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…

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.

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.

Post-Op: Part III

I may have mentioned that I’m sleeping off and on, and at random due to the pain pills and muscle relaxers, which is to be expected. I was mostly awake during the day yesterday, and slept through most of the night. My tail bone is totally sore though, so I can’t wait to get up.

So every day post-op I have different goals. The day of surgery was just bed rest. I had the catheter and didn’t get up for anything. The next day, yesterday, was to get up and move to the chair, and use the bathroom so the catheter could come out. I passed that with flying colors, and I honestly fell back on some of my exercise techniques in order to do that. Today the goal is to walk the halls, which I am looking forward to since it’s more movement! And tomorrow with be bathing.

I’ve had the same night nurses, day nurses, and techs, which definitely makes it more comfortable since they get to know me and how I like to move, etc. So that’s pretty cool. Plus they’re awesome! I got very lucky. The hospital is also super quiet, so I get a lot of attention if I need it.

You know I’d mention the hospital food. It’s not bad at all. Yesterday, I had eggs, hash browns, and a blueberry muffin for breakfast. Lunch was baked chicken with gravy, rice, and veggies. And dinner was roast beef, mashed potatoes with gravy, and creamed spinach. I mean, it’s hospital food, so it’s not epic, but it’s pretty decent. Plus, I’ve got lots of snacks people have been bringing by.

I’ve had some visitors, and they’ve brought healthy snacks, not so healthy snacks, drinks, etc. So I’ve had quite the variety as far as food goes, which is nice. I also have lots of pretty flowers and balloons.

Those photos were the best I could do from my bed. 🙂

For the first 24 hours I couldn’t eat, so I was doing ice chips and water, which was totally OK since they have ice like Sonic has…crunchy ice. I’ve even asked for it after I was cleared to eat. Yum!

TV stinks, so I’ve been trying to entertain myself with the occasional re-run, napping, blogging, and checking FB and my emails. I’m working on reading, but I’m mostly still too groggy for that.

Fun Fact: whenever a baby is born in the hospital, they play a lullaby over the loudspeaker. One of my visitors was a coworker who brought her baby boy who was born here in March! So adorable.

I’ve Lost 6.8 lbs in One Week Doing 21 Day Fix®!

Yep, you read that right. I’ve lost 6.8lbs (and a couple inches) in my first week of 21 Day Fix®.

What is it? I’m so glad you asked! 21 Day Fix® is a foolproof nutrition and exercise plan by Beachbody®!

You all know how important food is to me. I love to eat. I love tasty food and I enjoy variety. I don’t like being told what to eat, and I don’t do well with restrictions. This blog has been live for just a few short months and I think I’ve communicated my passion for food quite well in that time. Why is this important? Because I wouldn’t choose a food plan that didn’t allow me to still be passionate about food. That’s how awesome Portion Fix is.

Here is a ridiculously simple summary: A quick calculation determined how many of each colored cup I get each day. The colored cups represent different food groups or food types (for example, seeds and dressings go in the orange cup). I plan out my meals so that you use ALL my cups. Voila!

Now, I said this wasn’t restrictive…and it’s not. But there are some limitations. I should eat the healthiest options for each category. For example, the yellow cup is the carb cup; on the yellow list is brown rice and whole grain pasta, but not white rice or regular pasta. Moral of this story…I can still eat pasta, and I have.

21DF-gse-essential-containers-526x526

This is a super easy plan to follow, and honestly, after only a few days I started to feel very comfortable. It does take planning and preparation, so I needed to have some patience for that. But it’s not hard. It’s not hard at all, and I’ve had so much support.

I said I was eating a lot of food, and I am. Each day, I have 5 servings of vegetables, 3 servings of fruit, 5 servings of protein, 4 servings of carbs, and a few condiments. I can use garlic, lemon juice, and spices freely. Portion Fix has recipes and other participants share theirs, or you can keep it simple and create your own. For lunch, I do a meat, a carb, and a veggie. Nice and simple since I’m on the go a lot at lunchtime.

Here are some of my prepped lunches. This week I planned ground beef with some seasonings we picked up at the the Flowertown Festival, and salsa chicken in the slow cooker. We made brown rice and quinoa. We also did frozen veggies, steamed in the bag in the microwave, then briefly sauteed in olive oil and garlic on the stove.

I made some seasonings, salad dressings, and even cookies using Portion Fix recipes. They’ve all been delicious.

I seriously felt like I was eating too much. It was a lot of food. But when I threw it all into the My Fitness Pal app, the calories were low! They were exactly in the recommended range. It’s because I’m eating more of the healthier, filling foods, and less of the foods that don’t fill me up, but instead make me crave more food.

I’m also using Shakeology®, which is a superfood shake powder you can mix in with just about anything. If you mix it with fruit, you deduct it from your allowance. Add a veggie? Deduct that, too. I often make mine with a serving of spinach, a serving of blueberries, a teaspoon of natural peanut butter, cinnamon, and water. It’s delicious. Since I’m lactose intolerant, I do the Vanilla Vegan flavor, so I don’t have to worry about taking a pill every time I have a shake.

Speaking of lactose intolerance…there’s very little dairy in Portion Fix. You can have it, but it’s easy enough for me to avoid. And what makes this plan great is that it’s clean eating…you’re not eating processed foods so you know exactly what goes into everything you are eating. If you have a food allergy or an intolerance, you know whether or not you’re eating something you shouldn’t.

My biggest woe before starting this program was that eating healthy was going to be expensive. The lie detector has determined that is a lie! Lean ground beef? It costs the same as it would if I bought it for hamburger helper. Frozen veggies? I bought bags upon bags of generic stuff from Walmart for 77 cents each (and they taste the same as the brand names). Brown rice? A bag is a couple bucks. It’s not expensive to buy raw, unprocessed foods. Processed foods actually cost more.

Of course there is also the exercise component. The package I signed up for got me access to Beachbody® on Demand. It’s online access to all Beachbody® exercise programs, that includes some of the more popular programs like P90X and Insanity. I chose 21 Day Fix because I pretty much need a 21 Day Fix given my surgery. But if I get bored or want to try something a little more intense, there are tons for me to choose from, including some dance ones. I totally can’t dance though, so it would be interesting.

So the exercise plan for 21 Day Fix gives you a different workout to do every day. Monday is Total Body Cardio, Tuesday is Upper Fix, etc. You don’t have a rest day. Sunday is yoga, so it’s more of a chill day than the other days, but it’s still an intense workout. My legs burned after day one. They were SORE on day two. I thought they’d fall off when I had to do the Lower Fix (legs) on day three, but they just sort of went numb and all was well again. Ha. Seriously, intense workouts considering they are only 30 minutes each.

So a new nutrition plan, exercise…my gains so far in this program aren’t just related to the scale. I also feel a thousand times better overall. I have become more regular, which has been a pretty decent issue for me since chemo started back in September. I have better endurance. I want to get up and do stuff. I also feel good mentally. I’m happy to be doing something and seeing results. It makes me feel good.

Anyway, this entire post probably sounds like an advertisement. It’s not really. It is a testimonial though. It’s me sharing my success because I’m so excited to have found success and I feel like I need to share it because I want anyone else who wants to be successful to find theirs, too. I signed up to be a coach, I just didn’t want to promote it until I could be proof that it works. And now I am. Proof, that is.

If you want to talk to me more about the program, or other programs Beachbody® offers, please reach out. I want to help. I’ll tell you exactly how I signed up, what I signed up for, and I’ll tell you all about the awesome group of women I’m part of…women from all walks of life who are in this to succeed and be healthy, women who have been so motivating to me. Or, if you’d rather just kind of check things out, I’ve included my Coach web links below. I know I have some followers here outside of the US, so I’m including links to my Coach page for Canada and the UK. Or, if you’re totally not interested, that’s OK! I don’t expect everyone to be on the same journey, and that’s perfectly fine. BUT, just know that Portion Fix isn’t only about losing weight. You can use the program to gain or maintain as well. It’s about eating healthy, really. So feel free to ask me about it, or click one of the links below to check things out. 🙂

My US Coach Site.
My Canada Coach Site.
My UK Coach Site.

I promise this blog isn’t going to turn into a place for me to grow my business. However, it is eventually going to transition to something else (I actually have a plan I’ll unveil soon) since my cancer journey will eventually be over. My health and wellness will definitely be part of my journey. It’s something I should have made a priority a very long time ago.

So I’ve got the oncologist tomorrow. Should be uneventful, just my Herceptin injection. Next week will be the evil arm shot. I’ll post an update if something exciting happens.

Is there something wrong with me?

Throughout my journey, I’ve often asked myself that question.

Is there something wrong with me?

Aside from the obvious, of course. I knew I had cancer, but I often wondered if my emotions were off or something.

I didn’t read too much about my disease. I’ve mentioned that before. Mostly because I’m well aware that not everything you read online is true. I’d rather hear it from the medical professionals who know me, my body, and my disease.

But occasionally I’d see blog posts by others with cancer or cancer survivors that pop up on my Facebook wall. If it was a topic that interested me, I’d read it. Sometimes it was a cartoon or a meme. Sometimes I’d read the comments on the post, too.

This is where I’d always sort of question my sanity.

People post and comment a lot about the emotions they felt and feel. There’s a lot of depression and anxiety, anger and sadness. I get all that, I do. As a psych student, I completely understand why someone with a cancer diagnosis would feel all of those things.

I was pretty pissed off when I was diagnosed. I had plans, and cancer really screwed those plans up. I fell behind in school, I couldn’t work as much, had to break commitments. The side effects of chemo were annoying and uncomfortable. It downright pissed me off. I get the anger.

Depression, anxiety, and sadness? I understand those emotions, but I didn’t feel them. Yeah, I was probably sad for a minute when I was given the diagnosis – it’s not exactly a happy time, but I didn’t break down. Not once.

So, that begs the question: is there something wrong with me?

I’ve thought about this a lot because I read where people feel anxiety even after they’re cancer free because they’re constantly worrying about the return of their cancer. I’ve read where people feel depressed because of the hair loss, mastectomy, feeling sick, etc. People often ask how I’m doing, and I always answer “great!” (unless I’m in the sick week of chemo, in which case they’ll get a laundry list of complaints) because it’s true, I have been great! So naturally I’ve wondered why I haven’t felt those things. I’ve even dug deep down inside me to see if maybe I was feeling those things but was in denial about it. But I really haven’t. I haven’t felt much negativity at all during this process.

Why?

Well, I have a few ideas.

I tried to keep my schedule and routine as close to what it was as I possibly could. I continued to go to work and go to school as long as I could and as often as I could. I think that helped keep things normal and kept me feeling normal.

I had the mindset that everything I was going through was temporary. Chemo, all it’s side effects, hair loss, hot flashes, surgeries, adjustments to my schedule/routine…none of it was going to last forever.

I have a great support system. My husband is constantly feeding me compliments, which he also did before all this started so I know he’s not just giving me fluff. My parents and sisters and in-laws have all been great. Friends, teammates, and classmates, too. I haven’t wanted or needed for anything.

I have an awesome medical team. From the very first appointment, Dr JB has been the picture of optimism. She hasn’t given me the opportunity to feel sad or unsure. She’s positive and confident, and leaves no room for me to feel wishy washy. And Dr YB is similar. He’s very confident and direct, says “this is what we’re going to do and it’s going to work.” He told me in my first appointment with him to let him do the worrying, I should just focus on healing and getting better.

So I did. I let him do the worrying. I stayed positive and went with the flow. I did what the doctors told me to do, showed up when I was supposed to. I didn’t let myself get all caught up in the doom and gloom, and when people would say something negative or have a negative tone, I’d change the subject or flat out ignore it. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

So yeah…I guess those things have helped me remain positive and, dare I say it, “normal.” Maybe there’s nothing wrong with me after all? Maybe I’m processing everything just as I should be. I like the sound of that.

Support

One of the greatest things to have when you’re going through hell, a.k.a. cancer, is support. And man, I’m one of the luckiest people in the world because I’ve got a ton of it.

It comes in different forms. A like, reaction, or comment on a Facebook or blog post. A phone call or a text, email or a Facebook message. A homemade dinner, snacks, or take-out from a favorite restaurant. A ride. Company. Flowers. Coloring books. A port pillow. Things to make me more comfortable. Things to make me laugh. Things to occupy my time. Things to keep me informed. The basic understanding that I may need to throw it all across the room at some point. 

I’ve received so much, both tangible things and intangible things, from people I’ve known my entire life, people I’ve known twenty years, ten years, one or two years, a few weeks, a few months, and people I don’t even know at all. It’s amazing how various communities of people will come together to lift your spirits, whether it’s family, friends, co-workers (old and new), classmates, teachers, or just people with similar likes and interests as me.

Just know, if you’re one of the above, you rock! And hey, if you’re reading this post, you’re one of the above! So rock on!! You have absolutely no idea how much something as simple as a “like” makes me smile. It means you’re there, and that means you’re cool. Keep doing what you’re doing!

On the flip side, it also makes me miss the hell out of some of you people! So if you want to make a quick trip to SC, do it!! I have space, a comfy futon, air mattress, and couch. Also, there are hotels everywhere around here! I am definitely planning some travel when this is all over, too, and I just might be coming to a town near you! Haha. 😉