Last April HealthDay News ran an article about chemotherapy and patients fear about starting it. Most cancer survivors involved in a recent survey reported that they had been fearful of undergoing chemotherapy. The good news is that most also said the treatments were much less difficult than they had expected.

The truly startling fact is that 94 percent said they would advise others to undergo chemotherapy if their doctor recommended it.

Linda Ellerbee, 63, an award-winning broadcast journalist and author, who underwent a double mastectomy and chemotherapy after being diagnosed with breast cancer 16 years ago reported at a news conference, “Like most people, I was filled with fears about chemotherapy, particularly about the possible side effects.
It wasn’t fun — no one will tell you that chemotherapy is fun. But it wasn’t as bad as I expected, either.”

The survey polled 326 U.S. adults who had undergone cancer chemotherapy within the past five years. The survey was sponsored by the nonprofit National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship (NCCS) and drug maker Sanofi-Aventis,

Some of the survey’s findings:

* Around eight out of 10 cancer survivors said they had been fearful prior to starting chemotherapy, with most (76 percent) worried primarily about side effects such as hair loss, nausea and fatigue.
* Looking back, almost two-thirds (62 percent) said those fears were unjustified. Just 14 percent described their side effects as “very difficult,” and about a third (32 percent) had a “somewhat easy” or “very easy” experience with treatment.
* Almost all (87 percent) of survivors said that new supportive care products made the side effects that they did experience much more manageable than they had expected.
* Eighty-seven percent of survivors who had experienced side effects said that chemotherapy was worth going through, and 90 percent said the treatments had given them real hope for survival.

Too often, survivors do not express their fears about chemotherapy and the side effects that they do experience. If you are considering chemotherapy and have any fears talk to your doctor. Tell them how you are feeling and what concerns you have about the potential side effects. Most importantly, ask them what they can do to help you.

I strongly advise that you ask for a written “Treatment Plan” from your doctor before you begin chemotherapy. The plan should outline interventions you will receive, potential side effects, and ways to manage those side effects.

I have over the years met many men with prostate cancer who have taken chemotherapy. Some do report very significant side effects, but to my surprise, many more report that the side effects are very manageable. Additionally, most report along with their PSA declines that they feel better and can resume some of their activities that they had been forced to end.

Give it a try, work closely with your doctor and feel better.

Joel T Nowak MA, MSW