1. A frozen dilemma – Freezer issues
Consider borrowing or buying a second freezer if your freezer is small. This is so that you can freeze meals which can be used on the days you are not up to preparing food. Friends, family and neighbours are all likely to bring meals over so it is handy to be able to freeze them for when you most need them. And on your good days, make some meals for the freezer.
2. Child care and the family command centre
If you have young children, plan childcare for the chemo day and for the following 5 days or so. You can tweak any arrangements down the line, but if you have plans in place for the first 5 days then you don’t need to be organising things whilst feeling rough post-chemo.
It is also worth considering setting up some sort of area at home where all household, child care and school information is situated so that on the rough days, someone else can take charge over these things. My mum and husband found the following things invaluable for the days when I couldn’t keep on top of things:
a. Family calendar (the type with a column for each member of the family and a week on a page).
b. Notes of all important telephone numbers including the chemotherapy ward, oncologist, emergency chemo contact, breast care nurse, school, GP etc.
c. School run schedule – details of who is taking and collecting children from school and on which days, including phone numbers (I also sent a copy of this to school and put a copy in each child’s school bag).
d. Pegs holding school letters, forms, personal admin for each member of the family.
3. Chemo essentials at home
It can make life easier if you prepare what you will need for immediately after chemo on your bedside table. (Some people suggest a “chemo caddy” so you can carry everything with you from the bedroom to the sofa. Personally I had duplicates of most items on my bedside table and on the lounge table). These are items that just make those rough days a little bit easier.
· Travel sickness wrist bands to help with any nausea. Some people find Queasy Drops helpful, or mint sweets.
· Bell to ring family for cups of tea/water refills.
· Nice hand cream.
· Indigestion tablets. The chemo nurses can recommend suitable ones for you depending on your chemo regime.
· Notepad and pen to keep a record of your side effects and to note down questions for future appointments as and when you think of them, and so on.
· Paracetamol. But check if and when you are allowed to take these.
· Throat sweets or throat spray as recommended by your chemo team, I used difflam.
· Soft cap/head scarf and a shawl or blanket.
· Thermometer. Invest in a good quality electronic ear thermometer. The chemo team will tell you that if you are feeling unwell and your temperature goes above or below certain points then you will need to call them or your GP. Having a good, accurate thermometer will give your peace of mind when it comes to assessing whether you are at the temperature to call them.
· Lip balm.
· Things to do, for example: magazines, books to read, downloaded audiobooks, puzzle books.
· Hard boiled sweets or mints to help your sore mouth. Fresh pineapple, frozen fresh pineapple and fruit ice lollies are great but sometimes you just don’t have the energy to get up and go to the kitchen to get something to refresh your yucky mouth. Using a paper straw can also help.
4. You will be given a chemo card from the chemo ward. This says what drugs you are having. Pop it in your purse and carry it around with you at all times. It is in case of an emergency – a hospital will immediately know you are on chemo and which drugs.
5. Pack an overnight bag and leave it somewhere safe at home so that if you are poorly during your chemo treatment and you need to rush off to hospital for an overnight stay, you will already have the bag prepared. Take this bag in the car whenever you go for your hospital appointments and treatment (you can leave it in the car) and so if you have to stay in, your overnight bag is already in the car. Pack things like:
- PJs with easy access for your port/picc line/intravenous cannula
- Phone charger
- Face wipes, toothbrush and toothpaste, basic toiletries
- Antibac handwash and wipes for the surfaces in the hospital
- Book/magazines/puzzle book/ something to keep you occupied
6. One of the big changes in your life during treatment will be the need to take lots of medication. You’ll be given all sorts of tablets like pain killers, steroids, anti-sickness, anti-histamine and possibly more! It can be confusing about what and when to take (especially if you’re feeling tired and suffering from chemo-brain) so you need to get yourself a system in place. There are various ways to do this – you can get pill boxes, use a sharpie on the tablet box/foil or maybe try this new system called tooktake which was set up by Leeanna who had breast cancer herself. It’s a simple dosage reminder system consisting of stickers that can be peeled off as and when you take the medication. Genius!
Note: my number 1 tip for someone about to embark upon chemotherapy or already undergoing it is to get a copy of “Braving Chemo: What to Expect, How to Prepare and How to Get Through It” by Beverly A. Zavaleta MD (available from Amazon and other book stores). For my full review of this book see Breast Cancer Book Reviews.