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What to expect when starting chemo?

Posts: 34
Joined: Apr 2010

Hello, I am new here. My mother (77 years old) has been diagnosed with lung cancer and will be starting chemo next week. She lives alone but my sister and I are both close by and will be doing the majority of the care.

I want to stock up her house with food she may want to eat. I know she will most likely not have much of an appetite but didn't know if I should get some soups, crackers, water, etc.

I also don't know what to expect in regards to how she will feel physically. She is scheduled to do 3 sessions right in a row, first one a couple hours and the next 2 days 90 minute sessions, then off for 3 weeks.

We have never gone through something like this and we just don't know what to prepare for. Any advice would be appreciated.


soccerfreaks's picture
Posts: 2800
Joined: Sep 2006

Welcome to the site, mdnikki. I, for one, am fond of saying that it is a crummy club to join because of 'membership requirements' but that the members are among the kindest, most giving, and informed people you are apt to find.

That said, it is difficult to answer questions such as the ones you pose, since chemotherapy can vary in so many ways, as can the reaction of the recipient to any given treatment. Among the factors to consider are the frequency of treatment, length of individual sessions, quantity of dosage, type of therapy, other 'ingredients' in the potion, and those are before factoring in the age and physical condition of the survivor, whether the therapy is occurring subsequent to surgery or concurrent with radiation therapy ... the list goes on.

The variance in reactions is rather stunning after a fashion. I once was undergoing treatment with cisplatin (head/neck cancer) and was advised that it was not so bad, not compared to carboplatin and taxol ... the opposite turned out to be true for me: the cisplatin made me sicker than a dog (a really sick dog) while the carbo and taxol I later took for lung cancer were rather mild by comparison. So, it is very much dependent on the individual.

A few generalities I can offer (and others may refute even these, for all I know):

Anticipate mom suffering from at least some nausea following treatment. If she handles it well, this may not be debiliating, but when the cisplatin got me, it stayed for a couple of days and felt like the worst case of flu I'd ever experienced. Hopefully mom will get the mild version :).

Anticipate mom eventually beginning to lose her appetite. It is great that you are laying in provisions, so to speak, as nutrition is pivotal. She may not want to eat, but eat she must! OncoMan will monitor her weight, and he sees it becoming an issue, he may even cut off treatment for a spell. It is hard to say what mom will still want to eat, but again, eat she must!

Anticipate mom having to sit out a session once or twice due to low platelet count or low white blood cell count. I had bloodwork done prior to nearly all of my chemo sessions, but then, mine were spaced out a bit. In any case, mom will be getting regular bloodwork done, to check the platelets, WBCs, and liver and kidney functions, minimally.

Mom will want to take reading material or puzzles or knitting or some such with her to these sessions as it can become rather boring simply sitting there. (Even a 90-minute session begins with waiting, waiting being one of the principal bains of survivorship.)

Mom's chemo concoction will likely include agents for maintaining appetite (a steroid, generally, or so I've been told), a relaxation agent, and an anti-anxiety agent, although the brevity of mom's sessions may preclude the need for one or more of these agents.

I'm sure there is much that I am omitting, but you are probably beginning to wonder if I am ever going to stop :) so I will.

Best wishes to mom and to her family.

Take care,


Posts: 34
Joined: Apr 2010

Thank you Joe. She has yet to even have a PET scan so we really don't know what we are dealing with..she went from the hospital to rehab and they won't do the PET scan while in either.

I appreciate you taking the time to reply and give me so much information. I think the hardest part is no one sits and explains any of this to us and its a bit overwhelming since its basically just my sister and I trying to do research on the internet..

Thanks again

Posts: 3
Joined: Apr 2010

I had stage 1B lung cancer. They took out the upper lobe of my right lung and then I did a summer of chemo. I had cystoplatinum. It takes about 8 hours for each treatment and they will give you meds to help with the nausea. She will get sick if she eats any milk based foods. They don't seem to go well with the chemo. I lost all of the hair on my body. That included head, arms, eyelashes and brows. I had my doc give me an RX for Latise and I didn't use it until the last month of chemo, but my lashes and brows came back beautifully.
I didn't like wearing wigs because I live in Hawaii and it is warm here and the wigs made my head sweat. I just wore scarfs and I purchased the little skull caps to wear at night to keep my head warm. It will be devastating for her when all her hair starts to come out. Mine came out in huge clumps. Finally I just had my son buzz my head. I made it through the chemo and I was very lucky that my cancer didn't spread. I praise God every single day for that. My faith really helped me to make it through this. Without my Lord I don't think I would have made it. Good luck! and God Bless you!

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