When receiving the news that you or someone you love has cancer, life seems to slow down and speed up all at once. Doctor’s appointments are made, surgeries are scheduled, and treatment plans are discussed. It’s easy to become overwhelmed and anxious with the amount of information being catapulted your way. Navigating the road ahead can feel next to impossible.
Upon my diagnosis, I felt utterly lost. Life was changing rapidly before my eyes and I felt unprepared for what was to come. My doctors and nurses assured me that if I had any questions I could ask them, however, I didn’t even know where to begin. What’s a port? Will chemotherapy hurt? Will I throw up and lose my hair? What happens next? The questions flooded my mind. When one was answered, another presented itself. A diagnosis is exhausting.
I’ve battled cancer for nearly four years, and have fought four separate battles against the disease. My treatment plans have all been different, and I have tried a multitude of chemotherapy drugs over the years. I’ll never forget the thoughts and feelings that cluttered my mind before my very first chemo. I didn’t know what to pack or what to expect. My resolution was to bring everything. I packed like I do for vacation, a lot of too much. In these past four fights against cancer, I’ve had nearly 55 chemotherapy treatments, 28 radiation sessions, and four major surgeries (not including port placement). I’ve become an expert at chemo cocktails and everything cancer. I’ve learned what to bring and what to keep at home. I’ve mastered the chemo bag, and am sharing my tips with you today. Below you’ll find tried and true tips and tricks to make your treatment more comfortable. This list, like every treatment plan itself, is customizable. Feel free to add or remove items from your own chemo bag as you see fit.
1. Wear comfortable clothes: Chemotherapy takes time. Treatment ranges from one hour to eight and may involve overnight stays in the hospital. Wearing clothes that breathe and move with your body can make the difference during your wait. When you’re at home, do you prefer to wear business attire, or do you like to lounge in sweatpants? If the latter is true, wear your sweatpants to chemo. Be sure to keep your port accessible and wear clothing accordingly. V-neck shirts are a staple in infusion centers.
2. Wear socks and/or close-toed shoes: Hospitals and treatment centers are notoriously cold. Though it may be summer and sandals may seem appropriate, the inside temperature will be much cooler. Wear comfortable, close-toed shoes and or slippers with a hard sole. If your feet prefer freedom, bring socks to change into just in case. The softer and more fuzzy the socks are, the better. Keep your toes happy, bundle them up.
3. Bring a warm blanket: For some reason, one of the most common gifts patients receive from loved ones after diagnosis are blankets. People must assume that having no hair means that we’re cold all of the time. Touché. They may be right. There’s something about cuddling up with a nice blanket that brings instant comfort. Bring your favorite blanket from your newly acquired collection and invite it to treatment. You’ll both be thankful. Call it your blanket buddy, and you’ll have its heart forever.
4. Stow your favorite snacks: You may find yourself getting the munchies during treatment. You may want to eat out of sheer boredom. Regardless of your reasoning, bring snacks. You may develop an aversion to hospital food and not want anything they have to offer. Customize your own menu according to what chemo cravings you have that day and bring your favorite items. Get creative and fun with your food. Take whatever your heart desires. Most infusion centers won’t have restrictions on what you bring for yourself. If you have something that could appeal to the masses, consider sharing. You’ll make more friends that way. Whatever you do, avoid tuna. Your new friends will thank you.
5. Pack water: Like a camel, quite literally pack loads of water. You’ll want to stay as hydrated as possible during chemo. Headaches are common occurrences during treatment, and many can be linked to a lack of hydration. You’re ingesting your chemo cocktails, but in order to avoid to a hardcore chemo hangover, fill your body with H2O. Water will help flush those nasty toxins through your body. And just when you think you’ve had enough, drink more.
6. Bring music: Make sure your headphones and iPod are tucked neatly in your carry-on. While some patients find the soft hum of the infusion machines relaxing, others find the incessant growling quite aggravating. You’ll never know which side you’re on until you’re face to face with the pole.
7. Bring a laptop: …Or iPad if you’re fancy. Browsing the interwebs from your phone will drain its battery quicker than you can say “chemotherapy.” If you have work to do, having your laptop is a great way to kill two birds with one stone. Though you may wake up the next day to discover you sent humorous emails to your boss, having your laptop during treatment can make the time go by faster. Most hospitals offer free wi-fi, so use it… you’re paying for it after all. Download Netflix to your iPad and catch up on the latest episodes of your favorite show. Make sure to pack a charger; The worst place to be is in treatment without one.
8. Bundle books or magazines: You can no longer use the excuse that you don’t have time. You now have plenty. Get busy reading! That stack of books sitting on the shelf that you’ve always wanted to read is crying out for attention. Crack open some pages and sink into the stories that will transport you away from the recliner in the infusion center. Not a book worm? Bring magazines and catch up on the latest celebrity drama, who’s dating who, and who wore it best.
9. Pack a journal: Cancer causes grief, and grief causes emotion. Instead of bottling up your feelings, pour them onto the pages of a journal. Let out your fears, anger, hopes, dreams, and prayers. Document your journey so one day you can look back and see how far you’ve come. If you can’t muster up words, resort to doodling. Everyone can use more practice in the doodle department.
10. Invite a friend: Pick your most favorite and have them tag along. Let them know you only choose the best friends to watch a thick needle stab your chest. Tell them that only the special ones get to see your alter ego, Chemo Queen. Let them know the requirements of sitting with you and that they must be a Positive Polly throughout the duration. Make sure they aren’t queasy and that they like to talk and listen. Conversations with friends can often ease the realities of chemotherapy.
11. Bring board games: …Or mind games like Sudoku if you’re up for the challenge. Some find that keeping their mind sharp during treatment helps alleviate chemo brain. And, who said chemo can’t be fun? Pass the time by playing games like Scrabble and Yahtzee. I’m sure your fellow cancer fighters would love to join in. Keep in mind that Candyland isn’t just for kids.
12. Stash the sweets: Having sugar-free hard candy at chemo can put a smile on anyones face. Dry mouth can be a side effect from treatment and having candy may alleviate your woes. Ginger candies are the two-in-one go to for many. While they fulfill the sweet tooth, they combat nausea as well. Lemon drops are also a fan favorite. Though the cocktail is quite refreshing, in this case, the candy is the healthier option. Mixing alcohol and chemo has never been a good idea.
13. Carry some chapstick: Your lips will feel like they’ve trekked through the Sahara desert in the middle of summer. You thought the inside of your mouth was dry? Just look at the outside of your mouth now. Certain chemotherapy drugs can cause not only mouth sores, but also chapped lips. Having chapstick at the ready like a sword in battle will help defeat the most cracked smile.
14. Bring your inspiration: #MotivationalMonday is popular because it works. Keeping your mind focused on positivity will help harness your mental strength during treatment. Write motivational sayings on index cards or in the journal you have stowed away. Note encouraging bible verses or quotes to reference when you need a little pep in your step. Everyone has bad days, it’s normal. Avoid the traps of despair by reminding yourself of the hope you have for your future. Sometimes reading, “You can do this,” is enough to fuel your mind for the moment.
15. Pack a designated driver: While this item will not likely fit in your bag unless you’ve chosen to bring a suitcase, bring someone who can take you to and from chemotherapy. After treatment, you’ll be exhausted. You’ll want to doze off into a cancer-free dream. More than likely you’ll be chock-full of medications that may make driving more than interesting. Two words: Intravenous Benadryl. Drugging and driving, just like chemo and cars never play well together. Be smart, get a chauffeur.
Psalm 16:8 (ESV)
“I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.”