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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! 

32 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.

  19. Irina says:

    I was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer last November. After the surgery I had regular chemo plus I agreed to participate in the research study of drug name Keytruda, which was approved for melanoma but not colon. First 2 months of chemo I had practically no side effects, didn’t lose my hair and my energy was OK. On the 3rd month I had diarrhea, nausea and lost my appetite. At first it wasn’t too bad but after 6 or 7 treatments the loose stool turned into bad diarrhea up to 8-10 times a day. Never had crimps though, just needed to run to the bathroom quickly or else… It was so bad that I decided to stop chemo which made my oncologist not happy at all. I hate to say that now after almost 3 months after I quit my diarrhea is still there, 3-4 times a day, not as severe as it used to be, my appetite is not very good and I still have some nausea. My doctor said it might be a side effect of that research drug, Keytruda. But who knows what it is. I was told that chemo or research drug killed my gut flora. Just wondering how long this diarrhea and loss of appetite could last. I lost close to 40 lb (I was overweight before I was diagnosed). But it’s not a good way to lose weight. Did anyone had or heard any info about diarrhea, how long it might last after chemo?

  20. Barbara says:

    I was able to teach while receiving FOLFOX. and a 46hr. Follow up chemo pump. My coworkers were very supportive and my students were one of the most challenging groups. They tested my “true grit” and kept me in the present. With the anti-nausea medication prescribed, I never got sick to my stomach. I did lose some hair, but nothing noticeable. I think I am fortunate with how things worked out and hope others can get back to something more normal a little at a time as well

  21. Asuncion M. ferrer says:

    I went through 12 sessions of Folfox for Stage III colon cáncer. Before that, surgery removed the tumor along with 22 lymph nodes, 2 of which were cancerous. The twelve sessions ended in March. Had no vomiting, threats of diarrhea, but never had it. After finishing Folfox, I took Psylllium husks every night because I always tended to be constipated. However, 5 months after treatment, I have soft stool, I take the Lomotil I was prescribed during my treatment. Has anyone else had the same issue?

  22. One of my friends was diagnosed with cancer, and he just started treatment, I had no idea that you could still work when going through Chemotherapy. It always seems like cancer makes you sick and you should stay in bed, but I know that there are plenty that can still do everything they want.

  23. Chris Dickinson says:

    Chemo treatment differs from person to person and please do not take someones word that its all bad as within a month of my surgery I resumed work and also do not have any side effects as described by many. Just accept the fact of your illness and be positive and you shall see the energy and can lead a normal life. I have a pump and a metaport in me and treatments twice a week. I have no doubt that I will be free of this illness soon and so shall you.

  24. david wilson says:

    Thanks Dr. Akpan for your kindness, everybody knows CANCER is a deadly disease. I was once a cancer patient and am from USA, am 48 years and I contacted this disease when I was 32, I was using drugs ever since, just few weeks back here I got this man’s email on the testimony that he cured CANCER so was surprised when I read the testimony and did not believe there is cure to CANCER and later I saw another testimony about this same Doctor, then I have to try and get the real truth of this testimony and I contacted him through his email below and he emailed me back giving me directives and what i needed to do and which i did. Well I don’t know how he did it but God is my witness that his cure is strong and powerful. I promise you, you will rejoice just as i am now if you contact him now… His Email is , AKPANHERBALHELP@GMAIL.COM or call him +2348143502763…

  25. Nathaniel Gudger says:

    4690 W. Eldorado Pkwy
    1006 I have had (6) weeks of daily radiation and chemo a major surgery and have continued to work.Have not missed a day. Since my surgery Nov 28th, 2016 I have been in recovery. I have been in a lot of pain and as each day passes I have gotten better. In fact I’m returning to work the first week of January 2017…. Thank GOD and my team of doctors who have provided me with outstanding health care.

    Nathaniel TX

  26. Ryan McCrae says:

    I’m at work right now, with an IV pump strapped across my chest, pumping chemo. Cancer and the subsequent chemotherapy don’t have to end your normal, everyday life.

  27. Pam says:

    Thank you for all the brilliant posts. They have filled me with hope. I had an anterior resection on Jan 31 st 2017 . My tumor was small but 3 out of 13 lymph nodes were cancerous. I am about to start Folfox chemo in a few weeks time. I will have to wait and see what side effects I will get, if any, I am going to try to live and continue my life as normal as possible as many of you have done.

    • Caroy says:

      HI Pam,
      How was your Folfox treatment. Waht were the side effects?

      Like you, I have a very small tumor at only .5cm but 2 out of the 10 lymph nodes were cancerous. I am about to start Folfox chemo in 2 weeks time (or about 6 weeks from my colon resection surgery).

      By the way, did you ever thought of alternative medicine rather than chemo?

      Thank you

  28. Vikki Straw says:

    I am starting Folfox this week and am a bit nervous but reading many of these posts give me hope that my docs are right – I may not have much problem getting through this. God bless you all.

  29. Helpful angel says:

    Blessings to you all. Stage IV FOLFOX w/ Avastin, on dose #3. SANCOUZO PATCH ask your oncologist with EMEND Infusion PRIOR to chemo. (On same day you receive chemo @ your infusion center)
    Please, please alternate with 8mg Zofran (odansetron) you can get the melting tabs. Then 3 hrs later Phenergan 12.5 mg or 25 mg as directed. We alternate taking the anti nausea meds every 3 hours once I’m unhooked from pump on day #3.
    Lost 15 lbs first round was sick for days! Not with patch & meds.
    PLEASE take docusate 100 mg gelcap (over the counter) 2x daily as YES! the anti nausea meds CAN constipate you.
    Your doing an amazing job fighting! Never give up! You CAN & WILL get over this diagnosis. It doesn’t have to define us!!!
    God keep you safe 😇

  30. Theresa Gruenwald says:

    Folks, do not lose hope. I am three years out of metastatic colon cancer, I am healthier than ever. Yes, it sucked for 9 months, having to have 4 surgeries including those to implant and remove the port. However, that is a minor inconvenience when it comes to living a lifetime. Do not be afraid of chemo. It is not as bad as it once was. I declined to hear about all the side effects from the Nurse Practitioner – what’s the point? Of course everyone is different but people come out the other side of these treatments everyday. For me, it was not a walk in the park but it wasn’t as awful as I might have thought. Keep in mind – improve your diet, eat fresh and organic foods, juice and limit red meat. Keep thin, exercise and oxygenate your system. You have to make lifestyle changes to be able to survive the long run.

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