I inquired about questions or topics that loved ones had when it came to Cancer affecting a friend or family member. I’ve only answered a couple of them so I’ll keep adding to this blog topic. Keep reading for more updates! I pray this helps someone out there… even just one!!
1. How can caring friends best be helpful and encouraging when the cancer journey becomes so long? What makes you feel most loved, remembered, and cared about?
Answer: Cancer, surprisingly so, isn’t just the battle through treatment, or doctors, treatment plans, medication changes, etc. It becomes a life change. Even if a patient is declared Cancer-free or in remission, the patient’s mindset has permanently changed. It has too! They take on offense… start playing a role that will, hopefully, help them ward off any future attacks or kill any lurking cells that may have been left behind. They think twice about what they eat, they think twice about overworking, or spending time away from family. Life needs to be lived to its fullest because they have very possibly seen the brink of death; all of a sudden, stopping to smell the roses becomes important. It’s in their mind with any new lump, bump, or bruise. If they start coughing, they think the worst. They start the morning wondering if this might be the day that changes their life all over again. Waiting for test results… everything changes… permanently. They are reminded on every front that they aren’t the person they used to be. They can’t do what they used to do physically. They might not be able to cope emotionally with what they may have easily handled prior to cancer. They’re tired and fatigued physically and discouraged emotionally because they are having a hard time bouncing back. Some, depending on the cancer treatments and severity of the diagnosis, may be diagnosed with PTSD. It’s a world that no one ever explains or prepares them for. And it’s overwhelming. They think they’re going crazy.
Encouraging words. Things like “you are a good example”, tell them if they’ve helped you personally in some way, how their struggle and battle may have encouraged you, write notes reminding them that they’re loved. Remind them to keep fighting; that they have a prayer team backing them up. Words are powerful. Very, very powerful. When they’re written, the patient can pull that old tattered note out months later and reread it and savor each word as if it were written just yesterday. Maybe you could call it recycling!!!??! It’s easy to feel forgotten… sometimes by friends, sometimes by medical professionals. “Well, you were done with chemo 6 months ago… how long can you really use THAT as an excuse???!”
The doctors tell them that recovery sometimes takes years but friends and co-workers aren’t sitting there in the exam room and don’t understand. The patient can feel like they’re complaining or being viewed as a whiner so they often tell themselves that they should be able to do more. A real friend will remind them that they’ve been through a lot and it’s okay to take it easy. Someone besides the doctor needs to be a voice of reason for them.
2. What are some things that would be useful to send in a “care package”?
Answer: cancer treatments can vary. There are a million different kinds of chemotherapy and combinations of chemotherapy. My first rounds were the heaviest and strongest (referred to as a “blitz” in a vain attempt to slow the rapidly encroaching tumor’s growth) and reeked havoc on me. Some oral pill forms of chemo don’t always have such drastic side effects but in the end there are a few things in common … every patient is scared, feels sick, is tired and fatigued, and usually has a miserable, metallic taste in their mouth, has lost their appetite and may be constantly nauseated.
Things that I found helpful:
1. A biker cap; it had ties that draped down the back of the neck (meant for under a helmet). This protected my bare head from the sun and elements better than anything else, stayed on, was made of cotton so it was cool.
2. Chapstick; no matter what chemo cocktail you end up with, you’ll end up with chapped lips. I preferred a really nicely, fresh scent like pink grapefruit to help with odors. I also had a plain one for those really bad days. I used lip gloss for when I wanted to feel a little prettier and add a little color to my face!
3. Lotion; I couldn’t take the smell of many of the good quality lotions like Eucerin. It stunk like ugly medicine to me. I preferred an Aveeno that was more natural with a pleasant odor yet fragrance-free. Skin is super sensitive so froo-froo lotions aren’t always your best bet. My face was swollen, skin was flaking off, & had turned a blotchy orange-red color… & was incredibly tender.
4. Sanitizer lotion; used this more times than I can count! I needed lotion but was always concerned about germs. Perfect!
5. Mints; the patient will have a hideous metallic-type taste in their mouth that they can’t get rid of. I didn’t have the strength to chew gum but I could let mints melt in my mouth. I usually preferred a hard peppermint version since the peppermint usually helped calm my stomach. Soft ones usually dissolved too quickly and is find myself popping more than I had intended but then I’d start feeling sick from all the sugar! Stay away from an artificial sweetening; the more pure and natural, the better. Ginger chews/candy was also helpful; usually very healthy (depending on the brand, I suppose) and ginger also aids in calming an upset stomach.
6. Bottled water; its important to drink a lot of water to flush your system after treatments. Regular water made me gag. I discovered peppermint water at a health food store and that became a staple in my house for awhile. Now I might recommend peppermint oil that can be ingested, added to your water. I also discovered coconut waters and the peach-mango is still my favorite! Sometimes a propel packet to add to a bottle of regular water will help.
7. iTunes gift cards so they can load audio, movies, music, etc., on their device. Holding a book is tiring and trying to remember what you just read is difficult.
8. Electronic games and app recommendations; so, so, so many hours and sleepless nights in the hospital and they quickly get bored with the three favorites that they usually play. Setup a game where they’re playing their friends via fb or something; it keeps them connected to the outside world without going outside. “Here man, I found this cool new game. Let me load it for you and I’ll show you how to play it!”
9. Pillows; big or small, I used them all. Small ones for my port, bigs ones for my back or to prop my body on its side after surgery. When you’re stuck in one place for a long time – couch, recliner, bed – you need some pillows to keep you comfortable!
10. Blankets; I have one blue, fuzzy blanket that was sent to me early on in my treatment and I still use it almost on a daily basis! Not too heavy, not flimsy thin. It kept me and my feet warm when I was freezing and then would be wadded up for a pillow if I got too hot.
11. Housecoats/lounge wear; whether in the hospital or at home you need to be comfortable and pjs sometimes make one feel like life hasn’t really started. A nice lounge set allows them to be feel like they can greet guests and still be modest without having to yank on heavy jeans and iron a blouse! Hospital gowns just make you feel sick so it’s a nice option to have in the hospital. Buy sets the button in the front so the nurses can easily access the port.
12. Socks; I wore flamboyant socks every day to radiation because the gantries were cold. My socks became the talk of the team in Gantry #2!!! Fuzzy socks were important in the hospital because they were inevitably cold. Sticky padded imprints on the bottom helped me not to slip on slick hospital floors. They all, of course, keep you from walking on a public floor barefoot… gasping in horror!!! 😱
13. Candles; sometimes I could smell dirty laundry, body odor, outside smells, staleness … whatever… my nose was performing to the best of its ability! I couldn’t handle the fake, overly perfumey candles. We looked for more wholesome candles with less flamboyant scents.
14. Blank cards; there’s always a thank you card or note that they’ll want to write. Throw in a few stamps to make it even easier!
15. Gift cards; restaurant gift cards, gas cards, grocery cards. These were amazingly helpful for basic needs of our family. We found ourselves preparing quite a few crockpot meals that we’re here could freeze and the kids didn’t have to do very much to get dinner ready and I knew they were getting a decent meal. Gas cards were and still are used right away with all the appointments and driving. Even if it’s not that far, it’s nice to be able to give a gas card to a friend that ends up driving your kids to appointments or games for you, or running out to get food for you. Restaurant gift cards were used mostly for my husband so he could grab something to eat instead of eating cafeteria food (my hospital was vegetarian so there really weren’t many meals that anyone was desirous of!!!) and he would bring me something occasionally if I looked interested.
16. Something fun; stuffed animal, word puzzle book, fingernail polish, tea bags, snacks or a favorite candy, comic book, etc.