Chemo Care Package Items

Someone asked if I’d share the list of items for the chemo care packages I am going to work on putting together. This is a rough list, but it contains things that gave me some relief, pleasure, etc. during my chemo treatment. I’m not sure that everything will make it in a donation bag since I’m not independently wealthy, so if anyone wants to donate any items, I would not say no! As I mentioned in a previous post, I plan to donate chemo care packages to chemo patients in the Charleston area.

Also, if you have a loved one going through chemo and want to gift them some items, this is a great starting point.

Chapstick (plain/unscented/unflavored) – My lips were dry and chapped through most of my treatment, even now. I say plain, unscented, and unflavored because smell and taste aversions are a real thing! I was ready to move out of the house when Brad cooked bacon one day, no joke.

Hand lotion (plain/unscented) – My hands peeled and got all crackly. Bonus points for a full body lotion! My entire body was flaky. Attractive, I know. Feet, too. Same scent rules apply.

Nail file (with a fine edge) – My nails got brittle (some chemo drugs cause nails to fall completely off, too), so having a nail file in my purse was a tiny little miracle.

Hand sanitizer (plain/unscented) – You know…germs and all that. Shouldn’t need to explain this one. Scent rules apply.

Biotin Mouth Rinse – This was nice to have. And Listerine (alcohol free). I got horrible cotton mouth, and sometimes I had the absolute worst taste in my mouth and thought I’d lose my mind.

Warm socks – Because who doesn’t like fluffy socks? I’d actually put fluffy socks on during chemo just so I could take off my sneakers and still protect my feet. I mean, you were sometimes spending the entire day there, might as well be comfortable.

Cup-a-Soup – There were days when I couldn’t eat or didn’t want to eat real food, so cup-a-soup was a nice alternative to plain broth. I could actually stomach it.

Tea (caffeine free) – A nice alternative to water. It was soothing for my throat when the dryness got to be too much.

Peppermints/Starlight Mints – Mints sometimes helped with the cotton mouth/bad mouth taste. It also helps during chemo when the nurses inject saline into your port…you can actually taste the saline in your mouth, oddly enough. So if you’re sucking on a peppermint, it masks that taste.

Puzzle book (word find, crossword, etc.) – Not only did puzzle books keep me busy during chemo, but they also helped work my brain while not at chemo. My oncologist actually told me to exercise my brain with crosswords, word finds, and stuff like that when I mentioned chemo brain to him once. So these are great.

Notepad – When chemo brain started affecting my memory, I started writing everything down! Whether it was notes to ask the doctor, a to-do list, or a shopping list, having a small notepad in my purse helped.

Pens/pencils – To use with the notepad and puzzle books, of course.

Deck of cards/card game/travel games – Brad and I played Phase 10 during my first chemo treatment. It was fun for me and him, and it kept our minds off what was happening, even if it was only for seconds at a time. So playing cards or travel games (smaller, portable versions of Checkers, Clue, Yahtzee, etc.) are a great addition to have on chemo day.

Adult coloring books – These are probably a take-it or leave-it for most folks. I liked my adult coloring books. I liked variety. I am an avid reader, I love to read, but I couldn’t focus enough (tired, chemo brain, etc.) to read books, so having lots of non-reading alternatives, was great. The adult coloring books just gave me one more activity to choose from.

Colored pencils/markers/crayons – For the adult coloring books. I went all out and bought myself this ridiculous package of 100+ gel, sparkly, metallic, and milky pen set. But seriously, a small set of colored pencils or crayons would do. I’m a little extra.

Bag to put it all in – The size bag depends on the quantity/size of the stuff you get. I had a few different tote bags, and I think totes were the best. And not necessarily anything fancy, like a reusable grocery bag style is perfect. I have one that had a breast cancer design, and another that says “Warrior.”

Refillable water bottle – Optional, since most people already have plenty of these. But I would get super thirsty while there and always brought a water bottle.

Blanket – Another optional item. I brought a blanket a few times, but often the clinics have them, too. So if you find a really nice one, I’m sure the recipient will love it. Otherwise, it’s not a big deal.

What not to gift…

Scented anything. Unless someone specifically requests something, I’d go with unscented everything. I was gifted a lotion that was plain, but it had a very distinct scent that made me so nauseated.

I would avoid food or snacks unless you’ve spoken to this person and they request something specific. Certain flavors and smells can be a total turnoff, even with beverages, so just be careful.

Books. I hate saying that because I LOVE BOOKS, but if anyone has the chemo brain concentration problem I had, books might be upsetting if they can’t read them. Again, if you’ve spoken to someone and they can read/want to read, gift them books!!

 

If I think of anything else, I’ll add them to the lists, but for now, this is a huge start. And please keep in mind, these are all based on my opinion, my experience, and everyone’s experiences are a little bit different. I’d like to say the items on the “do” list are pretty universal, but you never know. There are some people who may break out in hives at the sight of a crossword puzzle…

So that was fun…not!

I had an appointment with Dr H and Dr JB yesterday. Everything looked pretty good, the incisions are still healing nicely.

But something had started happening over the last week. I was feeling a little bloated, and when I pushed down on the bloat on the right side of my belly, it would sort of ripple towards the left side. Like a wave… better yet, like a water bed.

I showed them this today. I was pretty sure it was fluid, but maybe it was gas?

So they did an ultrasound, and sure enough, there was a lot of fluid in my abdominal cavity.

Dr H said he was afraid we may have taken the drains out too soon. Well, he wanted the numbers to be under 30 CCs and they were, so that’s why the drains came out. I Googled, and some docs take their patients’ drains out at 40 and 50. So I’m kind of not sure what the proper solution would have been with that.

Granted, I wouldn’t have been happy to be traveling on vacation with the drains, but if I needed to have them in for my health, then they would have stayed in. Period. So I’m not sure how I feel about that, but what’s done is done.

So I was drained today with a huge needle, and several stabs on my left and one on my right. He took out about 190 CCs of fluid. That’s like a cup of fluid, check your Pyrex! It’s an average of 11 CCs a day since I had the drains removed on June 8th. Of course, I’m sure there was a gradual decline, and I’m not still producing that much. I’d be surprised if I need to be drained again next week, but he seems to think so.

It hurt. I’m still a bit numb around there, but the needle pinched the skin pretty bad. I don’t want to have to do that again.

Please send dry thoughts my way…

Keeping it cool 😎

I’ve talked a bit about perspective here, and I’m sorry if any of this is repetitive, but thoughts on perspective keep popping in my head throughout my days.

Today, I was driving to the doctor and I was stopped in a right turning lane, the light had just turned red. It was one of those intersections that has two right turning lanes, where you can turn on red from the one on the right, but not the one on the left. So me and a few cars are stopped in the right lane, no one is in the left. A pickup truck came running down the left turning lane and made the right, straight through the red light.

It got me thinking, what’s the rush? Why are we always in such a rush? Don’t get me wrong, I rush around. Sometimes I want to be somewhere or do something yesterday. But since facing cancer, I’ve become a lot more laid back…slower, if you will. Maybe it’s because I’m not keeping myself nearly as busy as I was before (I thrive on a loaded schedule, I don’t dig downtime) or maybe it’s because I’m looking at the bigger picture when I consider things now.

I didn’t beat cancer just to die, be maimed, or hurt/kill someone else in a car accident because my errands or appointments or work is so much more important than a traffic light or lanes in the road or whatever.

And I’ll give the driver of the truck the benefit of the doubt and say that we were near a hospital, so maybe he was trying to get there fast. Maybe.

But every vehicle that runs a red light or drives erratically doesn’t have an emergency…but they might!

Anyway, those are my deep thoughts for today.

10 Months

It’s surreal to me that I’ve “been there, done that” with cancer already, and it’s only been ten months, give or take a week.

Maybe it’s because I still have the port, maybe it’s because my hair is so short, or maybe it’s because I still see my oncologist every three weeks.

Before my diagnosis, I feel like I always thought you had cancer forever, you know? Well, maybe not forever, but not that you’d get diagnosed, blink, and then not have cancer anymore. Ok, so all the middle stuff wasn’t a blink…chemo, multiple surgeries, side effects, etc…all those things took time.

But still…Dr. JB told me in the beginning that one day, this would all just be a blip on my radar. Just a piece of my past. I’m not quite there yet, I still have 4 cycles of Herceptin to go and this Lupron shot, but chemo is done and the last surgery removed the cancer. Blip. That’s exactly what it feels like…a blip. Like it’s surreal that I even went through chemo. I can’t believe that’s behind me. If it weren’t for the short hair and the scars and the soreness, it would be hard to believe it happened at all. I feel like that’s all that’s left to remind me sometimes.

I’m not naive, I know reoccurrence is always a possibility, but dang…ten months ago I would have never guessed that ten months would go by so quickly! That I’d be cancer free in under a year. Before I knew anything about anything, I figured I’d have cancer longer. It just seems like people have cancer for a while.

I don’t know…it sounds dumb, but I don’t know how to better articulate this feeling.

I’m relieved. I’m hopeful. I’m surprised.

It’s just weird. I feel lucky. So lucky.

I saw a picture of Brad and I from the solar eclipse last year, just days before I was diagnosed, and it reminded me of how things can change so quickly. Now, we’re about two months from that same date, and things almost feel ((dare I say it?)) normal.

Crazy.

Crazy crazy crazy.

Post-Vacation Blues

I had a great time on vacation. Getting to spend some time with Brad without work and doctors and having to adult was wonderful.

I ate three burgers (one of the restaurants at the resort has the best burgers I’ve ever had in my life, no lie) over the course of the week. That’s about two more burgers than I’ve had so far this year. They’re so good. If you find yourself at Orange Lake Resort in Kissimmee, hit up Legacy Grill for a Smokehouse Burger. Ah-mazing.

I also ate way too much chips and salsa at Chuy’s, and let’s not forget the margaritas. Yum. I had bought Malibu rum because that’s sort of my go-to alcoholic beverage – I like it in Diet Coke or fruit juice. But I had a margarita at Chuy’s, then cheap margaritas at the resort during happy hour, and I fell in love. I think tequila does that to you. Well, I guess it’s a love/hate thing since tequila kicks some people’s butts.

I read, was totally lazy, and drove the cart while Brad golfed one day. It was a nice time.

So I’m home and this week is back to reality! I’m happy to be home with my pup, she missed us and we missed her. I think our best vacation ever was when we went to the Outer Banks and were able to take her with us. Pets deserve vacations, too.

I had an oncologist appointment this morning, got my Herceptin and Lupron. Nothing new to report there. Everything is “normal” there.

I’m returning to work today for real. I’ve got a few line therapy sessions this week, and I’m looking forward to that.

So I’m feeling good and healthy. I’ll be thankful when the rest of the soreness is gone. I’ll also be thankful when I can start exercising again and lose this ache I’ve got in my joints again. I hate that I went steps forward and then steps backward in regards to activity, but I know that extra strength I built up before surgery has helped me a lot over the last several weeks.

Being at the oncologist now is weird. I remember going and dreading what I knew was to follow. I don’t have that anymore, which is great – not complaining over here! It’s just weird because I’m in and out of there, and I used to see some of the same faces, but now there’s often new faces in various stages of treatment, and it’s weird. I want to say something, something motivating, because I was where they were, but I don’t know their story. I don’t know if they’ll be where I am now one day, or if their situation is more dire. So I don’t want to pull something straight off one of those top-ten-not-to-do lists for cancer patients. So I just keep to myself and smile.

But I want to do more. One day I was there and someone had put together little comfort packages and handed them out to all the chemo patients. I think I’m going to do something like that. Put together a list of things that truly gave me some comfort during my chemo and make little care packages to hand out. There are other, grander things I’d like to do, but for now this might just do. Little things mean a lot, at least they did to me. So maybe these care packages will brighten someone’s day.

Free at last!

I finally got my last drain out today! Phew!

When I went to the doctor on Monday, I was still draining too much. I had to go below 30 and I was around 35/40. So I willed all the good energy and whatnot around me to make the numbers go and stay down, and they did. I was able to squeeze in an appointment to have them removed before we left for our vacation today.

I kind of don’t know what to do with myself without it. I’m still accommodating for it…pulling my shirt down on that side, making sure I have some extra space over there.

I was afraid it would hurt coming out since it’s been in there for a month, but it didn’t. It hurt a little when Dr H snipped the stitches because it had scabbed, but other than that I didn’t feel the tube come out of my belly or anything.

I worked a little this week doing some paperwork stuff for the kiddos whose teams I’m managing this summer. It was nice to get out of the house and feel like a contributing member of society again. And seeing the kids is always great! I’ve missed them.

So we’re on vacation this week! Driving down to sunny Florida as we speak. Well, we’re in rainy Georgia at the moment, but we’re ending in sunny Florida!

Shout Out to the Nurses at ECMC

I generally try to keep things anonymous when it comes to service providers and people I come into contact with in my journey. None of those people ask to be documented in my saga, so I leave them out of it. My family is stuck because if you know me, you know them, but I do try to abbreviate their names as well for the same reason.

Anyway, I spent almost four full days at East Cooper Medical Center when I had my bilateral flap DIEP mastectomy. During that time, I had some amazing nurses and techs. I don’t remember too much before surgery, or immediately following surgery, but those who were there in women’s services for the bulk of my stay were fantastic!

Five stars!!

They just did so much to make sure I was physically and emotionally comfortable. Which was great considering I was so vulnerable, which is a hard place for me to be, and they had to deal with me 12 hours a day.

So kudos to them!

I’d go back.

Three down, one to go…

So this is a little late, but I had my follow up appointments with Dr H and Dr JB on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Dr H – Drain removed from left hip. Hopefully right hip drain will slow it’s roll, and the numbers will be low enough for it to be removed at my appointment on Monday. Seems like I’ll be losing my right nipple, it’s back to its black color regardless of the ointment/Vaseline. I’m ok with that. Dr H said we can reconstruct that later on, if I want to. My tummy wound is opening a little bit, but not a lot. (Seriously don’t Google it!)

Dr JB – Pretty much said the same stuff as Dr H. I did ask about these tiny little blister bumps I have around my chest. It seems that the surgical bra, that I have to wear like all the time, is irritating my skin. Yay! So I’m trying to give myself breaks from it, and I’ll wear a tight tank top to keep things contained instead. They also recommended lotion for the rash.

It’s just been a blah week for me. Lots of emotional ups and downs. I’m ready to go back to normal, you know? This has been dictating my life for several months, and I want to dictate my life again. I want to be able to go run errands and not be exhausted. I want to work! (Which I’m doing a little of next week whether anyone likes it or not!)

The week after next we go on vacation. I’ll be chilling poolSIDE for a week, unable to actually get in the pool due to my wounds not being fully closed. When we get back from the trip, I plan to return to work. I’ll have an appointment with Dr YB for my infusion and Lipton shot Monday the 18th, and I’ll probably have a follow up with the surgeons that same day.

I’m anticipating being in much better shape by that point. I think the key is going to be doing a little each day and gradually building myself up. I think I’m being too sporadic, and that’s the problem. Like going 75% one day, 50% the next, then 100%, 0%, and then back to 50% isn’t helping. It’s inconsistent and I think it’s confusing my body. So I’m going to try to start small and keep going up. I don’t feel like I’m pushing myself too far, I just feel like I haven’t been building myself up, I’ve just been randomly diving in, depending on my mood.

Anyway, something else to note is that I haven’t had much of an appetite post-surgery. I’ve had hunger, but I’m not 3-square-meals hungry. Like it’s after 1, I haven’t eaten, and I’m not even a little hungry. So, needless to say, I haven’t been sticking to my eating plan. I’ve been trying to focus on protein when I do eat, since I know I’m not getting a good sampling of nutrients and that’s the key nutrient for healing. I’m certainly not starving, I do get random cravings throughout the day and snack. I get late night cravings, too, and I have healthy snacks like fruit. I always eat dinner, it’s just breakfast and lunch are sometimes a wash. I am also having my Shakeology every day, which helps with protein and other nutrients. So hopefully my appetite will sort itself out soon and I can get back on track with Portion Fix.