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Five Things You Didn’t Know About Chemotherapy

Posted on July 8, 2014


Cancer. Chemotherapy. Infusion. What image just popped into your mind? Maybe a child in a hospital bed, receiving his medicine through a port in his chest, or a young woman with a bright smile proudly showing off her newly shaved head.

We often see images like these associated with cancer treatment and chemotherapy. But what many people don’t realize is that each patient’s treatment journey is unique; as doctors and scientists become more sophisticated in the fight against cancer, there are increasingly more types of chemotherapy, drugs, dosages and treatment strategies oncologists consider when developing treatment regimens. And all of these are tailored to individuals as breakthroughs move forward at the genetic level.

With the focus on personalized medicine, it’s becoming even more important that patients take an active role in their diagnosis. A realistic idea of what chemo entails can help patients and caregivers prepare and advocate effectively. These five chemotherapy myth busters are meant to strike down some of the most common chemo misconceptions. Of course please keep in mind, this does not apply to everyone’s experience, as each patient has their own treatment regimen and responds and reacts differently. On the whole, here’s what you should keep in mind:

Myth: You will not be able to work while on chemo. 
Fact: Most people work full-time on FOLFOX or FOLFIRI, two common chemo drugs. In fact, many find going to work helps by creating a feeling of normalcy and keeping patients busy and their minds off their cancer. The key to this is proper management of side effects. In certain situations, side effects may make patients very sick, therefore making it difficult to work. An afternoon rest may also help reenergize.

Myth: You will have constant nausea, diarrhea and fatigue.
Fact: Much research has gone into making it easier for patients to remain active during treatment. Medical teams now know how to manage these common side effects. For nausea and diarrhea, treating physicians typically prescribe pre-medications (taken before treatment) and medications to be taken once home. Most physicians recommend managing fatigue with lifestyle choices like exercise, diet and getting plenty of fluids and rest. But, do not suffer in silence. If the current combination of medicines isn’t working, tell your medical team so they can adjust.

Myth: You will spend all your time in the hospital.
Fact: There are many ways chemo drugs are administered depending on the patient’s needs. Most patients are treated intravenously on an outpatient basis at their local hospital or clinic. However, sometimes patients can be given a simple shot or even pill or liquid to take at home.

Myth: You will lose all of your hair.
Fact: Not all chemotherapy drugs cause hair loss. In fact, even if a patient is on a drug for which this is a side effect, many will experience only a thinning. For those who do experience thinning or total loss, it will grow back after your treatment course is complete, and sometimes even before that.

Myth: Everyone receives the same amount of chemo.
Fact: Every patient is unique and should receive a very specific dose
of chemo. Despite the advances in fighting cancer, it is sometimes a challenge to determine the right dosage a patient should receive for optimal effectiveness.

Don’t forget, the Colon Cancer Alliance serves as a source of information about colon health. If you have questions or are in need of support, please contact our free Helpline at (877) 422-2030. We’re here to help! 

19 Responses to “Five Things You Didn’t Know About Chemotherapy”

  1. Amy says:

    all of this is true, how do I know? I’ve done it three times folks! Each time I worked full-time through treatment, no matter what I needed to feel needed. My family and co-workers made sure that I was :)

  2. David J.S. says:

    In the past three years I’ve watched as two friends had colon cancer, chemo, and died. One inside two years with many bad side effects on the way – the second inside a year with pneumonia probably due to lowered resistance to infections. Both with many difficulties and significant pain.

    Last September I was diagnosed with a colon tumour (took them a bit too long IMHO). It was stage IIIC. I turned down chemo because of what I’d witnessed – I was assessed for Radiotherapy and deemed unsuitable. I did have a post-op infection which made for a longer stay in hospital than anticipated (nearly two weeks instead of one).

    Well so far so good – have felt better and better as time progresses. I am self-medicating with Grape-Seed Extract – see University of Colorado Cancer Research Institute. Time will tell I guess, but so far I’m pleased I turned down the chemo.

    Just to also say I live in Spain (though I’m English). As far as I can tell, hospital treatment here is well up to the mark.

  3. karen says:

    I think the generalization of most people can work thru chemo is a stretch. I had no energy, strength or ability to work but maybe I’m rare. I had stage 4 and major surgery one month before chemo. I finished 10 sessions with one break. I didn’t lose my hair it did thin but filled in quickly.

  4. Patricia Worth says:

    14293 SW 94 Circle Lane #101

    NO HAIR LOSS…NO NAUSEA or DIARRHEA and have been tired before,during and after!!! OK so a mite more tired after…the chemo pills not infusions!!!

    Funny thing, I always kept my hair so short I was often asked…WHAT KIND OF CANCER DO YOU HAVE?!? DUH!!!…now I’m told ‘Never have seen your hair so long’!!! Another DUH!!!

  5. Judy says:

    I have just been hooked up to my chemo 5 Folfox and I can tell you I did not just thin out with my hair I lost a ton of hair. As far as working I deal with clients and public transportation which I feel would not be good for me while on the chemo. My family and God have been my strength since I was diagnosed in March. And I have had a few family members go for their first colonoscopy. Life is good :)

  6. Dorothy says:

    I had colon cancer nine years ago and worked all through the chemo and the radiation that I took at the same time. Working kept my mind off the cancer and gave me a reason to get up and going every morning. I took my radiation during my lunch hour and was on a chemo pill.

  7. chen says:

    it is true, but as the treatment goes to the 5 n above… i think the patient needs all the rest he or she can get… health wise…..

  8. Renee Kuntz says:

    I had FOLFOX for several treatments and then was switched to FOLFIRI due to more neuropathy than my oncologist wanted me to have, plus the fact that FOLFOX wasn’t working. During my treatment I was able to continue working as a medical transcriptionist, even with the neuropathy in my hands and fingers, and kept up my typing speed with no problem. I have a lot of short, curly hair, which did thin some (but no one knew except me and my hairdresser!), and I also lost a lot of my natural curl. Once treatment was over, the curl came back, with a vengeance, and it became thick again. I was never in the hospital. I never had nausea, never had diarrhea. Would I do it all over again? Yes, I would. I’m a 9 year stage IV survivor, diagnosed at age 49!

  9. KIM A Torres says:

    I believe everyone is different and there are factors like age and health I didn’t get sick but I was weak so I could only work part time and on my good days I did exercise since I always did this before my cancer.I was treated as if I was a stage four patient.

  10. My sister has colon cancer and is taking chemo. Side effects nausea, diarrhea, fatigue and now is having a really bad time with indigestion. Is indigestion a side effect of chemo? There was cancer cells in the fluid they drew off her stomach and she’s afraid it is cancer rather than a side effect of chemo.

  11. Travis says:

    Every time I read one of these, I kind of feel unlucky. It made me so sick I haven’t been to work in five years.

  12. Babs says:

    I went through the FOLFOX treatment and I was fine. I have 3 busy children and I was still able to take them to all their practices and I didn’t t miss a game. I was thankful I had busy kids because it kept me moving and the focus off the cancer. The drugs they have now manage everything from nausea to anxiety. All in all it cancer sucks, but my treatment experience was not bad! Good luck to those who, are going through it now!

  13. Tom Pinta says:

    Although I was retired when I started Chemo, the other myths are accurate as far as I am concerned. I was tired and napped a bit while doing my Chemo, but kept my hair, although the texture changed. A good spirit, a great support team and some talented Medical people brought me through it to where I am Cancer free today.

  14. When going through chemo, i had a severe reaction to one of the drugs in my cocktail that left me very weak for 2 days, plus had to wear a 48 hour pump for one drug, so spent at least 2-3 days unable to go to work. Once off that one drug, I could even drive myself to the chemo treatment. i am still, 7 years later, suffering from neuropathy in my hands and feet, and still dealing with minor memory loss and retention. I had the nausea, but pills helped that.

  15. Elaine says:

    I am on my 12th and last treatment on July 22. My side effects are nausea,fatigue,neuropathy,constipation,hair thinning,cold sensitivity. My chemo therapy week side effects prevent me from working. I can’t tolerate the side effects well without the thought of working through this week.My nausea is the worst symptom. I have worked during my good week and am exhausted when I get home. I’m glad some people are able to work throughout treatment but this is not an option for me.

  16. Glen Matthew says:

    Great post what i always thought was different and always worried, but this finally gives some clarification for some of my views

  17. Karen says:

    I was diagnosed in November 2013 with stage 3 colon cancer and just finished 12 FOLFOX treatments in June. I also had a portable chemo pump for 46 hours as part of my treatment. I experienced severe diarrhea and fatigue and was unable to work, although I did try to work. Thank God for my husband!
    Shortly after my 3rd treatment, I spent 3 days in the hospital after suffering from bad stomach pain. They discovered I had 2 gastric ulcers. I lost 30 pounds because of nausau and lost my appetite. My hair did thin quite a bit, so I cut it very short. It’s growing back nicely.
    I’m happy to hear that some people are feeling well enough to work and enjoy life while undergoing therapy. I’ve been back to work for 3 weekds now and am very grateful.

  18. DorisAnn Markowitz says:

    7386 Kea Lani Drive
    I had beast cancer. Two chemo infusions almost killed me. My entire system shut down. I could no longer absorb any nutrients or fluids! I was headed towards AFib and then gone!
    Oncologist suspended the next three chemo infusions. Her comment: I use toxins to kill cancers, not to kill my patients. No more chemo… just radiation, and then long term anti hormonal therapy. Hope I will be ok.

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