I am grateful to say that I am now on the right side of chemotherapy. Six months of fortnightly treatment for Hodgkin Lymphoma (nodular sclerosing) is quite enough, thank you very much. It's been a journey!
Both the chemotherapy and the cocktail of supporting drugs come with a bunch of side effects, which varied each treatment. I had a relatively light experience compared to many, but it was still nasty at times. My body appeared to adapt over time, and other than fatigue and gut issues, few of the side effects repeated each treatment. It meant I was able to continue working and have a light social life. Albeit a dose of Covid towards the end meant less of the socialising and allowing myself more time to rest.
Now that I've come to the end of my treatment, a friend mentioned recently that they knew so little about how to help their loved one with gifts when they went through cancer treatment. She suggested I write a blog post to help others by sharing my experience. And so here I am, picking up my blog that hasn't been touched for several years.
My friends and family were generous with their love and the gifts they gave me, which I'll be forever thankful for. And through the parcels that arrived at my door, I learnt lessons in what things I might need to support me. In return, I hope to help you gift someone you love who has a cancer diagnosis, something that will really support them.
I've created themed lists to help the different aspects of care, but just be mindful that I'm sharing from my experience only. Each person with cancer will have a different experience of their diagnosis. I, for example, had a form of blood cancer with no tumours. I had a biopsy to remove several lymph nodes to determine my diagnosis, but my surgery was relatively light compared to a tumour being removed. I had chemotherapy but not radiotherapy, I lost my hair, eyebrows and lashes, some people don't. Each experience is different, and below is what helped me through mine. But I hope my experience helps you to choose what serves your loved one well.
Don't buy Her Flowers and Not Another Bunch of Flowers are great first stops for TLC pamper gifts. I love flowers, but they can cause allergies. And whilst pretty, there are more useful gifts you can offer someone when they are facing a difficult time. I know I benefited from gorgeous gifts sent with the mindset of keeping me calm, cosy and feeling like I was cared for.
I was gifted some lovely treats that came from a variety of sources. Where you buy your gift is less important than what you buy.
Here are some of the things I loved:
PJs - there were days when this was all I wanted to wear
Microwaveable Heat Pad - great for cold days and aching muscles
Blankets - I was gifted a gorgeous Hug in a box from Atlantic Blankets
Sleep Eye mask - helpful for daytime snoozing and hospital visits
Face Masks - there are so many, but the Spacemasks Interstellar one is so relaxing
This Works With Sleep Comes Beauty Gift Set - combines soaks and scents to relax to
Books - for information, colouring in and escapism (just be aware that cancer books specifically might overwhelm or trigger the person going through the experience)
Candles - for relaxing scents, meditation and cosying up
Sweet Treats - not for everyone, but what is your friend's favourite treat?
Soothing Side Effects
Side effects vary depending on treatment regime, supporting drugs and how each of us respond to what we're given. The medical team are the best people to advise your loved one, but there are some general things that you can gift your person to help ease their experience. Here are some of the things that helped me:
Lip balm - I love them anyway, but lips can get really sore from treatment
Vaseline Lip Therapy are always my preferred, during chemo and otherwise
Carbon Theory or Eco Warrior Cleansing Bars contain tea tree oil which detoxifies the skin gently. I also use Tea tree oil as a natural anti bacterial remedy
L'Oreal Blemish Rescue Mask saved my hormonal and sensitive skin a few times
Mouthwash for when mouth sores or general soreness present
Difflam Oral rinse can be prescribed for free or purchased from a pharmacy
Chemotherapy makes you more susceptible to sunburn and sunburn makes you more susceptible to infection. I spend a lot of time outside in general, and during my treatment I covered up with hats and clothing, used a parasol at the beach and was more vigilant with suncream. These are my favourite products for face, body and lip protection:
I had a PICC line for my treatment as one of the drugs burnt my veins. Not everyone has this experience. Two important things to know is that they can't be submerged in water and catching the exposed part should be avoided. Two things that helped me with this:
Patterned PICC Line Fabric Covers for daily wear from Anna Bandana (different sizes)
My advice if you want to help someone with the more intricate aspects of their treatment, just ask. They can tell you what they need to support them.
You may also find, as I did that sleep can be difficult at times. The steroids kept me awake until the early hours. I'm also someone that normally needs to burn energy to sleep, and so my brain often struggled to switch off at night if I'd rested all day. Meditation of varying forms really helped me, and so you might want to use or share the free meditations on this website to help them relax or connect with themselves during a time that can make you or the person feel fragmented.
I hope the ideas I've shared inspire you to help the person you love to feel supported in their cancer journey. But remember, sometimes asking is the best first step. It can be a lonely experience even when the person is surrounded by people if they don't feel heard. Just holding the space and listening can be one of the best gifts you can give, and it's free.
Wishing your loved one well again. I hope they receive the cancer care they deserve and that this blog post helps you to help them.