When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, it was all a blur. But there is one moment in the hazy 48 hour period after hearing – you have cancer – that replays so clearly in my mind.
I just received the call from the radiologist informing me that I was a cancer patient. As instructed, I scheduled an appointment with a breast surgeon at a world-renowned cancer center in New York City. All I knew was that I had cancer, and seeing a surgeon was the most important first step.
I received a call from the office of the cancer center, I assumed – to confirm my surgeon appointment. But instead, the woman on the phone told me I needed to schedule an appointment with a medical oncologist. I very naively asked why.
Her response, her voice – I can hear it clear as my own thoughts. “Oh honey, no one told you you are going to need chemo?”
Regardless of your age, stage, or diagnosis – being told that your treatment plan includes chemotherapy is gut wrenching. Preparing for chemo is anxiety-provoking.
The notorious IV drip that leads to vomiting and hair loss. What side effects should you expect? The red devil. What will infusion feel like? The chemonster. How will your body respond to this treatment?
Gathering these must-have items and packing your chemo bag before your first treatment is one way to stay in control and ease that anxiety. Here are the 10 essential items that I brought with me to every infusion during my breast cancer treatment.
1.Hydration is Key
Grab your favorite water bottle, and fill it up (and refill it again!). Drinking water before and during chemotherapy treatment is so important! The treatment and its side effects may cause dehydration so you want to be as hydrated as possible. When you hydrate properly the day before your infusion, it will also help the process of finding a vein if you are receiving treatment through an IV.
Breastie pro-tip: cut up lemons and bring them with you to flavor the water. Sometimes plain water just doesn’t taste good when your tastebuds change.
Corkcicle’s Sport Canteen, $39.96
2. Layers, Layers and More Layers
Grab your favorite sweatshirt and bring it with you to your treatment. From my own personal experience, my temperature would fluctuate drastically during infusions. I always wore a tank top and a few layers to ensure I was comfortable, no matter if I was having a hot flash or shivering.
Breastie pro tip: Finding a zip up, or sweatshirt with a quarter zip will allow for easy port-access!
3. Your Feet Deserve to be Comfy, Too
Your infusion may be long, so you want to be as comfortable as possible. Kick back, take those shoes off, and make sure your feet are comfy! Slippers are great to slide on if you need to head to the bathroom during the infusion.
Breastie pro tip: Fuzzy socks and slippers make for the perfect duo.
4. Pack the Snacks
Steroids can make you ravenously hungry, so make sure you are prepared with some yummy snacks. Hospital graham crackers and saltines don’t always cut it — so bring your own delicious treats — and a variety, to satisfy what suits you in the moment!
Breastie pro-tip: Find something easy on the stomach and packed with nutrients! Think banana with nut butter, trail mix, veggies and yogurt dip, a protein bar, or roasted chickpeas!
Perfect Snacks’ Almond Butter, (box of 8) $24
5. Ginger to the Rescue
When nausea and dry mouth come knocking, be prepared. Having ginger chews, mints, lemon drops or sucking candies handy can help to combat unpleasant tastes and smells.
Breastie pro-tip: Having the candy in my mouth always helped to mask the triggering taste of the first saline flush of my IV!
Ginger People Gin Gins, $3.69
6. Don’t Leave Without Lip Balm
Certain chemotherapy drugs can lead to dry, chapped lips. Having some lip balm handy will make sure you are comfortable, and those lips stay hydrated too!
Breastie pro tip: Find a chapstick with an applicator (vs. a lip balm tin/pot) so you don’t have to apply with your fingers and risk the potential spread of germs.
7. Upgrade Your Cozy Essentials
Many cancer centers provide pillows and blankets to make you cozy — so don’t be afraid to ask for some! Still, there’s nothing like your own pillow and blanket to really get cozy and attempt to nap during infusions.
Breastie pro tip: Bring a silk eye mask to create an even more peaceful environment for snoozing!
8. Pack a Good Book to Keep Yourself Busy
If you’re able to bring a friend with you, company is the best medicine. If not, have no fear — bring your headphones, your tablet, or a good book to help the time pass.
Breastie pro-tip: Make a Spotify playlist that you listen to the morning of your treatment, in transit to the hospital, or during the infusion itself — a little Lizzo “Feelin Good As Hell” can go a long way to help you decompress and take your mind off all the chaos.
9. Take Notes
A notebook is a must-have, to ensure that you have a place to write down the many things you will learn at your appointment like medication doses and times, side effect hacks, maybe even someone’s number/email/social media handle that you meet in the waiting room.
Breastie pro-tip: If you’re feeling up to it, you may even want to journal or write down some thoughts and feelings you have during your infusion.
10. Reminder: You are Strong and can do Hard Things
Having a positive mindset can make a huge difference in how you’re feeling. Pack a good luck charm or subtle reminder of your strength in case you forget how resilient you are.
Breastie pro-tip: Share and swap your inspirational gifts with a Breastie! A little surprise delivered via snail mail always leads to a smile.