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Before You Begin Cancer Treatment

By Camille Noe Pagán
WebMD Feature

There’s no preparing for a cancer diagnosis. But when it comes to cancer treatment, there are things you can do to get ready for what’s ahead. Experts say even taking small steps can improve your sense of well-being and control. Here are some things to do before your chemotherapy or radiation treatment begins.  

Be Clear on the Plan

“One of the single most important things you can do is to make sure you and your cancer care team are on the same page about exactly what your treatment entails,” says Dale R. Shepard, MD, PhD, of the Cleveland Clinic. “That includes what will happen during treatment, how long treatment will take, what the potential side effects are, and what the ultimate goal of your treatment is.” Have a spouse or a friend take notes while you talk with your doctor, and get a second opinion if you feel like you need to. “If you have any uncertainties, getting another opinion can help you make sure you’re on board with what your doctor’s recommending,” Shepard says.  Don’t worry about offending your doctor or surgeon; you’re taking an active role in your own care.

Plan for What You Can

No matter what your treatment is, you can expect not to feel your best while you recover.  So think about what you may need and plan ahead.  “A lot of frustration and anxiety before and during chemo or radiation isn’t actually about cancer, but about practical concerns: ‘How will I get back and forth to the hospital?’ or ‘Who will take care of my dog?’” says Wendy Griffith, a social worker at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

Tap Into Your Network

  • Have friends and family help you determine what you need -- and what you don’t (example, maybe you don’t need lots of extra food in your fridge).
  • Ask people to take on specific jobs like picking up the kids, walking the dogs, or keeping up the housework.

 “Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” Griffith says. “People are almost always happy to chip in; they’re just waiting for you to tell them what you need.”

Take a Close Look at Your Space

Once you get home, you may need to spend some time in one area of your house while you recover. Think about what is where.

  • Can you get to water easily?
  • Are there outlets nearby for computer and phone chargers?
  • Are there drawers to keep medications?
  • Do you need new sheets or a mattress pad?
  • Do you like what you see? Put things in your room that make you feel good (like plants, pictures of your family, etc.).

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