Preparing for chemo is one of the most difficult things as despite all of the things people tell you, it is hard to know what to expect until it happens to you – and everyone is different. There are, however, a range of things which tend to be useful for many people, and I have now had first hand experience of these. The list below is a guide as to some of the things which may help you. Please note that although these have helped me, you may need different things and you should always check with the nurses as to what is appropriate for you.
A good quality ear thermometer
You will need to measure your temperature at least 3 times a day. If it goes above 37.5, you need to contact the hospital and ask for their advice. It may be a sign of infection, in which case you need to go to the emergency department.
For dry/sore mouth:
Alcohol free mouthwash (Colgate sensitive works well for me)
A range of fruit juices, flavoured waters & cordials (Also good for keeping up the fluid intake)
Even if your stomach is really churning, I was advised that it is best to have something dry to eat. These have worked for me:
Rich Tea biscuits
Crackers and crispbreads
You could also try ginger biscuits, ginger tea or pieces of ginger.
The hospital should give you a bag of medicine after your first session but I gather the contents can vary somewhat. Mine was mainly anti-sickness meds. In addition, I have benefited from:
Bonjela (for mouth ulcers and dry patches)
Laxatives (Dulcolax or Senna was recommended to me)
Don’t be afraid to ask the hospital for stronger versions if any of the suggested brands don’t seem to be working. Never leave it too long as they would rather tackle your symptoms than let it turn into something nastier.
Some chemo drugs ruin your nails. I have been told Taxotere is one of these. In order to prevent damage, you could try:
Dark nail polish (as it prevents UV rays from causing damage)
Acetone free remover (less harsh to your already fragile nails)
Your skin can become very dry and even sore, so it is best to stock up on plenty of body moisturiser and hand creams. Unfortunately, I developed a sensitivity to smells so I had to stick to light scents. Aveeno has been a good one for me.
If you decide to have a go at cold capping, the following items are needed: Simple shampoo (recommended by Paxman as it has the correct ph), conditioner (any sort but be aware that you will start to associate the smell with the treatment, so maybe opt for a light scent), soft headband to wear during the session, warm blanket and paracetamol. You may need to take a water spray (check with the hospital).
I was advised to have my hair cut shorter (to chin length) in advance of cold capping as this makes it easier to manage.
Emergency hospital bag:
You should have a bag packed in case you pick up any infection which requires a hospital stay. This should include:
Pyjamas, dressing gown, slippers, tootbrush, toothpaste, lip balm, moisturiser, wallet with small amount of cash, music player & headphones, book, underwear.
You can always add further items but it is good to have the basics when you are in a hurry.
I have found it really useful to keep track of my temperature readings, times of medicine taken, symptoms experienced, food and drink consumed and whether I was able to do any activities. The Macmillan organiser has some suggested formats but I ended up setting up my own version. I intend to take this information to my review appointments with the oncologist so that any of the side effects which were more severe can be addressed.
For those days where you literally can’t move off the sofa or out of bed, it is really useful to have a chemo bag. Here is what I have in mine:
Lip balm (it is useful to have several pots of these around the house).
Hand sanitiser (bottles of these around the house is a good idea for any visitors)
Mints and sweets
Notepad & pen (to make a note of temperature/times of meds taken, etc.)
Crossword puzzles & pen
In addition, I have a basket where I keep my daily meds, thermometer, pen and a tracker of all meds taken, temperature readings, food eaten and symptoms experienced.
It is also lovely to have a warm blanket you can snuggle up with on the sofa.
A hot water bottle is good to have for when your stomach is hurting, which mine did as it was trying to battle against the anti-sickness meds!
Finally, it is really important to drink plenty of water the day before chemo and the days following your treatment. I was told to drink 2 litres a day as it helps to flush the chemo drugs through your system.
I have added a separate list of items to take to your chemo appointments, which can be found in the Tips & Lists drop down menu.