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What to Expect

At Altru Cancer Center, we understand that the more you know about cancer, the easier it is to fight. In this section, you will find detailed information about what to expect before, during, and after cancer treatment.

Research information on The Cancer Journey website.

If you have any questions about what to expect from cancer treatment, please call us at 701.780.5400.

Dealing with Cancer

When struggling with cancer, remembering the following tips can help you find your way through this difficult period.

  • Learn as much as you can
    • The more you know about cancer, the better prepared you are to fight it
    • Join support groups to learn from other cancer patients' experiences
    • Ask your doctor about all treatment options, or even get a second opinion
  • Make plans
    • Making plans, even for something as minor as a weekend dinner, will give feelings of control and hope about your future
    • Set goals and try new things, don't let cancer run your life or dictate your schedule
  • Build a support team
    • Turn to those around you, and do your best to avoid feelings of alienation
    • Communication is key; express your feelings, needs and desires to your loved ones to help them understand what you're going through
    • Find comfort and advice from other cancer patients by attending support groups
  • Forgive yourself
    • Cancer is not your fault, so don't take responsibility for it happening to you
    • If you feel guilty about previous arguments regarding your diagnosis or treatment, your loved ones will forgive you
    • We are all human, and we all make mistakes
  • Recognize and accept your emotions
    • However difficult it may be, remain open about your feelings
    • Use natural feelings of fear, sadness and anger to your advantage in the battle with cancer
    • If you feel your emotions are running out of control, consult your spiritual counselor or mental health professional for help
  • Outlook is important
    • Negativity will not help you beat cancer, but optimism can
    • Don't stress yourself out. Give your body every opportunity to use your energy to beat cancer
  • Keep the faith
    • During trying times, many people draw hope and courage from religion
    • Many cancer patients find that their struggle deepens their spirituality, thus strengthening their resolve
  • Take heart and enjoy the good times
    • Cancer will likely be the toughest fight of your life, confront it full-on and know that you cannot beat it overnight
    • Bad days will happen, don't let them get you down
    • Take advantage of opportunities to do something you have always wanted to do
    • Never be afraid to tell someone that you love them
    • Don't let your fear and anger stop you from living life
    • Time is valuable, don't waste a moment
For more information about living with cancer, please call us at 701.780.5400.

Managing Cancer Pain

Having cancer does not necessarily mean you will experience the symptoms of cancer pain. However, for those who are experiencing cancer pain, our Pain Management Department can improve your quality of life at any stage of the disease.

Cancer pain:

  • Is rarely experienced by patients with early cancer
  • Is not always a symptom of advanced cancer
  • Is a burden that can almost always be relieved or controlled  

For more information about managing cancer pain, please call Pain Management at 701.780.2464.

Treatment Side Effects

With the right people by your side you can manage the side effects and focus on getting healthy.

The side effects of cancer treatment:
  • Are different for everyone, not all patients experience all side effects
  • Are dependent on what medications and treatments you receive
  • Are found in the healthy, fast-growing cells of your body (hair, intestine, bone marrow and reproductive system)

There are four main categories of side effects, plus some that are not considered part of any of these categories. You may or may not experience any or all of these side effects.


Hair and skin side effects:
  • Are common for both chemotherapy and radiation therapy patients (if given to the head)
  • Include thinning or loss of hair, though it usually grows back once treatment is complete
  • Include acne or redness, itching, peeling or dryness of the skin

To care for your hair and skin when experiencing side effects:

  • Use mild shampoos and soaps, and soft hairbrushes
  • Avoid excessive use of hot or cold applications (such as hot water or ice bags)
  • Use sunscreen, sunblock or hats to protect your scalp and skin from the sun
  • Discuss a variety of over-the-counter medications with your doctor
  • Avoid tight-fitting clothing over affected skin
  • Avoid trauma, scratching and bruising to the skin in the treatment area

Mouth and digestive side effects:
  • Sore mouth or throat that can lead to infection
  • Dry mouth
  • Sweet or metallic taste in the mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Weight gain or weight loss

To care for your mouth and intestines when experiencing side effects:

  • Maintain appropriate dental hygiene
  • Avoid oral irritants, such as spicy foods, smoking and alcohol
  • Increase your daily fluid intake
  • Eat soft, moist foods that are easy to swallow
  • Avoid big meals and eating before treatment
  • Eat and drink slowly
  • Eat more or less fiber depending on your bowel movements
  • Eat several, smaller meals throughout the day

Effects on blood:
  • Fatigue caused by anemia (low red blood cell count)
  • Infections due to fewer white blood cells
  • Difficulty creating blood clots due to decreased platelet count  

To care for your blood when experiencing side effects:

  • Get plenty of rest
  • Maintain a nutritional diet
  • Wash your hands often and maintain good hygiene
  • Avoid exposing yourself to others with contagious illnesses
  • Tell your doctor if you notice an irritated rectum or have hemorrhoids
  • Avoid any activity that could cause physical injury

You may also experience the following side effects:
  • Nerve and muscle problems (such as tingling, numbness, dizziness or loss of balance)
  • Kidney and bladder issues
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Fluid retention in your face, hands, feet or abdomen
  • Lymphedema (swelling in the arms or legs caused by removal or damage to lymph nodes during treatment)

For more information about cancer treatment side effects or how to care for them, please call us at 701.780.5400.