to wear a scoop neck or front buttoning shirt.  And don’t forget your feet – they’re often the first to feel the cold! Wear comfortable, close-toed shoes and, or, slippers with a hard sole.
  6. Take a friend. First time chemo’ers are venturing into the unknown, so a little support goes a long way.  Take someone along to hold your hand through the process, provide reassurance, support and conversation to take your mind off the treatment.
  7. If you’re using cold caps, make arrangements in advance. If you’re worried about losing your hair, look into the options well in advance so you are prepared.  Many people choose to use cold caps such as Penguin Cold Caps, which can help to save much of your hair – but you’ll need to organise this in advance directly with the cold cap provider. 
  8. Take a comfy blanket and snuggly pillow. You may have given up your security blanket when you were 5 – but now might be the time to start again!  Nothing quite like snuggling up with a blanket, pillow or cuddly toy for a bit of instant comfort.
  9. Take along entertainment.  You’ll be there for a while so make sure you have enough to do to last you the course.  Download some movies, take a puzzle or adult colouring book, music, magazines, books, knitting, board games, diary or sketch pad – just make sure you have something to pick up when the minutes start to drag.
  10. Take a stash of your favorite snacks. Check with your doctor first, but most treatment centres will allow you to take in some snacks to help you through. 
  11. Don’t forget hard candy or mints.  Chemo can cause dry mouth and nausea, as well as leaving an unpleasant taste in your mouth. Candy and mints mask the terrible taste and combat the side effects.
  12. Try sucking on ice cubes or ice lollies.   Many people experience sore mouth caused by a high dose of certain chemo meds.  To help combat this try sucking on ice cubes or an ice lolly – and take along lip balm to stop chapping.

You may find this video useful for more advice on what to pack in your chemo bag,  from Live Better With Cancer

If you have any other suggestions on how to stay comfortable on chemo, please join the Chemotherapy Support Group and share your ideas.