If you're about to start chemotherapy, it's helpful to get some paperwork organized in advance. Your treatment will go more smoothly if you plan ahead by preparing key documents and starting a journal to keep track of your treatment progress.
Nowadays, "paperwork" often means files and forms on the computer. Ask your doctor if you should install certain programs. The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), for instance, has forms in Word and PDF format that you can download to help you keep track of your medical history and your treatment plan. To read the PDF versions, you must have Adobe Acrobat Reader on your computer, which is easy to download from the Internet.
Many medical centers also have online sites where you can get access to your lab tests and appointment times, as well as renew your prescriptions. Make sure you're registered and have a username and password in advance.
Gather Your Medical History
Your doctor and other members of your health care team will need to have your up-to-date medical history before they start treatment. They'll also want to know about any drugs, vitamins, supplements, and herbs you use, even if you only take them once in a while.
It's a good idea to put this info in one place so you can get it easily in the future. The ASCO form offers one way to store the information. Smartphone apps are another.
You'll find that there's so much you'll need to keep track of during chemo, it helps to have a journal or several folders to stay organized.
Some things you'll want to keep tabs on are:
Appointments. Chemo schedules can be complicated. You may get treatment in cycles, which can last 2 to 6 weeks. The number of times you have chemo within each cycle also varies.
Keep track of appointments either with a planner, a white board, or a smartphone app. Daily checklists can help you stay on task.
Contact information. You've got a lot of health pros on your treatment team. At different times, you may need to get in touch with doctors, nurses, pharmacists, nutritionists, and physical therapists. Make a list of their names and how to reach them, including phone numbers for after office hours.
Side effects. Everyone's situation is different. Your chemo may make you tired and nauseated. Some folks get a touch of foggy thinking, called chemo brain. Keep track of these, including when you had them, how long they lasted, and how severe they were.
Share this info with your doctors. They may have ways to reduce the problems. Your journal will also help you figure out when you're likely to be feeling your best, which will help you schedule activities. You can create your own log or use one of many templates online, including one from the American Cancer Society.
Foods and medications. Your doctor or nurse will give you a list of foods and drinks that are good for you as well as what to avoid when you're having chemotherapy. Keep this handy, along with notes on what kinds of medicines will ease side effects.
Insurance papers. Although your doctor's office should file most of the forms, you'll get copies and may have to follow up either with the doctor or the insurance company. Keep track of them in a folder.
Consent forms. These are not required by law in most states, but most doctors will ask you to sign them. Always keep copies.
Keep Things in One Place
During chemo, the last thing you want is to lose the very papers, journals, and lists that are supposed to keep you calm and organized. Pick an obvious place to store everything, and stick to it so they'll be easier to find quickly when you need them.
All this organizing will pay off. It will help give you the time and energy to focus on what matters most: getting better.