As I explained in this post, my mom was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Once I got over the initial shock, sadness and anger, I moved into what I like to call my “practical stage,” where I started researching ways to make the whole diagnosis and treatment process less scary and awful for her. First of all, let’s be honest: nothing can make cancer okay. There’s a reason they call it “the Big C” – it’s big and it sucks and it looms over our lives now like this big menacing cloud. It’s insane when I actually think about the fact that I live in a world where my mom has cancer, and she says all the time how weird and scary it is to have this deadly thing inside of her. Our bodies aren’t supposed to betray us like this. But her stupid boobs got mad at the rest of her body or something, because they’re attacking her. I call them her jerk boobs now.
In my research, I found countless websites and talked to a lot of survivors who had some great suggestions for material things that could help make cancer treatments, chemo and surgery specifically, easier on the patient. I started gathering things to put in a big basket to give to her before she started her first treatment – chemo or surgery, whichever came first. In her case, the mastectomy is coming first. Of course the best thing I can give her while she’s going through this is love and support, but those are a given, so I wanted to have something nice to offer her to show that I’m here in more ways than one.
Here I want to share what I’ve found in my research (in case it can help someone else going through this) and I’d like to ask that if you have any suggestions for things I’ve missed, forgotten or don’t know about – things that personally helped you or someone you love – please, please don’t hesitate to share with me! We’re still new to this, and I’ve found that talking to real people who have gone through it has been invaluable. I love talking to survivors and hearing positive stories to keep our spirits up, and anything I can do to help my mom I’m happy to do/buy/make/etc.
I’m going to break down the contents into a few sections: the words, the medical stuff, and comforting things. First up, the words.
The first thing I bought was a card from Emily McDowell’s “Empathy” collection. I’ve been following Emily on Instagram for a while and as a cancer survivor herself, I really liked her approach to empathetic words the best out of anything else I’d seen. Nothing said it would be okay, or that she’s on a beautiful journey where everything will be rainbows in the end. Her cards are relatable and comforting without being condescending or cheesy. Read more about why Emily created the cards here and here.
I also got Mom this card from Papyrus. I already had the Emily McDowell card but used this one as an encouragement/don’t lose hope card, where I wrote in a bunch of websites and programs I’ve found that she could utilize when she’s ready.
A few books I found on Amazon that were well reviewed:
- Now What? A Patient’s Guide to Recovery After Mastectomy: comprehensive and written from personal experience, the author answers a lot of questions that come with diagnosis and what to do after surgery that doctors can’t give the best answers for. She covers everything from how to make the hard decisions, how to care for yourself after surgery, and even includes blank charts in the back of the book to keep track of drain output and medications. This is the only one my mom has had a chance to flip through yet, but she says it’s easy to read and helpful. Even better, it doesn’t include the very scary stories you sometimes come across on message boards or comment sections when independently researching online.
- Let Me Get This Off My Chest: a more lighthearted perspective on breast cancer from a two time cancer survivor. I didn’t get a chance to flip through this one but it’s a collection of essays and anecdotes, with practical tips throughout and helpful suggestions on how to cope when you’re feeling low. Seemed like a good choice to give her a chance to laugh while still learning and relating.
- No Place Like Hope: this one was available in the cancer center store at our local hospital, so it must be popular. Filled with short, inspiring and practical blurbs, it’s easy to read in short bursts, doesn’t need to be read in order, and is good to give to someone battling any kind of cancer.
I also grabbed a couple crossword puzzle books to bring to chemo if she wants to pass the time that way.
Next, the medical stuff:
- Biotene (mouth wash and toothpaste): chemotherapy can cause pretty bad dry mouth and this stuff is supposed to help without stinging.
- Extra soft toothbrush: because chemo can make mouths and gums extra sensitive or sore, an extra soft toothbrush makes brushing easier.
- Hand sanitizer: chemo weakens your immune system which means it’s easier to get sick, so we’re loading up on hand sanitizer. I got the regular unscented gel, spray and wipes.
- Non latex gloves: just to have in case, and non-latex since she’s allergic.
- Prevention Mouth Rinse: my mom is scared of getting painful mouth sores because my grandpa got them really bad when he was going through chemo. I saw this stuff was well reviewed so I got it to give her a little piece of mind.
And last, a few things to bring her comfort:
- Anti-nausea aids: apparently chemotherapy has come leaps and bounds in recent years in regards to nausea, which is a relief to my mom. I got her Queasy Drops and Sea Bands just in case she wants to try them, if the anti-emetic they give her doesn’t work or she has breakthrough nausea.
- Chemo cap: I got this in the cancer shop at the hospital. There’s no way around losing her hair, and she’s not too upset about it, but I figured it would be good to have a hat on hand since she’s not a regular hat person.
- Mastectomy pillows: these are heart shaped pillows I made for after her surgery. I kept seeing them recommended from women who said they were comfortable to have under their arms after surgery, so I just traced hearts on scrap fabric, sewed them up and stuffed them with pillow stuffing.
- Hand cream: again, from the hospital gift shop. My mom looooves her some hand cream. I don’t know if she’ll be able to tolerate the smell once she starts chemo, but if it bothers her we’ll get her some Lubriderm or Aquaphor.
One last thing I included in her card was a gift that means a lot to us. I found The Giving Keys a few years ago and they’ve become my favorite gift to give. The premise is you buy a key, engraved with a word of your choice (think: strength, breathe, hope, etc but it can be whatever word you want) and you give it to someone who needs it. At some point in their life, the recipient gives the key away to someone else who needs the message, and the cycle carries on, giving encouragement where it’s needed. I’ve given a few and a few years ago, my mom gave me one that said “breathe” with a little handwritten note. I still have the key. I haven’t given it away yet. I still need it. I gave her one in the basket that says “strength.”
So that’s all I came up with for now. There’s more, of course, that we have to get beforehand but these are just some things I thought would come in handy that she doesn’t have to worry about buying herself now. Let me know if there’s something specific that helped you or your loved one, I want to do everything in my power to make this go more smoothly for her!