This post is a collaborative effort from the members of Breast Cancer Sisters compiled by Taylor Eames.
Once the breast cancer diagnosis is shared with friends and family, one of the most common things we hear is , “How can I help?” or “What can I do for you?” It’s difficult for many women to accept that they need help let alone to ask for it. So I posed the question in our group asking what our warriors would have appreciated in care packages and what services their support system could do to take away some of the burden of a cancer diagnosis.
For Side Effects:
- Hard Candies/Anti-Nausea Pops or Drops/Chewing Gum-Chemotherapy often causes nausea and can also leave a bad taste in the mouth. Citrus, ginger, or mint are helpful for both of these side effects, but feel free to get something you know your fighter will like.
- Head Coverings-Hair loss is imminent. There’s really no getting around it with the types of chemo that are used to combat breast cancer. Talk with your warrior to find
out what kinds of head coverings they would want to wear. Wigs are available for free through the American Cancer Society, but you can always offer to purchase a gift certificate to a wig store nearby so they can pick out something in their preferred color and style. Bandanas, silk scarves, bucket hats, beanies, baseball caps, and other styles are all up to the wearer’s preference. A popular option in the group is ChemoBeanies.com. If you are planning to hand make hats, please remember that bald heads are quite sensitive. You should use soft cotton, fleece, or silk. Homespun yarn is a good choice for crochet or knit hats.
- Lotion-Chemo and radiation both cause skin irritation. Remember strong smells can make nausea worse, so we recommend sticking to unscented or sensitive lotions. Eucerin and Aquaphor are fantastic options. If you do go with something scented, lavender is soothing and peppermint helps with nausea.
- Ointments-Radiation can leave burn marks on the skin. Our members have suggested 100% Aloe Vera, Bepanthen, Aquaphor healing ointment, bees wax, Miaderm Radiation Cream, and Medline Skin Remedy.
- Salt-This may seem weird but it’s going to show your fighter that you did some research! Chemo patients often lose all sense of taste and/or they have a constant metallic taste in their mouth. One of the things most often suggested to anyone complaining of not being able to taste food is salt. Plain old table or sea salt! From baked chicken to mashed potatoes to veggies, we cover it in salt and finally are able to taste something.
- Plastic Utensils-This is another strange one, but believe me, it’s helpful. Like I said above, chemo causes a horrible metallic taste. Using regular metal forks and spoons makes it worse.
- Biotene Mouthwash and Soft Tooth Brush-Another unpleasant side effect of chemo is sensitive gums and mouth sores. The soft tooth brush will help massage the gums when they are sore without causing more issues. Biotene is an excellent mouthwash that oncologists recommend to their patients who are experiencing mouth sores.
- Baby Oil/Coconut Oil/Baby Shampoo-With hair loss, cancer patients’ heads get very sensitive. We still wash our noggins even though we don’t have hair. Using a gentle shampoo and then massaging oil into the scalp helps bring down the tenderness.
- Sun Screen-Chemo causes a sun sensitivity. I remember getting burnt after just being outside for ten minutes without any sunscreen on.
- Claritin-Neulasta, a shot that is given to boost white blood cells, causes major bone pain. For some reason, Claritin seems to help with that pain for a few people. Everyone should at least try it before having to rely on heavy duty pain meds instead.
- Imodium/Flushable Wipes-Here’s an embarrassing fact that you probably don’t care to know: chemo causes diarrhea. Chemo nurses recommend Imodium. And the flushable wipes help with the sensitive skin when frequent potty breaks are needed.
- OTC Medications-Tylenol, Benadryl, Melatonin, Colace, all useful during chemo.
- Fuzzy Socks-Neuropathy from chemo causes chilly tootsies.
- Soft, Warm Blanket-Heat and cold tolerance is all sorts of messed up during treatment. A nice cuddly blanky is a loving gesture too.
- Hand Sanitizer-Germs are the enemy. Chemo kills white blood cells. Washing hands after touching grocery carts or money, after shaking hands, or when someone around you is sick, are essential parts of infection precaution.
- Pill Case-Anti-nausea, steroids, pain meds, hormone blockers, etc. Meds are taken all day every day. So something to sort them out is helpful.
- Calendar-Chemo often causes memory issues. Chemo brain is a real thing. With the many appointments that go along with treatment, a calendar all help keep them organized.
Post Op Items:
- Button Up Jammies/Spacious Night Gowns/Robe-After a mastectomy, the arms cannot be raised for at least a week, and after that, it is often difficult and range of motion is limited.
- Drain Tube Pouch/Apron-Your fighter will most likely come home with at least one drainage tube. It’s best to allow gravity to work with these tubes, so keeping them in pockets at waist level is advised.
- Drain Tube Lanyard-This is great to hold the drain tubes while showering
- Heart Pillow/Small Pillow-Placing a pillow under the arm after surgery is essential. The nerves are extremely sensitive under the arm. It feels like a severe sunburn. I kept a pillow under both arms for about three weeks.
- Ice Packs-Along with the pillows under the arms, ice packs also help sooth the sensitive skin.
- Seat Belt Pillow-The seat belt goes right over the incisions and can irritate sutures. A seat belt pillow can just be a small pillow that sits between the seat belt and the chest or one that wraps around the seat belt to protect the chest.
- Slip On Shoes or Slippers-Again, it’s difficult to move the arms after a mastectomy, and frankly, it’s hard to move all together. So being able to step right into your shoes with out having to bend over to put them on is very helpful.
- Freezer Dinners/Set up a Meal Train-If you know someone going through treatment or surgery, or someone just diagnosed or feeling overwhelmed with life and stress caused by the diagnosis, make a meal and bring it over to their house. I cannot tell you how much that will mean to them. You can also set up a meal train at mealtrain.com. Basically, you set up a schedule for others to bring in meals to the family in need. This is especially awesome for single moms!
- Cleaning-Either go to your warrior’s home and clean their bathroom or kitchen, or hire a maid to do it for them. Even if it’s something simple like cleaning a toilet or vacuuming the hallway, it’s extremely helpful.
- Babysitting-Chemo, radiation, and surgery are all exhausting. Invite your fighter’s kids over for an evening or to do something special. It will give your patient time to rest without worrying about taking care of the children, and it will make the kids feel special. Mom is going through something rough right now and is probably getting all the attention. The kiddoes need to feel some love and normalcy during this hard time.
- Gift Cards-Restaurants, gas, iTunes, Red Box, Massage, Spa, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, etc. Anything that will take you warrior’s mind off the fight is very helpful.
- Word Search Books
- Crossword Puzzles
- Crocheting Hook or Knitting Needles and Yarn
- A book about how to crochet or knit
- Adult Coloring Books and Colored Pencils or Markers
- A stuffed animal to be their mascot during treatments
- Random Texts to Show you Care
- Comic Books
- Audio Books
- Sketch Pad
- Send silly Snapchats
- Go to their infusion and make fun videos together
- Sudoku Books
- Share a silly meme on their Facebook page just for the heck of it
- Send a card. Not a sympathy card. A funny card. Something that will make them smile.
The most common things requested are support and prayers. Go do some research about their type of cancer and their treatment plan. The more you know, the more you can be there for them as they go through this battle for their life. If you ever feel awkward asking them what they need, ask a close friend or family member to give you a specific thing to do that will help them out.
Lastly, you should know that the battle does not end with “no evidence of disease.” Some side effects can become long term. Anxiety about future health issues and possible recurrence is often quite prevalent. After spending a year or longer in treatment, suddenly being done being a professional patient feels strange and empty. Your warrior is going to need you now as much as ever. Check in often. Make sure they are taking care of their mental health as well as their physical health. Continue to give them the love and support they need to reenter a normal life.
Do you have anything to add to this list? Feel free to comment with more suggestions!