I’m a very organized person and when they told me I have cancer and I would have to stop working for a minimum of 16 months and be ready to face all the different stages of treatment, my brain was in overdrive. I was so shocked by the diagnosis and felt like my whole world had stopped. Yet my mind didn’t. All I could think of was what do I need to do to be ready. Where do I even start? Each stage of treatment seemed so overwhelming but I knew that to help me be able to process everything, I needed to start by getting organized. Below are some tips of how I got ready for some of the bigger phases.
The Chemo: I was going to be getting chemo every three weeks for 17 weeks. Knowing that my hair was going to be falling out I decided to transition myself into it so it wouldn’t be so overwhelming. Before the first chemo, I cut my long hair into a short bob. Two weeks later, I cut it again very very short, 1″ short to be exact. After the second chemo I asked my husband to shave what was left off. I went to BCCA and they let you choose a wig. I wore it once but I didn’t like it, it was too hot and itchy. I had kept some of my own hair when I originally had cut it so I devised my own wig. I bought some scarves and hats and with double sided tape made my very own hair headband! A little bit of hair in the front and a little in the back of the headbands and a velcro strip to attach to the hat or the scarf and voila! It looked like I had my hair still, underneath some pretty funky scarves or hats! It was cute!
Next on the list was eating. With chemo it’s hard to eat, the texture of the food in your mouth changes, it feels like eating sand. I basically was eating only soup. I would blend it and use a straw so I wouldn’t have that much food in my mouth or even need to chew. Whatever makes it easier for you to be able to eat, do it. Chemo wipes so much out of you that eating is even more important to keep your strength up. If you are not prepared then the easier it will be to skip eating and that’s not doing you or your body any favours.
I was lucky to have people that were able to cook for me when it got to be too much. If you are unable to have help then prepare soup that you can stick in your freezer and have ready to go when needed. Be careful though how much you cook beforehand. For my first chemo I cooked like crazy and I didn’t end up eating as much as I thought I would. Also, as you get better between each chemo, you want to eat as much fresh, healthy food as you can.
Surgery. The surgeries that I was going to be having were what I thought about the most. They were very invasive surgeries so I pictured how I wanted to recuperate from them. I started with my room. It was on the second floor so I wanted to make it as comfortable as possible in case I ended up spending a lot of time there. I repainted my room a softer, more peaceful colour than I already had. I cleaned everything so it would feel like a brand new yet comfortable room. I debated putting a TV in there but decided that I didn’t want to stay in my room all the time if possible so I decided against it. I also had a lot of people coming to help me so I made sure my guest room was organized and as comfortable as possible so they had a place to recharge in.
My next plan was my sleeping position. I knew I would have to be sleeping all the time on my back and not moving onto my side. I needed something to put on each side of me so I wouldn’t roll over during the night. I took a pillow and cut it on the long side and made two small pillows. I did the same with the pillowcase. When I was sleeping on my back I put this pillow under my arms. It worked very well. If you are not handy you can buy a similar pillow. I bought a big pillow to go under my knees. I brought a safety bar to help me get up from the bed. I also bought a long patio chair with a good foam cushion that I put in the living room so I can rest there during the day.
Simple things that we take for granted like taking a shower also need careful planning. I changed the shower head to a hand shower and bought a small bench that I could sit on in the bathtub. I also had a safety bar installed so I could get in and out of the tub plus it provided me some stability if I was feeling a little weak. My mom was helping me with my back and upper part of my body and I was able to do the rest although modesty at this point goes out the window. You do what you can and you let others help you as much as you need.
Radiation. I recommend getting a good supply of magazines and books and download your favourite most relaxing songs on your iPod. Also invest in a good cream, trust me your skin will thank you for it.
No one can really prepare you for the whole treatment experience. Everyone reacts differently to the chemo and radiation and everyone’s recovery time from any surgery is based on their own physical and mental state. The best advice I can give is to plan as much as you can beforehand. Take into account every possible scenario and plan accordingly. The worst that can happen is that you don’t end up using something or you have tons of extra food in the freezer. But struggling to figure out how to do something after a bout of chemo or after a surgery will just make something that is so hard that much harder. You have more important things to concentrate on.