Things to Pack in Your Chemo Bag (or For Any Hospital Stay)

3 years ago

Image: Essie via Flickr

First, a little background on the particular type of treatment I received for melanoma. Technically interferon is a "biochemotherapy," meaning it uses my own immune system to fight cancer. Regardless, I had a mediport and felt crappy, all in the name of getting rid of cancer -- so chemo it is!

The regimen for interferon included one "induction" month of 5 day a week infusions, followed by 11 months of "maintenance" which was three days a week. Sounds like fun, right? During the induction month of interferon I would spend about half the day in the hospital Monday through Friday. The first couple of days everything is new and interesting, after that you feel shitty and those half days get old really fast.

Day 1 of induction!

[During the maintenance phase I gave myself shots at home so that was less "involved."]

Here are some of the things I liked to have with me in the hospital.  This bag is for those day stays but it would also work as a base for an overnight visit.

My Hospital Day Bag

Computer: It was nice just to just poke around on the computer while I was "hooked up." It served as a nice distraction for myself and was a pretty universal symbol that I wanted to be left alone.

Straight hair = I didn't shower during the week. #sorryimnotsorry

iPod with Headphones: Again, another "leave me alone" sign, plus music can definitely be therapeutic. Although sometimes if I was in a real mood, I subjected all the other patients and staff to my music. ;)

Blanket: You may have hot and cold flashes like a menopausal woman! Heated blankets from the hospital are nice, but that smell though...

Another Person: One, if not both of my parents were with me for each and every infusion. Sometimes a friend would even come and sit with me! I'd say 80% of the time this was a good thing. Towards the end of induction, I was a pretty hateful little shit and wanted to be alone, so I made sure to articulate that chemo time = quiet time. Ha!

Something to Read: Read something light-hearted, like a magazine. You're sitting in a chemo chair for crying out loud!

Makeup: Anyone ever apply makeup just for the fun of it? Pretty darn good opportunity to practice your skills. The epitome of "all dressed up with no place to go!"

Change of Clothes: Some days I was all about bumming it to chemo, while others I wanted to feel human so I would try and pull myself together a bit. Whichever you chose to start with, pack the opposite just in case. Who knows what can happen in a hearty FML mood swing. "Ah these damn jeans are so uncomfortable! Why didn't I wear sweats?!" OR "OMG I feel so gross. I stink. I look like a slob. When was the last time I even put real clothes on? Ew. Where's my toothbrush and makeup bag?" Either way, you're covered.

Topical Lidocaine: If you have a port and are being accessed that day, sometimes applying this to your port site ahead of time can help with the um... sting. Shit, just rub it all over! Who knows where they will poke you next ;) Kidding, kinda.

Lip Balm: During treatment my mouth had a mind of its own! Dry mouth, cracked lips, sores... keep lip stuff with you! I also found that club soda helped with dry mouth.

Button Up or Loose Fitting Shirt: Or both. If you are taking the "dress like a human" approach, a botton up top will give your provider easy access to your port. If you have a PICC line make sure your shirt offers easy access to your line, otherwise they make require you to put on a gown and you know how I feel about hospital gowns.

ATTENTION!! Whatever you do, DO NOT bring any food that has any smell whatsoever. The other patients will not be happy with you. Oh, if looks could kill...

To be completely honest with you, I have some fond memories of my induction month. Sitting in the open bay of chemo chairs with other patients was nothing short of hysterical. (We had private rooms available, but for the most part didn't want them.) We would just laugh and laugh and laugh together!

Nurse: "Johnny. If you don't get your fever down I'm going to have to keep you for dinner."

Johnny: "Ugh. You are so strict. Well, wait. What's for dinner?"

I happened to be close with the nurse who administered my interferon. One day her husband brought flowers to the hospital for me. My nurse/his wife called me over to look at them but said I couldn't take them back to the chemo chair because it is against hospital policy. Her husband goes "goddamn it! That was nice of me though, right?"

Cancer sucks for sure! BUT, as always, your attitude is up to you. The way I see it, patients have two choices, they can bitch and moan and be miserable every day, or they can grab the situation by the balls and have a little grace. EVERYONE has their crappy days, I'm speaking in generalities.

This was clearly a "private room, nobody talk to me" kind of day. I was reading up on dog training since I was getting Schatzi the following month!

Cancer people, what did I forget?


Marry Mint

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