When a friend or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer, it’s natural to want to lend your support and show you care. But what can you do? And what will really help your loved one as he or she begins cancer treatment?
Cynthia Ulreich, an oncology-certified nurse practitioner at the Josephine Ford Cancer Institute at Henry Ford Health, says one idea is to create a cancer care package – filled with items that will make your loved one feel more comfortable in the hospital and pass the time during treatment.
“I often hear from patients that they want to maintain a sense of normalcy during cancer treatment,” she says. “So creating a cancer care package that includes their favorite games or books, snacks or a warm blanket is a great option.”
How to Create a Cancer Care Package
Cancer care packages should be tailored to the patient to best meet his or her needs. So before you start gathering items, Ulreich recommends first talking with the patient (or to a spouse, partner or close friend or family member who can advise you).
Ask how he or she is feeling to get a sense if the patient is even ready to receive a care package, and learn more about the general treatment plan to help you know what kind of items he or she might need. Patients who undergo chemotherapy may need activities to keep them busy during longer treatment sessions than those having radiation treatment, for example.
To get started, Ulreich recommends filling your cancer care package with some of these items:
- Chapstick. Lips can become dry during radiation and chemotherapy. But Ulreich stresses to avoid items with petroleum jelly.
- Coloring books and travel games. Chemotherapy can take hours and hours over the course of weeks or months. Coloring books (especially those created for adults) and travel size games offer a fun distraction and pass the time during treatment.
- Framed photos. Be sure to include something that’s sentimental to the patient, like a framed photo of family or friends. It offers patients a sense of home, and a sense of self, while in the hospital or undergoing treatment.
- Fuzzy socks or slippers. “A lot of patients experience neuropathy (nerve damage) in their feet. Slippers or warm, fuzzy socks with rubber bottoms are great to include to keep feet warm and protected,” says Ulreich.
- Hand sanitizer. It’s import to keep hands clean – both the patient’s and those around them – to prevent infection when immune systems may be weakened. Include travel size hand sanitizers to make them easy to carry along at all times.
- Hard candy or gum. Radiation and chemotherapy can affect the taste buds. Patients often experience a dry or metallic taste in their mouths. Hard candy and gum minimize those effects.
- Hat or salon gift certificate. Hair loss is a common side effect of cancer treatment. Ulreich suggests including a hat or even a gift card to a salon that specializes in styling cancer patients’ hair or wigs.
- Hobbies. Does the patient love to knit? Include yarn and patterns. For the card player, a new deck of cards, a new set of brushes for a painter, and books for the avid reader.
- Journal and colored pens. It’s great for patients to have a place to keep notes about appointments and record how they’re feeling. And don’t forget to include fun, colorful pens. Ulreich says patients often use different color pens to track how they’re feeling or differentiate between various medical appointments.
- Lap blanket or zipper hoodie. Cancer treatment can lower red blood cell counts, making patients feel cold. Lap blankets offer comfort and warmth. Instead of a sweat shirt, include a zipper-front hoodie for easy access to medication ports.
- Lotion sans perfume. Radiation and chemotherapy can cause dry skin. But skip lotions with added scents, as they may cause skin irritation or nausea.
- Neck pillow or heating pad. Chemotherapy often causes joint aches (knees, ankles, hips). Heating pads can help alleviate some of that discomfort.
- Pedometer. “We really encourage our patients to walk during treatment to maintain bone strength and keep energy levels high,” says Ulreich. Plus, walking releases endorphins to relieve pain and stress, so a pedometer is a great way to encourage patients to keep moving.
- Pre-packaged nutrition shakes. For patients experiencing nausea, pre-packaged nutrition shakes like Ensure, Boost or Carnation Instant Breakfast are often a good meal option.
- Stress ball. A great item to not only strengthen a patient’s hands, but to help get an IV started in the arm. Squeezing the stress ball makes veins in the arm more visible.
- Sunscreen. Chemotherapy can make all skin types more sensitive to the sun. Include sunscreen that is SPF 30 or greater for the best protection.
Other Ways You Can Help
What else can you do to offer help and show support? Ulreich says it’s simple: Be there for them.
“We want to encourage patients that they are living with cancer, not dying from it,” she says. “Encourage patient to live their lives, not sit around letting the cancer take over. If they do, the cancer wins.”
Another idea, if a patient is experiencing nausea, is to offer to set up a meal delivery among friends. The smell of food cooking can intensify nausea so preparing a meal and bringing it to the patient can help. An added bonus: food delivery also brings regular company for the patient.
It can be as simple as setting up regular phone calls and lunch dates, or driving them to appointments and picking up medication at the pharmacy.
Most often, Ulreich says, cancer patients just need an extra hand during treatment.
Learn more about the Henry Ford Cancer: www.HenryFord.com/Cancer