I have cancer: Stage 3B Invasive Ductal Carcinoma; Breast Cancer. I’m currently kicking it in the ding-ding, and I thought I should post about what kept me (mostly) comfortable through chemotherapy. I know some of you are currently going through chemo, or are about to start. This is my list of creature comforts for making chemo as comfortable as possible — because it’s not comfortable at all. It really sucks.
There’s also a lack of information about what to expect while you’re going through it. I highly recommend starting a Target Registry or Amazon Wishlist (Free 30-day Prime Trial & Discounted Prime for EBT/SNAP Users) so that the folks who don’t know what to do and are beside themselves can still help.
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A Separate Sleeping Space
Yes, I know you love your significant other, and it feels safe to sleep with them, but your being able to sleep during this time is crucial. So is theirs — especially if they’re helping you get through. You probably will NOT be able to sleep together on nights 3–7 (at least), following your chemo session. you will be up and down, sweaty and not, maybe pukey and not, and it’s really disruptive to sleep patterns.
If you don’t have a guest bedroom, maybe designate the sofa as specifically your space for days 3–10 following your chemo session, get an air mattress, twin bed, or cot for the corner of the living room, or use your fave recliner. You’re gonna not want to move much, and also be easily helped. This facilitates both.
Soft Sheets & Firm COOLING Pillows
I am a medium-density feather pillow, super-soft microfiber sheets gal. Through chemo, there was no way any of that was going to be comfortable. I cannot stress enough how much your body temperature is probably going to fluctuate while you recover from chemo. You are going to NEED cotton (or bamboo) and cooling everything, along with a heated throw. I switched to a cotton mattress pad, cotton sheets, and cooling pillows, and that wasn’t enough for me. Don’t be afraid to upgrade your personal rest space. I went with twin-size for my space — which is more affordable and suitable for using on a sofa should anyone else become ill and need that space in the future.
As for the pillows, let’s just be honest: most regular bed pillows are going to leave you flat and not prop you up well for long periods of time. You’re going to want to invest in at least 1 good memory foam cooling pillow or one of those back support pillow chairs.
While we’re discussing the bed, grab 2 memory foam travel neck pillows. If you’re not doing DigniCap, you’ll love it for while you’re resting in the chemo chair. It can also be used to safely hold your drinks on the bed with you, so you don’t have to reach far to grab your beverage.
After my 2nd round of chemo, I was unable to stand for long on days 3–7. I also had a PICC Line (I recommend asking for a port in your arm, if you can), which limited my ability to shower, because I had to do this makeshift cover with saran wrap and waterproof tape (worked amazingly well). I didn’t have the energy to stand, though, and quickly lost the strength to be able to pull myself out of the bath.
I cannot tell you what a difference this made in my chemo sessions, and my ability to sleep in the days following. Pert of my cocktail was having to have a Neulasta OnPro shot to promote marrow growth, and this caused a TON of pain in my bones. In addition to the recommended Claritin non-drowsy (check with your physician) to ease that pain, the gentle warmth of my heated throw kept the pain low. It was also amazing during chemo, because I was using the DigniCap and cooling my head to 34°F every session. the great thing about a heated throw is that it’s portable and fits right in your backpack. Oh yeah! You’re gonna want
The key here is get one big enough to haul chemo-day essentials (water bottle, heated throw, book, fuzzy socks, etc.) and lightweight enough for you to move on your own. One of my girlfriends got me this great Wonder Woman backpack, and it’s the perfect size. I used it all the way through my radiation treatments, and still carry it through my remaining infusions.
You’re probably going to have a difficult time eating at some point. I didn’t get the usual loss of appetite, and I didn’t get nausea until after my 3rd round of chemo. The odds are that the side effects are going to get progressively worse, and there might be a time when you can barely lift your head during that first week after chemo, and you’re going to be so happy you have protein shakes.
You don’t have to get the gross ones, either. Brands like Bolthouse Farms make high-protein shakes that are right there in that refrigerated section in your grocery store — by the pre-made smoothies. Do yourself a favor, and buy a few. Even if you don’t think you’ll use them right away, you might be ready to down one just to get something in your body after chemo #3.
I went through probably 25 cases of Smart Water during chemo. They stress how important it is to keep your hydration levels up, and it’s really easy to get dehydrated. I don’t know if drinking regular water would’ve been any different. I was drinking at least 2 liters a day and still getting dehydrated. Be careful not to get water intoxication. Go ahead and mix it up with other enjoyable beverages too, as your stomach and doctor allow. Oh, and I was a hard no on sports drinks. You’re really better off drinking tap water.
I hate those crazy fuzzy microfiber socks. I’m probably weird, and don’t let my opinion scare you off them if you like them, but I highly recommend also getting slipper socks with the sticky bottoms — especially for chemo days and if you have tile, linoleum, or hardwoods in your house. Those other socks make my feet feel like they’re slipping around inside the sock, and they tickle between my toes, and it’s just a whole ordeal. If you’re anything like me, save yourself the situation, and just grab the good ones to begin with.
I spent the better part of my time in chemo feeling like I smelled like the chemicals they were pumping into my body. I didn’t of course, unless you were one of the pets I snuggled regularly. They seemed confused that I didn’t smell like I was supposed to for a few days after chemo.
I would’ve been MUCH worse off without the glorious invention that is the portable wipe. I mean, I needed and used just about every type of wipe. It’s already one thing that you’re forcing yourself to be sick, but all that sweat and other fluids can make things really uncomfortable.
What really saved my life, though, were these lavender and witch hazel Preparation H wipes. Man! I was so dehydrated, I was constipated, and it took a while to recover. Those wipes literally saved my ass. Sadly, the only place I could find them was Walgreens, and so I ordered extra strength Preparation H wipes from Amazon.
You’re also going to get sweaty, and your face without hair will be a snot spigot. You’re going to want a pack of body wipes and face wipes nearby. I used these super-refreshing cucumber face wipes and Huggies unscented wipes for sensitive skin, and kept mine by my pillow.
Microwaveable Neck Warmer
These neck warmers are just so comforting to me, I felt like they needed to be included. I still use my neck warmer every night. It’s weighted because of the clay beads (versus the usual rice, corn, or flax) and feels like a hug.
If you have the amazing fortune to have access to a hot water bottle, use that to warm your feet. Mine recently broke, and you can’t just run out and get one anymore where I live. I’ve looked at 20 places, and have had no luck.
This may have been instrumental in keeping me from contracting extraneous illness, while my immune system was low following chemotherapy. I still take it with me in my purse and wear it in crowds, because the superbugs can be deadly.
Hard Candies & Mint Tea
You’re on your own for picking this. The tea I used came from an Asian market near my house, and the candies were homemade (not by me). I will say that when I can’t get or keep anything down, OR my stomach is really angry and gurgly, mint tea is particularly soothing.
Expanding File Folder
I cannot stress how important it is to have one place to keep your discharge notes and the notes you take on your meetings with the doctors, not to mention the worksheets and handouts they give you to manage your care. I kept the most-important pieces (handouts, prescriptions, diagnoses) in my backpack — which I kept as a Go Bag for chemo day, and any emergency room visits. I still carry it with me when I go to my appointments, in case I have any questions or need to be kept busy.
Comfy Pants & Hoodies with Kangaroo Pouches
Kangaroo pouches and pants pockets are invaluable while you’re going to — and recovering from — chemo. I fit my phone, keys, lip balm, tissues, hand sanitizer, and little snacks in my kangaroo pouch. To not have to hoist my purse AND a backpack was such a nice thing, especially when I eventually made it to having to ride in a wheelchair because of the fluid retention. It is so worth it to do yourself this favor, if you don’t stock up on anything else in this list.
I hope it goes without saying that you will want to be as comfortable as possible.
Other Things That Might Make A Huge Difference
- Ask for hydration infusions for the days following each chemo infusion. Days 3, 5, and 7 helped me so much. It’s really hard to drink enough water to flush your system — your body can only use so much, no matter how great you are at drinking it.
- Those powdered drink mixes that you put in bottled water make drinking another bottle bearable.
- Keeping notes on my symptoms each day helped me recognize when there was something new, and gave me the ability to ask about things that didn’t fit what was supposed to happen, and also anticipate what I was going to need when, in terms of comforts and medicines. I created a printable for you to keep track during your journey. I only dated to day 7, because some people go to chemo weekly (or more often). Day zero is the day before you go to your chemo appointment, and you may have meds to take in prep. I had steroids and antihistamines the day before. Click here to download your free sheet.
- Short Walks, even around the grocery store
- Going out as much as possible, and accepting visitors (wear your mask!).
- Getting a massage. Many cancer treatment programs offer massage and acupuncture for patients. Check into it.
If you need more, check out my ideas list on Amazon.