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Be prepared for first chemo session

What to expect during your first chemo session

Chemotherapy is a chemical treatment that can be administered intravenously, subcutaneously or orally. Its main goal is to stop the cancer cells that cause the disease. Chemotherapy treatments has a direct effect on developing cells, whether they be cancer cells or healthy cells. In regards to the healthy cells, it mainly affects those located in the digestive tract, hair follicles and bone marrow as they produce white and red cells.

Depending on the type of chemotherapy administered, the treatment will act upon cells in diverse ways which will result in a range of side effects.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of the most common side effects of chemotherapy:

Nausea and vomiting

Nowadays this side effect seems to be less intense thanks to anti-nausea alternatives. These symptoms usually begin in the evening or the day after treatment. The nausea normally lasts up to 72 hours.

When vomiting occurs, it is recommended to rinse your mouth out and wait 1 to 2 hours before eating. During chemotherapy, some people experience a bad taste in their mouth and are very sensitive to odours that can make them nauseous. There are some tips & tricks that can help reduce the feeling of nausea, such as: anti-nausea bracelets, essential peppermint oil or keeping yourself distracted.

Here are some tips to help reduce nausea and vomiting:

  • Eat several small meals during the day
  • Eat slowly to facilitate digestion
  • Drink before and after a meal, avoid drinking during meals

If symptoms persist, talk to your doctor and see what other options are suitable for you.

Ulcers and Dry Mouth

There is a possibility to avoid ulcers and a dry mouth by following some of these tips:

  • Avoid certain foods, such as cheese and walnuts
  • Only use mouthwashes prescribed by your doctor. Supermarket mouthwashes can cause mouth dryness
  • Avoid spicy foods
  • Suck on ice cubes, crushed ice, sorbets …
  • Moisturise your lips by applying Vaseline or Shea Butter

Hair loss

Chemotherapy drugs cause alopecia, meaning a loss of eyelashes, eyebrows, and hair in general.

If your eyelashes fall out, your eyes are no longer protected and may become irritated. It is therefore advised to wear glasses and use eye drops to moisturise your eyes.

Hair loss generally begins 2 to 3 weeks after the first chemotherapy treatment. Approximately 6 to 8 weeks after the end of treatment, your hair begins to grow again.

Changes of the skin or nails

Chemotherapy drugs irritate and cause changes to the skin, but also to the nails. Symptoms may include:

  • Extreme dryness
  • Photosensitivity
  • Itching of the fingers or toes
  • Small pimples or rash
  • Fragile nails. They may become brittle, weak, and sometimes fall off

To manage these changes, it is advised to regularly apply perfume-free and alcohol-free moisturising creams, gentle soaps and silicium anti-UV nail varnishes.


The fatigue is one of the most common side effects. The symptoms can be linked to several factors such as: the illness, treatments and stress. Consequently, the fatigue will have an influence on your daily activities and on the mood of the person. It is important to follow a routine that helps beat the fatigue from the beginning. Exercise is a good option to keep the body moving and is highly recommended during cancer treatments.

The pain

Chemotherapy can cause pain to various parts of the body. It is important to talk to your doctor right away so that he or she can prescribe the appropriate medication.


In case of diarrhoea, it is recommended to:

  • Drink at least 2L of water per day
  • Avoid coffee, icy cold drinks, raw fruits or vegetables, cereals and wholemeal bread
  • Favour a diet low in fibres. You can opt for: rice, steamed potatoes, bananas, cooked cheeses, carrots…

If diarrhoea persists, it is necessary to contact your doctor as prolonged diarrhoea can cause dehydration.


Some chemotherapy drugs cause constipation. To help relieve constipation:

  • Drink 2L of water per day
  • Eat lots of fruits and vegetables
  • Drink a glass of cold water when you wake up

It can be very hard to deal with side effects during chemotherapy, but rest assured, none of them are permanent! Once your chemo has finished, the side effects will also stop.