After being diagnosed with breast cancer last October, I had surgery a few weeks later and began Chemotherapy on December 6th.
Because I knew I’d be there for several hours, and I like to prepare for all eventualities, I started searching on-line for things I might need to take along. I found a few random lists of things other people had taken, and used them to get ready for my first visit. However, none of them were exactly what I ended up taking with me later on, so I thought I might as well make my own list.
In case you’re wondering, I had a small lump, and no sign of cancer in the surrounding tissue or the two lymph nodes that were also removed. However, because the cancer was triple negative, a type that isn’t amenable to hormone treatments, I was given chemo every two weeks for 4 months (8 treatments). The drugs I was given were 4 doses each of Cyclophosphamide and Doxorubicin, followed by four doses of Paclitaxel, all given by IV. (I’ll be talking about side effects in a later blog.)
I should state up front that I’m an introvert so, while I don’t dislike people, I do find being around them for long times tiring. I mostly get energy from reading, walking, and doing jigsaw puzzles. Since I’d be there for up to three hours, I knew trying to keep up a conversation would sap what little energy I had, so I didn’t invite anyone to come with me, although my husband did check in a couple of times on my first visit to make sure I was was okay, and he stopped by on my third visit to take a few photos.
Obviously, if you’re an extrovert and get energy from other people, you might love having someone to come with you to talk, and therefore not need the reading material, etc.
Dressing for Comfort and Ease
*It was winter, so I wanted to be warm. If you’d doing this in warm weather, just skip the winter things!
Boots: I found boots at SoftMoc that were warm, non-slip for walking back and forth to the car, and easy to remove or slip back on. Since the first thing they did at chemo (as well as at every visit with my oncologist) was to weigh me, I could easily slip the boots off and leave them off because I was seated on a recliner chair and the boots were usually wet.
Socks: I had my regular socks on my feet, but after taking off the boots, I added more socks. I got a pair of really warm socks with grip soles. But be careful. I bought two different pair and one was useless. It had a lining that came off in blobs of red furry stuff. The good ones had a soft fuzzy beige lining (see picture). Anyway, the main reason for non-slip sock is because if you’re there for any length of time, you’ll need to go to the bathroom, and that involves getting up and taking the IV stand with the bag of chemo with you. The last thing you want to do is slip on the floor.
Unmentionables: I avoided bras and wore a tank top from Mark’s that had a little tension to it, so it kind of contained everything but didn’t feel tight at all. I had to be careful that it didn’t hit where the lymph node surgery had been. A well-fitting or loose sports bra could also work.
I ended up buying briefs one size larger and then two sizes larger than what I’d been wearing. That’s because I got somewhat bloated from the drugs and I really didn’t want anything tight on my stomach.
Sweatpants and top: Either heavy for winter or light for summer. Preferably with a tie waist and pockets. Again, because I felt bloated, having an adjustable waist band helped. I also wanted something inexpensive that didn’t matter if stuff was spilled on it, etc.
Scarves, hats, etc.: I lost all my hair before the second chemo treatment. Fortunately, a friend sent me a few caps and then one of my daughters-in-law (and my son) gave me three silk scarves, so I was covered. Literally.
I chose not to get a wig, because I wasn’t planning on being in public much. Also, my mother wore wigs for years and I knew they need more maintenance that I was ready to give them. I also didn’t see any need to hide the fact that I had cancer. I mean, I had cancer; lots of people get it; I wasn’t ashamed of it.
Because it was winter, and I’m normally always cold anyway, I wanted my head to be warm, I later bought three different kinds of caps for everyday wear. Some that had a scarf attached so you just had to tie it the way you wanted. Some that had a loop to put a scarf through that seemed a little classier. And some very simple ones (red, grey, blue, and black) — however, one or two would have been enough.
The best cap I found for sleeping in, that stayed on my smallish head really, really well, was one I got from “Look Good Feel Better,” an organization that helps women who are facing chemotherapy deal with the emotional and psychological aspects, and remember that they’re still women. Assuming they have meet-ups in your area, I advise going to one as soon as you can. I didn’t go until toward the end of my treatments, but would have benefited from going earlier, even before the chemo started.
A poncho or other comfy warm top that wouldn’t interfere with the catheter inserted into the back of my hand and attached to the drip bag, (which I had), PICC line, or Port (if that’s what you have). See my wonderful, warm, fuzzy top from Winners above!
Not really clothes, but I had along a small cozy blanket for my knees. My cancer clinic had warm flannel sheets that a volunteer would bring, so I had them put the sheet under my blanket and I stayed really warm. (See picture at the top.) By the way, when it isn’t winter, the hospital would be air-conditioned, so I’d still need some warm stuff. Maybe not as much of it, but layers. You can never go wrong with layers. And a light blanket just in case.
A rain-proof jacket with a hood that was easy to slip on and off. I wore it in the car and hung it up as soon as I got into the chemo room.
Food and Drink:
I took along two travel mugs, one filled with water and the other with tea or flat ginger ale. Plus a can of coconut water to put in the second mug when it was empty. There was usually a volunteer around to refill my water mug. A volunteer will likely offer you packaged drinks, but I try to avoid creating more waste, I didn’t want anything with sugar, and if I had ginger ale, I wanted it to be flat. I noticed people drinking coffee, but I’m not a big coffee drinker, and since the best way to help yourself during the chemo treatment is to drink lots and lots of water, I decided not to drink any coffee or tea with caffeine the whole time.
Healthy snacks you can eat. Since my chemo was always in the morning, and my oncologist had encouraged me to eat, I made sure I had a good breakfast ahead of time. I should mention that I’ve been dairy-free, sugar-free, most processed-food free, and most grains-free for the last 7 or more years. So healthy for me was eggs with bacon and vegetables; coconut-, almond- or plantain-flour pancakes; omelets, etc. I took along a few healthy snacks like nuts, dried figs or dates, and fruit and nut bars from our local health food store, plus crackers (gluten-free in my case) and a banana in case I felt queasy. I actually didn’t feel nauseous during the chemo sessions. It was mostly on the second and third days after the chemo, and it was never bad. They gave me pills (plus intravenous anti-nausea drugs for the second round of drugs) and they worked! Be careful about eating your favourite snacks while you feel queasy, though. I had some crackers that I liked at first, but after a while just the sight of the box made me feel sick.
My kindle. Paper books are harder to manage. Plus, I ended up being awake a fair bit during the night, so having my book on a Kindle meant no need to turn on the bedroom light. You likely aren’t going to want to read anything heavy, so start with some light books. I tend to read mysteries and fantasy or science fiction, so I stocked up on a bunch of them. A lot of authors who have multiple books in a series have a free or cheap first ebook, so I was able to find some authors I’d never heard of who had a bunch of books. Of course, when you aren’t having chemo, you can make good use of your library. I order books on-line and pick them up. Since our library is next door to the hospital, I could walk indoors to get to the library and pick up my books, then have my husband pick me up at the door.
My cell phone to text my husband, update social media, take a few photos, etc. Yeah for WiFi in the cancer clinic!
I would have taken a Laptop or iPad if I’d been able to use one. Since I was getting the drugs into my right hand, there was no way I could type more than a tiny bit. So writing or playing games was out for me.
Headphones to listen to music, podcasts, watch videos or movies, etc. I got over-ear ones that fit over my glasses, and they were perfect. I listened to music pretty well the whole time I was there.
A notebook or index cards in case I needed to write down something.
Note: There was a television in my little cubicle but I never bothered with it. I might have used it if there had been programs I really wanted to see, like a live curling game or something like that. But I didn’t really want to start watching soemthing and have it interrupted.
Lozenges for dry mouth (I like Wedderspoon Honey Drops best).
A small tube of hand lotion.
Burt’s Bees Ultra-conditioning or another lip moisturizer for dry lips.
A few reference materials about chemo, side effects, etc. in case you want to check up on something. I was given small brochures and booklets as well as printouts of possible drug side effects, etc.
This was my in-house bag in which I kept my daily necessities or used to gather what I needed for the hospital.
A make-up bag with a small package of tissues, blush, powder, a toothbrush, floss, and anything else you might usually need.
My sunglasses. I always have them with me, but my eyes were a bit more light-sensitive than usual when I came out into the sun after the chemo.
A light tote bag, gym bag, back pack, etc., you can put everything in. The lighter the bag, the better. A small roller suitcase could work, but I’d likely trip people with one of those. I actually had two bags. I used the one pictured here at home to make sure I had everything I needed when I went from one room to the other and to gather things for chemo time, and I had a slightly bigger gym bag I took to the hospital.
For convenience, my cell phone case has slots in it, so I kept my hospital card, library card and a business card in it, with a $5 or $10 bill under the flap in case I needed a bit of cash. So I didn’t need to carry a purse or wallet with me.
And last, a couple of intangible things. It helps to bring patience, but also polite confidence. Realize that the staff and volunteers are very busy and they don’t make you wait on purpose. At the same time, don’t be afraid to ask for something you need, even if you’re worried about offending someone. For example, if a nurse is having trouble finding your vein, as one of mine did, don’t be afraid to ask (politely) if “the pro” might be available. There’s often a nurse who is really, really good with needles. Or you might have to suggest to your friend or a talkative volunteer that you need to rest for a while. Some drugs will make you sleepy, and sometimes you just need to conserve your strength. Also, do let the nurses know if you’re feeling unwell or having any side effects you aren’t sure how to deal with.
I hope this helps you! And do feel free to add other suggestions of what to wear and what to take along.