All, Chemotherapy, Preparing for Treatment

What to take to chemo?

I’ve talked before about my control freakery… it’s a thing for me. So it is no surprise that before I started chemotherapy I was very concerned about what I should to take to chemo. I ended up taking everything but the kitchen sink! Obviously over the course of treatment, I refined what I took (if only to save my husband from having to lug it all in!) So the big question is, what should you take to chemo? Here are my top tips.

Firstly, I would say that it is worth finding out how long your chemo session will take, I had two different types over the course of my treatment – one took about half an hour to administer (plus time for the saline drip that they like to start you off with), and the other took all day. Speak to your oncologist/medical team and they will give you a rough indication of time, which will help you prepare. Add on an extra hour or two, as in my experience, there was often a delay.

What’s in the chemo bag?

Obviously my bag for the sprint session was significantly smaller than the marathon, but here is the LTB guide to what I found useful:

  • Water – chemo leaves you dry as a bone, and you will need to hydrate. I used to like to put lemon slices in my bottle, which not only helped with some of the weird tastes you can get in your mouth from the medicine, but also gives a little vitamin c boost too. Although I really rate the aluminium water bottles now I’m out of treatment, I found that at the time, I couldn’t drink from one as it just increased the weird metallic taste I would get in my mouth. So I would recommend taking a reusable plastic bottle instead.
  • Hard boiled sweets/caramels to suck on or fresh pineapple, this is to help with the weird medicine tastes you can experience, and the pineapple can help keep ulcers at bay too. 
  • Snacks & food – because steroids make you hungry, and hospital food is pretty uninspiring. I found it much easier to take and eat my own food than a limp sandwich – particularly as time went on and which foods I could bear to eat got more limited. My family actually got in a little competition over who could make the most impressive packed lunch for me, which I definitely did not complain about 😉
  • Also, if you bring your goodies in an insulated cool bag with an ice pack, then you can also use this to take home any medicine that needs to be kept cool (eg filgrastim injections). Plus ice packs can be a useful (albeit not very comfortable) way of keeping neuropathy at bay.
  • A good friend/family member/spouse who will be entertaining and able to distract you, who is happy to do coffee/cake runs if you need, and won’t mind if the medications knock you out for hours at a time
  • A notepad and pen, it is hard to take in all the information that you are given, especially if you are at the mercy of chemo brain, being able to write down instructions on the array of medicine you need to take or things you are being told can be really help, and if nothing else, you can always challenge your companion to a game of noughts and crosses or hangman to keep boredom at bay.
  • You may be an avid reader, or a big fan of a heavy netflix drama/documentary, but personally I found that when I was having chemo my concentration was a bit like that of a small toddler, and on the days when I was given a mega dose of antihistamines I was also prone to nodding off. I found magazines, games on my phone, audiobooks, ie things that were easily digestible and didn’t require much concentration were much better and allowed me to pick up and put down as needed. At one point I attempted knitting (which normally I quite enjoy and find quite soothing as my secret nana hobby) but I kept losing my place and whether I was supposed to be knitting or purling, which made for an interesting looking jumper…
  • Headphones – this is one for the marathon days, the IV machines beep quite a lot, and when you are in a room with loads of them, it can feel a bit like the whole day has a bad old-school eurotrash dance soundtrack with the constant beeping. Head phones – whether you are plugged in to your music of choice, or binge-watching a TV show, can stop you wanting to throw the machines (or yourself) out the window
  • Comfortable clothes and layers that can be easily removed ideally one handed (unless you have a port) whilst you are “hooked up”. I found wraps or a snuggly shawl were great for wrapping myself up for warmth and comfort without getting in the way of my picc-line
  • If you don’t have a picc-line or a port, a small hot water bottle or heat pack can really help make your veins easier to work with
  • My standard “out and about kit” of hand sanitiser, hand cream, tissues, lip balm and hand mirror. Hand sanitiser because the world is germ-ridden and chemo kills your immune system, hand cream because your hands get really dry and sore (from the chemo and also all the washing), tissues because you lose your nose hair too (seriously!!) and it turns out that nose hair stops nose drip! Lip balm to help keep dry, cracked lips at bay, and hand mirror to keep a check on rogue eyebrows and wigs! (PS – we sell sets like this, and they make a great gift! See below!!)
  • And finally, someone to drive you home – after chemo I always felt tipsy, like I’d spent the afternoon in a beer garden drinking rose wine. But without the view, the fresh air, and pleasantries, and with a hangover to end all hangovers afterwards! Stay safe – don’t chemo and drive!

And that is it, my guide of what to take to chemotherapy. If you are cold-capping, then there are some extra bits you will need too, but I’ll cover these in a separate post all about cold-capping at a later date.

I’m sure there is something around a “kick-ass attitude” and all that, but the truth is that if it is your first time, you are probably a wee-bit scared and overwhelmed at the whole prospect of chemo And the truth is, I don’t think it matters to anyone, and certainly won’t impact how well the chemo works, whether you walk in like a roaring lion or a mewling kitten. 

The nurses have seen it all, and are very good at taking it in their stride – if you want to dress as Wonder Woman or Batman, and it helps you feel good and strong, then go for it. If a onesie and uggs is more your lane, then that is OK too. I did wear my mega-heels and red lipstick to every session as it helped me feel more like me, and was my armour against the surrealness of it all. But you will find your own way, and your own list of essentials. In the meantime, hopefully this little guide will help get you started.

Good luck!

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