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Get the Facts on Chemotherapy

Karen Verrill, an oncology certified nurse practitioner, joins us to talk about chemotherapy.
Get the Facts on Chemotherapy
Featured Speaker:
Karen Verrill, CNP
A graduate of Northern Illinois University, Karen Verrill is an oncology certified nurse practitioner at the Riverside Cancer Institute. Karen Verrill has been an Oncology Certified Nurse since 2009.
Get the Facts on Chemotherapy

Announcer: Welcome to Conversations On Cancer, brought to you by the Riverside Cancer Institute, providing answers, debunking myths, and sharing patient stories. Welcome back to Conversations On Cancer, brought to you by the Riverside Cancer Institute. I'm your host, Gabby Cinnamon, and today Karen Verrill, an Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner at the Riverside Cancer Institute is joining us to talk about chemotherapy. Thanks so much for joining us today, Karen.

Karen Verrill, CNP (Guest): Thanks Gabby for having me today. I really appreciate coming today.

Host: Yes, so before we get into today's topic, can you kind of tell me about why you decided to become an oncology certified nurse practitioner and you know, your background?

Karen: Sure. Sure. So originally I had started out in oncology, so I've been in oncology for 36 and a half years right now.

Host: That's awesome.

Karen: So, I transitioned from a staff to an advanced practice nurse and then as a nurse practitioner, and I've been actually a nurse practitioner in oncology for the past 23 years. I've been here at Riverside, at the cancer center for the last 12.

Host: Wow, so you have a lot of experience.

Karen: I do. I've seen a lot of things change and evolve, which have been very positive in cancer treatment. When I first started things weren't as positive as it was when, as it is today.

Host: Yeah. I'm sure that's really exciting to, you know, see outcomes, improve it with technology and advancements.

Karen: Absolutely.

Host: That's very cool. So what is chemotherapy?

Karen: So, chemotherapy is actually a cancer treatment that we use to treat cancer. It's an addition to surgery and radiation, but essentially it's drugs that are used to destroy the cancer cells.

Host: Are there different types of chemotherapy?

Karen: Yes. There are different types of chemotherapy that are used. Different diseases have different types of drugs. So dependent upon what your disease is, determines what we're going to use to treat your disease.

Host: So with those different types, how is chemotherapy administered and can it be administered in different ways?

Karen: Sure. So chemotherapy, it can be given in a lot of different ways, but primarily the main two routes that they are given or ways that they're given is actually intravenously. So it means that it goes through your vein. And then there's also the oral. So it's like a pill.

Host: You kind of mentioned, you know, getting a treatment plan and you know, when a patient is diagnosed, they'll get a treatment plan. When might chemotherapy be prescribed as part of a patient's treatment?

Karen: Sure. So, after the patient actually has their diagnosis, they'll meet with a medical oncologist that determines what's the best treatment for their disease. And it's at that time where they'll determine, you know, is chemotherapy indicated, is radiation indicated and or surgery. It could be all three. It could be just one of those.

Host: Oh, wow. Okay. So, kind of when you first started talking about your experience so far you mentioned how it's been really awesome, like cool to see how treatments have advanced over the years. Has chemotherapy also changed over the years and improved?

Karen: Absolutely. I think what I always tell patients is when I first got into oncology, we'd see maybe one or two new drugs a year. Now you're seeing one or two new drugs you know, maybe two or three times a month. I mean, it's phenomenal happening.

Host: Oh wow. That's very cool. So, you know, obviously the internet is a good thing. You can go out there and search you know, different medical terms and diagnoses, but that can also be kind of scary. I'm sure because if a patient, because if a patient is told, you know, that they need chemotherapy, they'll go out there and look it up and kind of, what are some of the misconceptions that you hear that patients might find on their own and come and like talk to you about what are some of those common ones?

Karen: Sure. I would say the most common one is everybody thinks they're getting the same drug and that's not the case by any means. Everyone thinks when they get chemotherapy, they're going to lose their hair. They all think that they're potentially going to be nauseated or throwing up. And that's not the case either. So, we always encourage our patients to seek out reliable sources on the internet to help them in terms of seeking the information that they're trying to find.

Host: Yeah. So, it sounds like you know, everyone can have a different experience with chemo. You know, it's not one size fits all and just because you know someone who had that side effect, you may not have that same side effect as well.

Karen: That's correct.

Host: What are some of the side effects that, you know, patients should be aware of or that you tell patients are common side effects of chemotherapy?

Karen: So, the most common side effects that we see with patients are those that are affecting the fast growing cells, because that's what chemotherapy is actually trying to destroy. So, in turn, we're getting some of those healthy cells. So, we're looking at the cells that are produced in your bone marrow. So, that's why we always tell people that you're at risk for infection. You're at risk for bleeding. So those are some very key important components in terms of those effecting your bone marrow.

Other cells that are, divide the quickest in your body are actually your hair. So, that's why some of our agents do cause hair loss. It also affects your GI system. So, including your mouth, stomach. So, some of the GI effects that we see in patients that affect where they may be nauseated, they may have diarrhea, constipation, you see those effects also. And that's just, again, because those cells in your GI system are affected.

Host: Is there anything, you know, patients can do to work with their oncologists to combat these side effects from chemo?

Karen: Sure. So, biggest thing is I really stress this with patients is if they have a question they have to call us. There is no way that patients can remember everything that were told to them when they were first here to go through their treatment plan. We give them information that they go home with. But sometimes, I mean, it's a very overwhelming situation for patients. And so I always tell them, I don't care, you know, if you can't remember if you're supposed to do A or B, I want you to call us because I'd rather you call us and we can address that issue that you have.

Host: Yeah, no, that's very good advice. And I'm sure it puts them at ease to be hearing that and going through what you've said through their chemotherapy and the cancer journey, they form a relationship with their oncologist because they're seeing them frequently for treatment. What kind of words of encouragement do you give patients who have been prescribed chemotherapy and you know, what tips do you give them?

Karen: Sure. So, you know, again, every individual responds differently and, you know, there are days that are tough. But you know, again, letting us know how we can help you, whether it be with side effect management, personal issues that you're being confronted with, work issues. I mean, we're hired to help you. So, that's it's a journey truly, and we walked that journey with you. So, we want to make it as easy as possible for you.

Host: Yeah, I'm sure that's really helpful knowing that someone's by their side throughout. Is there anything else we should know about chemotherapy?

Karen: Again it continues to evolve and the types of drugs that we're using for many of these cancers that we see it continues to change over and over again. And that's what's the exciting part is. So there's lots of hope. There's lots of promise and we're here to help you, as we fight this disease with you.

Host: That's great. Thank you so much. I think that that's a really good place to end off on now in a positive light because, you know, I feel like sometimes there can be a negative connotation with chemotherapy and I'm sure, you know, it can be scary when you're told, oh, you need chemo. Or, as we talked about, there's so much information out there, someone that, you know, might've had a different outcome or a different side effect. So, it sounds like as time goes on, hopefully things get even better and that outcomes improve even more. So, thank you so much for sharing that with us.

Karen: Absolutely. My pleasure.

Host: And thank you listeners for tuning in to the Conversations On Cancer podcast brought to you by the Riverside Cancer Institute. For more information about chemotherapy and the Riverside Cancer Institute, visit