When I was diagnosed with large cell neuroendocrine cervical cancer nearly four years ago, I felt utterly lost.
And I felt overwhelmed when my doctor said I needed chemotherapy. I didn’t know what to expect or what to pack. So I decided to bring everything.
Since then, I’ve had nearly 55 chemo treatments using several chemo drugs, 28 radiation sessions and four major surgeries (not including port placement). In the process, I’ve become an expert on what to bring to chemo and what to leave at home.
Here’s what I recommend packing to make chemo more comfortable. I’ve included a couple of items that won’t fit in a bag but are definite musts.
1. Comfortable clothes: Chemo can last anywhere from one to eight hours and may involve overnight hospital stays. So, it helps to wear comfortable clothes. You’ll want to keep your port accessible, so consider wearing a V-neck shirt.
2. Socks and/or close-toed shoes: The hospital or clinic will be chilly. Wear comfortable, close-toed shoes and or slippers with a hard sole. If you insist on open-toed shoes, bring socks just in case. The softer and fuzzier, the better.
3. A warm blanket: There’s something about cuddling up with a nice blanket that brings instant comfort. If you forget your blanket, ask one of MD Anderson’s volunteers in blue jackets. They’re likely to have a warm blanket for you.
4. Your favorite snacks: You may get hungry. You may want to eat out of boredom. You may develop an aversion to hospital food and not want anything they have to offer. Bring snacks to be prepared for all possibilities.
5. Water: Headaches are common during chemo, and many can be linked to dehydration. So make sure you drink plenty of water. It’ll also help flush those nasty chemo toxins through your body.
6. Music: While some patients find the hum of the infusion machines relaxing, others find it aggravating. So don’t leave home without your headphones and favorite playlists.
7. A laptop or tablet: Browsing the internet from your phone will drain its battery quicker than you can say “chemotherapy.” Use your laptop or tablet to keep up with work or your personal to-do list, catch up on your favorite show or otherwise pass the time. Just remember to pack your charger.
8. Books or magazines: During chemo, you have plenty of time to read. Sink into the stories that will transport you away from the infusion center. Or, bring magazines and catch up on the latest celebrity drama, who’s dating whom and who wore it best.
9. A journal: Instead of bottling up your feelings, write down your fears, anger, hopes, dreams and prayers. If you can’t muster up words, try doodling.
10. Friends: Conversations with friends can often ease the realities of chemo. So ask your favorite pal to tag along, hold your hand, talk and, most importantly, listen.
11. Board games or mind games: Pass the time by playing board games or puzzles. It might even help keep your mind sharp and alleviate chemobrain. For extra fun, consider inviting your fellow cancer fighters to play along.
12. Hard candy: Dry mouth can be a side effect from treatment, but hard candy can help. Try ginger candies or lemon drops, which may satisfy your sweet tooth and combat nausea, too.
13. Chapstick: Certain chemo drugs can cause mouth sores and chapped lips. Lip balm will help soothe the most cracked smile.
14. A designated driver: You’ll be exhausted after chemo, so bring someone who can take you to and from chemo.
15. Inspiration: Chemo can be tough, but staying positive can make a big difference. Write motivational sayings on index cards or in your journal. Look at these quotes or verses when you’re feeling blue. Remind yourself of the hope you have for your future. Sometimes all you need is a simple “You can do this.” Because you can.