Need Suggestions For A Chemo Care Package, Please

My mom is getting set to embark on chemotherapy for breast cancer in a couple of weeks. Under the regimen she’ll be on, she will have to be parked in a chair for about four hours at a time while the poison cure drips in. My dad will be able to be with her to keep her company if they want. My understanding – please correct me if I’m wrong – is that she will not be really sick while she’s receiving the chemo, though she will become very sick (nauseated) afterward.

So I’m thinking about sending her a chemo care package. I would like to include things that will be a comfort to her or will help her pass the time while she’s having the chemo. I would appreciate suggestions and comments from Dopers who have Been There or who have had relatives who have Been There. I don’t want to get her anything useless or inappropriate. So far, I’m thinking:

A few good books – suggestions welcomed, but nothing too aggressively sunshiney (self-helpy) and nothing sad

Nice stationery and a good pen

A journal

A throw (small blanket)

A plastic water bottle with a sip top

A deck of cards and a cribbage board

Some good lip balm and hand/body lotion

Some downloads for her i-Pod

. . . . Anything else? Help me out here, Dopers. Thanks! :slight_smile:

Tabloid mags (you may not be open to reading Beowulf while you’re in chemo, but lighthearted “Tom and Katie” type stuff is nice)

A lap desk (you can get one for anywhere from $15 to as-much-as-you-want-to-pay)- my mother used her’s for reading, writing, cards, etc., as there’s nothing to balance anything on

A book on CD

And of course a cool pot-pipe for afterwards. :wink: (Eddie Izzard: Just kidding… [shakes head] [nods] [shakes head]… etc.)

A pair of nice pajamas or similar loose, comfortable clothes. The lap desk sounds fabulous. Everything else you’ve both already said sounds good, too.

Everything you’ve mentioned will be welcome and used.

Buy her Biotine mouthwash - mouth sores are inevitable and it’s a good idea to start rinsing with it right away. If it doesn’t work, no problem; the doc can prescribe what’s called “Magic Mouthwash,” usually containing Benadryl, Maalox, or Mylanta, and an anti-ulcer medication called sucralfate or a pain reliever called lidocaine. The lidocaine is the key.

If she hasn’t had a dental cleaning within the previous six months, now is the time to do it. The ‘pink parts’ are affected by chemo; this includes the mouth and gums… let alone the rest of our pink parts.

Unless she is taking CMF chemo, she will lose all of her hair on days 18-19 on what is considered the normal chemo (usually A/C) schedule. She must determine whether she wants to present herself bald or with wigs or scarves, turbans, etc. Many women have their heads shaved right before those days, believing themselves to be taking control of the event, rather than losing it all on a pillow or a shower drain. This is often a family party - let her know you’re all together on this. If she decides to do the wig thing, let her know you’ll be with her when she makes her decision. If her chemo is during winter, she’ll probably want a wig, scarf, etc., because it’s freaking cold without a head covering.

You’re right; she won’t be sick while undergoing her first infusion. As time goes on, however, residual chemicals add to the new chemical infusions. It builds up as time goes on. Get it: she will be sick, very very sick.

There are some amazing women who manage to have chemo and never miss a day of work. I don’t know if they’re martyrs, liars, or such strong women that it truly doesn’t bother them. I have what’s called high pain tolerance, and as my daughter has reminded me, it has nothing to do with character. I could not work during the last month of chemo. Prepare your Mom for that possibility.

We women are weird in that we pride ourselves when we don’t take drugs or painkillers. She absolutely positively MUST take the anti-nausea, anti-pain drugs that are prescribed to her! My Mom died of breast cancer before these drugs were available and I can rememer her fading away on her couch with a pail by her side that she vomited in for days. Get the picture? Your Mom doesn’t need to do this!

I get this vibe that you believe your Mom’s condition is merely temporary, something to get through; that all will work out and with the proper offerings from you she’ll be OK. Where is she on this? What stage? How many lymph nodes were involved? Did she have a lumpectomy or a mastectomy? Never forget that this isn’t a designer disease that so very many women die of. I hope you’re not taking this lightly.

There is a totally terrific website, that is a lifesaver for so many breast cancer patients. Please go onto this website, register, find the fora you’re interested in and read what we’ve had to say.

Go to Breast Cancer Message Board Go to Support and Community, then Discussion Boards.

I’ve done this. Let me know if you need more info.

Great suggestions here.
May I suggest finding some books or articles about nutrition and vitamin supplements to help care for herself from the inside.

How about some music, via an MP3 player or a new CD a week of stuff you think she’d like or knows she likes but won’t spend money on herself.

Maybe a netflix subscription to help take her mind off of everything. Little surprises that come in the mail.
Lip Balm. If I were president, everyone on the planet would get free lip balm.
I would think that during her down time of the treatment, giving her a sensory overload-comfort item would be just the ticket. If you have access to an indepedent fabric store ( not Joann’s, the don’t have this.) call and see if they have Minkee fabric. It is the softest material you could ever cozy up too. It started out with baby colors, but is expanding to adultish colors. Frankly speaking, it is amazing and orgasmic. Some sewing required to put a backing on it. make one for your dad, too and hell, yourself.
Wish your mom and dad Good luck from your invisible friends here on the Dope!

How about a portable DVD player and a netflix subscription? She’ll be spending a lot of time hanging out at the chemo center and although some women are the chatty types, others just want to pass the time. After all, just because you both have cancer doesn’t mean someone will be a person you want to hang out with. Skin stuff - mosturizers, etc. Chemo is hard on your skin. My sister chose to wear a wig after she lost her hair - invest in a good one. She got lots of compliments on her “hair” from people who didn’t know it was a wig.

Good luck to her. My mother, sister and aunt are all breast cancer survivors.


Most of the things I wanted to suggest have been mentioned.

How about a neck pillow in case she’s tired or not feeling well during the treatment? That way she can take a nap or relax.

A good joke book, maybe an old Far Side book or George Carlin, whatever she may be into.

A fingernail buffer. Just because she’s sick doesn’t mean she can’t still feel pretty.

Comfy slippers.
Does your mom have grandkids? If so, engcourage them to write stories, draw pictures, or send home made cards. She can take them with her to read and of course showing them off to the other patients will be a bonus. :wink:
Good luck to her.

Tom Batiuk’s Lisa’s Story. I’m no fan of his, but this is an excellent read, and it contains information on help groups for battlers of breast cancer.

My sister got an iPod from us. We preloaded it with music. Sounds like your Mom has one.

Stupid books - like the Stephanie Plum novels.

While it isn’t something to keep her busy during Chemo - help seemed welcome to my sister. Someone else mopping the floors and dusting. Maybe a once a week housekeeper.

Oh, and chemo seems to hit people differently - the first round my sister went through she had one day of blah about three days after chemo - it got worse each time - hitting earlier, being more severe, lasting longer - but even after her final round (six) she was really only “down hard” for two days - with a day or two of blah on either end - and didn’t have the vomiting or sickness - just complete and total exhaustion.

I appreciate the practical advice and what I assume is the helpful spirit it was offered in, but you have entirely mistaken me if you are under the impression I am taking this lightly. I am well aware she could die of it, thanks.

Everyone (including straykat):

Thanks for the suggestions! I really like the NetFlix idea as I know she’ll be experiencing a lot of down time. The lap desk, neck pillow, and mouthwash also are great ideas. (Heck, they’re all great ideas.)

A huge issue for my family is that my parents are in Arizona while all three kids are in North Carolina. My mom will be depending on my dad a lot, so I also intend to include stuff for him.

Mom knows she will lose her hair. She’s already picking out her wig. She also knows the importance of taking her meds as prescribed. Unfortunately, this isn’t her first ride at this particular rodeo. But the first time was 23 years ago, I was a teenager, so I don’t remember what helped her with chemo then, if I even thought to ask or ever knew.

I really appreciate all the suggestions. I’m going shopping tonight! :slight_smile:

My ex-wife is a palliative care consultant. I asked her for advice once for someone at work who had a family member having chemo. I remember that she stressed that it is important to try to force her medical practitioners to make every effort to avoid nausea/sickness problems. She said that they have a cumulative psychological effect - if you don’t feel nauseous to start with you often never do, and obversely if you have a bad experience with nausea you find it very hard to ever overcome it.

Does she like any kind of genre fiction- science fiction, fantasy, mystery, romance, historical fiction? There are plenty of examples of all kinds of genres that make not-too-challenging reading for someone who’s not feeling well. This kind of thing is what hack genre fiction is for. You’ll probably want to avoid anything where someone with cancer is a key part of the plot, though.

I find that those little butterscotch disks in individual yellow wrappers that you can buy in bags at convenience stores (here’s a picture of some) are helpful when I’m nauseous. If her doctors will let her have those, they might help.

Do they have a cell phone plan with free long distance and good coverage in their area? If not, you or some other member of the family might want to look into one for them.

Download a relaxation program on her ipod. I recommend “Drifting Downstream.” Relaxation and imagery are good for nausea.

You may want to think about a visit schedule for the end of chemo (the first rounds are easier) where - if you can travel, each of you takes a week. Goes out for chemo day and leaves a week later (she may be much perkier). That can take some of the pressure off your dad (or maybe not) and give them a change.

When my aunt went through it her blood count went down so she didn’t leave the house for three months and no one other than her husband and doctors and children saw her - her grandchildren didn’t see her for three months.

My sister’s white count never changed (except from the MRSA infection from the portacath site) - so she did a lot of visiting, saw people, had her kids in daycare, and went to work.

Zofran (ondansetron) is the good anti-nausea stuff, and it really does work.

A nice cashmere cardigan/ bed jacket. Hospitals can be draughty, and if you’re curled up in bed feeling yucky, at least you can be curled up in something comfy, feminine and beautiful.

Frador is the best thing for mouth sores.

Perhaps re-think the sad books idea…it might be a good idea to be able to let go of some emotions by being able to cry at a sad story. Obviously nothing bleak or nihilistic, perhaps something sad but romantic like the Time Traveller’s Wife?

I just went through this with a friend, except it was ovarian cancer. I second the Minkee blanket - they are fabulous! Lots of lip balm and lotions, and the individually packaged wet wipes for wiping hands when she can’t get to a sink. If she does any kind of handcrafting - cross-stitch, knitting, crocheting - something like that can keep her hands busy when she’s tired of reading.

If you intend to send flowers, don’t. Send a potted plant instead - the implication is that she has to stay alive to water it!

If you (or especially she) are religious, get her name to a prayer group. It was a big comfort to my friend to know that there were people she didn’t even know (including people here on the Dope - thanks MMPer’s!) praying for her.

Good luck, and my thoughts will be with your mom and your family.

You shouldn’t give stuff like plants if the immune system is being suppressed. Keep the family members that are idiots from contaminating her environment , when they have the sniffles, or their kid is sick at home with the flu. They are too likely to cause severe problems for her.

Buy some of the things people mention that are nice, and save the money for a few days into treatment. You’ll know much better what she needs at that point. I’ve seen a room full of junk presents while most have been taken home to sit in a closet. Something like a picture frame with the grand kids and a voice recording is perfect for the severely ill. You know what she values more than any of us, so go with what you feel is right. I had to run down a special food, because most food was sickening to somebody. I paid a bit for it, and hours searching, but it was something that was better than another closet trinket. It saved the spouse from having to do this too.

I hope she gets through this alright and heals quickly.

My wife complained of a metallic taste in her mouth and combated it with peppermints and lemon drops. Something strong but not overwhelming. (No Fisherman’s Friend or anything like that.)
Another thing is some kind of easily-carried bag, like a back-pack for her to pack all this stuff inside. Make sure she has a bottle of water with her although the hospital will probably give her one.

All the best to all of you.