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News / Health / Breast Cancer

Creating a chemotherapy comfort kit

While clinics provide snacks and some items, personal touches can lift spirits for those undergoing treatment

By Monika Spykerman, Columbian staff writer
Published: October 11, 2020, 5:19am
4 Photos
Just a few small things can make a big difference: snacks, warm socks, lip balm, lotion and a deck of cards can make the hours pass more easily.
Just a few small things can make a big difference: snacks, warm socks, lip balm, lotion and a deck of cards can make the hours pass more easily. (Photos by Monika Spykerman/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Chemotherapy treatments can be singularly unnerving, even though cancer clinics are designed with patients’ comfort in mind.

“They’re here for five to six hours at a time,” said Andrew Watts, clinic manager for the cancer center at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, which includes an infusion center.

The key to making the experience as pleasant as possible is to bring some extra comfort with you — a “chemotherapy comfort kit” filled with your own special things. According to Watts and Tara Twing, lead registered nurse at PeaceHealth’s infusion lab, personal items are encouraged, because reminders of home and loved ones are important mood-boosters. Bringing personal items might also provide additional peace of mind during the pandemic, especially for patients with compromised immunity.

Creating a chemo comfort kit need not be a solo activity. Friends and family members can contribute items, or support a newly diagnosed breast cancer patient by putting a kit together with handmade or specially purchased items. Many of the things in the comfort kit can also be used during difficult post-infusion days at home.

Most cancer clinics and infusion centers provide new patients with some essentials (light snacks, water or reusable water bottles, lip balm and lotion, pill organizers, lap blankets) but those things might not hold the same meaning as personal items or gifts. It’s also nice to have your preferred brands instead of hospital-issued items.

Staying warm is a priority, as body temperature can change while undergoing treatment. Dressing in layers is helpful, suggested Heather Wood, clinical nurse educator and nurse supervisor at Compass Oncology. An extra sweater, socks or slippers are good to have on hand.

“Sometimes they want to bring a blanket from home that reminds them of home,” Watts said.

“A lot of times family members or friends will make quilts or buy blankets,” Twing said. “We do provide quilts made by local ladies. Our quilts are beautiful. They’re more of a lap quilt. Patients pick which one they want because we usually have 20 or 30 to choose from.”

Keep in mind that you or your loved one will be in the infusion lab for a stretch of hours that might normally include one or two meals.

“We allow patients to bring their own snacks in. In fact, we encourage it,” Twing said. “We will provide some snacks, but we say, ‘Bring your own food so you can be eating while you’re here, enjoying your own comfort foods.’ ”

Entertainment is also important. Patients can watch movies or shows on the infusion center’s screens, or they can bring their own entertainment, such as audiobooks, e-books or favorite films. Remember to include headphones to keep things quiet for others who may need to rest.

“They can bring in their own tablets, laptops or iPads,” Twing said. “We have free Wi-Fi here, so family members can make music playlists and share them with patients through Spotify.”

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Some patients use the time to engage in a favorite hobby or pastime and bring their own materials and supplies, like yarn for knitting or crocheting or paper products for cardmaking. Ellery Palanuk, breast cancer nurse navigator at Compass Oncology, suggested bringing a notepad and pen for journaling or jotting down things to remember.

“We do have patients that get rather crafty,” Twing said. “We had one lady, she would actually make things for the nurses. If they want to be coloring, playing cards, doing crafty things, we encourage that for sure.”

If you find yourself at a loss for things to do, just ask.

“Through the hospital and volunteer services, there’s an activity cart that has coloring books, crossword puzzles, sudoku puzzles and word finds,” Watts said. “It also has an assortment of magazines from outdoor life to gardening to interior design. We can utilize it here at the clinic if someone doesn’t have anything to do and they’re searching for activities.”

Even though your cancer clinic may offer the same or similar things, it’s always best to be prepared. Using suggestions from Watts, Twing, Wood and Palanuk, we’ve put together a list of items that could go into a chemotherapy comfort kit.

• Slippers or thick socks to keep cold feet toasty

• A soft, washable blanket, perhaps knitted by a friend or gifted by a family member

• Preferred brands of lotion, lip balm or salve to soothe dry skin

• Granola bars, pretzels, crackers, trail mix or any snacks that are portable and easy to eat

• A refillable water bottle

• Fruit juice, flavored vitamin water or electrolyte-restoring sports drinks

• A tablet, e-reader, iPad or laptop (Don’t forget the charger)

• A novel, audiobook, e-book or music playlist

• Coloring books and colored pencils, pens or crayons

• Puzzle books like word searches or sudoku

• Favorite magazines

• Craft supplies

• Noise-canceling headphones for those who prefer quiet

• A sleep mask for napping or blocking out light

• Lollipops or lozenges for dry mouth

• Breath mints or gum to freshen breath

• A pen and notebook for journaling or writing down important instructions from the nursing staff

The time spent in the infusion lab is only one part of chemotherapy, of course. Breast cancer patients will also need comfort when they’re at home, perhaps battling fatigue, nausea or other digestive issues. Wood suggested these additional items for post-chemo comfort:

• Fluids

• Ginger candies

• Fragrance-free lotion

• Alcohol-free mouthwash

• Gentle toothpaste

• Herbal laxative tea

• Stool softeners

• Soft hats

• Sunscreen

Perhaps the most comforting thing of all is the presence of another person. Regional pandemic safety guidelines may vary, so clear any caregivers or visitors through your treatment center.