I can’t even begin to tell you how important it is to have a support system while going through chemo. When I look back on the days that I spent in the chemo room while my mom received her treatments, while I received mine, and when we were both getting chemo at the same time, I actually feel happy. We made these times fun for each other because we had long conversations, remained lighthearted, and did things to cheer each other up when the other person was feeling sick. We laughed and enjoyed each other’s company. (The nurses would joke with us and say “it looks like you two are having too much fun for chemo!”)
If one of your friends or family members is going through chemotherapy, how wonderful would it be if you could lift their spirits and make them feel special by putting together a Chemo Care Package?
Sometimes thoughtful little gifts make all the difference in the world when trying to get through a bad chemo day. Here are some ideas of things that would most likely be appreciated by chemo patients:
Chemo can leave a bad taste in your mouth. Literally. You actually experience a weird, metallic taste in your mouth and lemon drops (or any other tart candy) seem to miraculously take it away.
Antibacterial Hand Sanitizer
When your white blood cell counts are low and your immune system is weak, avoiding germs becomes one of your top priorities. Since you are probably either completely exhausted from chemo or still hooked up to your IV line, taking a million trips to the sink to wash your hands is probably the last thing that you feel like doing. Antibacterial hand sanitizer is the next best alternative.
Your poor feet may experience numbness, neuropathy (a sensation of needles poking, numbness, and burning), sensitivity to coldness, and become very chapped. And… who doesn’t love fuzzy socks?
Head Scarf or Hats
(If the person going through chemo doesn’t like chocolate, then pick out a treat that you know that they will like.)
One of my favorite surprises was when my some of my best friends came to visit me in the hospital and brought chocolate covered strawberries!
Other Ideas: a soft blanket, a journal, a magazine, a book, a travel pillow, a smartphone (I spent countless of hours on Pinterest during chemo!) a water bottle (although chemo can sometimes make water taste yucky), a big tote bag
|Chemo care packages ready to be taken to my oncologist's |
office for patients who are currently undergoing chemo.
I am also donating a bunch of hats and head scarves.
Everyone’s experience with chemo is different. A lot of it depends on your chemo cocktail, dosage, the number of rounds that you need, and your body’s natural physical strength or sensitivity to the drugs. You will probably receive pamphlets and descriptions about what to expect from your doctor, but there is no one-size-fit all set of tips that applies to everyone. Instead of attempting to write one, I would like to share some of the tips that helped me personally; just the kinds of things that I learned from my experience.
1. Keep a list of all of your medications.
More than likely, you will be taking a bunch of different meds and you will be asked to fill out a lengthy health questionnaire multiple times a day. It helped me to write it all out ahead of time: the name of the med, the dosage, and the time of the day that I took it. I kept it in my wallet. I then simply gave the card to my nurses and they made a xerox copy of it onto all of the forms. It was just one less thing to worry about and it saved the time and hassle of hand writing it all out a million times.
2. Chart your side effects.
For me, the chemo side effects were progressive and got worse after each round. However, there was a definite pattern to the timing and the types of side effects that I experienced after each round. By writing down a list of side effects (including the intensity) for each of the 14 days following each chemo treatment, I knew what to expect in the upcoming rounds and which medicines to take on which days, in preparation of lessening the worst symptoms.
In my experience, the nausea medicine Kytril worked the best, Emend was fine, and I absolutely hated Phenergan, Reglan, and Zofron. I learned that I usually needed Neupogen or Neulasta shots to help to boost my blood cell counts during the week following chemo. I always received the steroid Decadron to take the day before chemo, and it gave me so much energy that the day before chemo always became my happiest day of the whole month (weirdly enough).
The delayed side effects were much more painful and difficult than the actual receiving of the chemo. I could socialize on the day of chemo, but a week or two later, after I was sent home, I was stuck spending time laying on the bathroom floor. (Imagine the worst hangover that you ever had and multiply it by 1,000).
Also, my brain became very fuzzy and I had severe short term memory loss for about 6 days following each chemo. There were days when my legs were so weak that I couldn’t stand up, but as the side effects wore off, they eventually regained strength. I had to plan ahead for the days that I could only eat soup or liquid because, right on schedule, those were the days that my mouth sores would hurt too badly to eat.
Thankfully, all of the side effects eventually disappeared once chemo had stopped, with the exception of neuropathy and fatigue. So, although these were not the most intense side effects during that time (6 rounds of chemo), I would consider them the worst because they last for months and even years.
3. Bring someone with you.
If at all possible, bring someone with you to your chemo treatments and doctor appointments; it makes a huge difference to have them there supporting you. My husband and my mom were right by my side for every single one and I definitely relied on them for the emotional strength to make it through.
Even if you are not able to bring a friend or family member with you, know that chemo nurses are some of the sweetest and most pleasant people in the world and many of the other patients are friendly too. It really does help to talk to other people and to try to make the experience as positive as possible. (I was never the kind of person that enjoyed talking to strangers before, but even I found this to be true).
4. Wear the right clothes.
Wear comfortable, layered clothing that can easily be rolled up for injections and IV medicines. Even on days that I wasn’t expecting it, the nurses would often decide to give me fluids, saline or heparin, so it helped to be prepared with loose sleeves. It is always a good idea to dress as comfy as possible.
5. Be extremely careful with ports and picc lines
Some people’s bodies, like mine, have a natural resistance to anything foreign put into the body and want to reject it. Many of you already know that my port gave me a staph infection, sepsis, and pulmonary embolisms. My picc line also got infected several times, which required me to be on IV antibiotics even while at home, and my husband had to help me clean out the picc line every night.
Thank goodness the doctors removed the picc line immediately after my last round of chemo, because I don’t think it would have lasted another day in there without giving me another serious infection. My best advice would be to avoid ports and picc lines. If you need to have them, make sure that anyone who accesses them is very careful to flush them and clean them out an extra number of times!
I am so thankful to be finished with chemo, and I continue to pray for all of those who are still going through it. It is a rough, unpredictable road, and remember that you are so strong for fighting for your lives! It is worth it!!