Caring for Cancer Patients
A cancer diagnosis is devastating news. As a patient, there is so much uncertainty and it can be so easy to feel isolated and alone. During this time, showing your support as a loved one can be so crucial for a patient. But for many loved ones, the question that comes up is: How can I actually help?
There are many ways that you can help a patient through treatment. The simplest, yet most important, way is just to be there for them emotionally. Check-in on them and be supportive of their needs.
How to Create the Best Cancer Care Packages
For those who want to do a little more, an easy but effective way to help a patient is by creating a thoughtful cancer care package for them. These care packages normally contain different items that would be helpful for a patient undergoing chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or any other treatments.
To help you put one together, we’ve put together a list of some items that you could include in your cancer care package, based on our own experiences with cancer.
- Soft blanket/Neck Pillow
As you can imagine, patients spend a lot of time in the hospital and a big chunk of that spent receiving chemotherapy. Each chemotherapy session takes about six hours in which you’re stuck in a chair for most of the session. Chemo chairs are more comfortable than your standard hospital furniture but it’s still not quite cozy. A soft blanket or a neck pillow is a great way to help a patient settle in for their longer treatments.
- Soft clothing
Think warm, soft socks or a cozy scarf. Much like the blankets and pillows, this will help to keep patients comfortable while sitting in an often-cold hospital. Many patients will have a direct central line - a semi-permanent IV that is inserted into the chest to avoid receiving a new IV line with each treatment. So, we recommend including a comfortable button-down shirt to provide easy access for the doctors.
Hats are a staple for any survivor. However, giving an antimicrobial hat like this will be a truly special gift. Since other hats harbor bacteria when they go unwashed, they can be dangerous for an immunocompromised patient. With antimicrobial products, it is much safer for them to wear.
- Skin moisturizers or Aloe Vera gel
Chemotherapy & radiotherapy have a lot of side effects. One that is very common is dry skin. Normally dry skin isn’t a huge issue, but as a patient, it can be much more dangerous as scratching can lead to skin tears, which can make his or her skin vulnerable to infection. Because of this, it’s important to use moisturizers to prevent any skin irritation. Just try to choose gentle products without any strong fragrances since patients are more sensitive to strong smells. My doctor recommended Aquaphor (link) during my treatment and I went through tubs… like a lot of tubs.
- Lip Balm
Dry skin and dry lips tend to come together as side effects. To help your patient combat this, we recommend tossing in some lip balm or chapstick that has shea butter, petrolatum, glycerin, or beeswax.
- Water Bottle
Hydration, hydration, hydration. This one is so important for cancer patients who are easily dehydrated due to all the medications that can cause nausea and vomiting. This leads to a lot of water loss and makes it difficult for patients to stay hydrated. One way to help them is by including a BPA-free water bottle for them to bring along to treatment.
- Favorite treats
Of course, you can always toss in some of their favorite treats. Whether it’s their go-to candy, food, drink, or all of the above, it is guaranteed to put a smile on your patient’s face. I would advise referring to someone who knows if the patient has any dietary restriction first. The doctors can put patients on specific diets depending on their treatment and type of cancer. Most patients will be on a low bacteria diet and will have to follow specific restrictions.
Another thing to consider is that many patients undergoing chemotherapy will have “metal mouth,” a metallic taste in their mouth that lingers after each session. When the medication is sent to the bloodstream, it also gets into the saliva. And as you can imagine, the medication doesn’t taste very good (it’s usually very bitter), and this side effect can also affect the taste of other food. To help combat this, many patients will eat citrus candy to help counteract the taste. This is something to consider including in your care package as well.
Whether it’s for educational purposes or just enjoyment, adding some books can help distract your patient from their long treatments. Here are some ideas for reading materials that you can provide:
- Word Searches, Puzzle books
- Coloring books
One of my favorite pastimes was learning various riddles and jokes and telling them to my nurses and fellow patients. It was a great way to lighten the mood and a simple, yet fun way to make other people smile. I found that fighting fear with humor was an effective way to overcome my treatment.
- A Journal
Cancer treatment is a unique experience and a journal is a good way for many patients to record their thoughts and de-stress about treatment. Many patients will also be able to use the journal to document symptoms or write down any questions they may have for their doctor.
- Video entertainment
It can never hurt to put on something to watch during long sessions. An awesome surprise could be a subscription to streaming sites like Netflix or Hulu. For younger patients, a video game or an iTunes gift card for some phone games could be just the thing they need to keep them distracted.
- A deck of cards
It always helps having a deck of cards around. Solitaire, gin rummy, and war are all good ways to pass the time.
- Personalized Playlists
In this world of technology, mixtapes might be a thing of the past. But I still think a personalized playlist (even on Spotify) can be a simple yet touching way to show someone how much you care.
- Anti-nausea medication
Nausea is an extremely common side effect of treatment. With nausea, there can be many things that can trigger it. Personally, I had several random triggers like the smell of my hospital’s chicken tenders. Having this medication on hand will help prevent lots of unwanted vomiting scenarios.
- Hand Sanitizer
This one will be used a lot. Each and every visitor has to wash their hands or apply sanitizer when visiting a patient. With a weakened immune system, a bacterial infection becomes a lot easier so our best defense against spreading germs is to keep those hands clean. A golden rule for cancer patients and hospitals is to always disinfect your hands before entering a room and interacting with cancer patients. I promise this will be an essential item and will be used quite often.
- Unscented disinfectant wipes
Like the hand sanitizer, these wipes are an easy way for patients to keep any surfaces clean and bacteria-free. I recommend getting unscented because harsh smelling chemicals (especially in cleaners) can be a trigger for nausea or vomiting.
The Bottom Line
There are a bunch of items that you can throw into a cancer care package, so be creative and don’t feel limited by this list. It can be a lot of work, but it really does have impactful results for a patient to know that someone is thinking of them.
OURA was born from our experiences with cancer.
To learn more about our story, click here.