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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Chemotherapy Care Packages

Now that cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, it's not uncommon to know someone going through chemotherapy.

Chemo targets fast-growing cells like cancer cells, but it also affects normal cells that grow quickly like hair follicles, blood-forming cells in the bone marrow, and cells in the mouth, gastrointestinal tract, and reproductive system. Chemotherapeutic drugs can also affect cells in the lungs, heart, nervous system, kidneys and bladder.

When healthy cells get damaged, side effects occur. People experience chemotherapy differently and some have more side effects than others. While each drug can cause specific symptoms, many kinds of chemotherapy have some side effects in common. These include hair loss, mouth sores, changes in skin and nails, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, anemia, constipation or diarrhea, weight gain, bruising or bleeding, increased risk of infection, and problems with nerves, muscles, kidneys or the bladder.

During chemotherapy, patients need all the support that they can get. If you know someone going through cancer treatment, put together a care package for him or her. Here are some things to include:

  • Glass Water Bottles
Chemotherapy makes people thirsty and it's important to drink lots of water, so water bottles should always be nearby. It's convenient to have more than one and glass is best because it's non-toxic and non-reactive.  Silicone holders can make them less fragile.

  • Water Filter
Filtered tap water is a better choice than bottled water. Simple BPA-free or stainless steel pitchers fitted with charcoal filters are a good place to start. If you need some help, check out the Environmental Working Group's Water Filter Buying Guide.

  • Tea
Teas that help soothe the digestive tract include chamomile, peppermint, fennel, slippery elm, and ginger. Ginger tea is also warming, has anti-inflammatory properties, and helps fight nausea. It's best made from the fresh root (thinly sliced to expose as much surface area as possible) but tea bags can be substituted.

  • Travel Eze or Sea Band Wristbands 
Sea Band and Travel Eze wristbands can also help fight nausea.  They have no side effects and they’re inexpensive and widely available. 

  • Lip and Skin Salve
A natural salve can help moisturize dry, chapped lips and skin. Use the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database to find the least toxic products or make it yourself. 

  • Mouthwash
Mouthwashes that contain aloe vera can help sooth sore mouths. One option is Tom’s of Maine Wicked Fresh Mouthwash.

  • Lemon Drops
Tart citrus flavors can counteract the metallic taste that patients often experience with chemotherapy. Look for lemon throat drops without artificial flavors or sweeteners, like Ricola Lemon Mint Herb Throat Drops.

  • Hats, Scarves, and Socks
During chemotherapy, it's important to be as comfortable as possible. Fuzzy socks are a good gift, especially if they have grips on the soles. Hats and scarves that can be worn around the neck or on the head also make great gifts. Other comfort items include travel pillows and soft shawls or blankets.

  • Treats
Keep treats on hand during chemotherapy for times when it's important to have something in the stomach and also when appetite returns. Fruit is a good choice and tangerines and oranges can be helpful for nausea. If you're buying packaged treats, look for whole-food bars without additives like Lara Bars and/or good quality dark chocolate. If you're making your own treats, consider Chocolate Almond Squares, Raw Chocolate Truffles, Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Raspberry Swirl, or Dark Chocolate-Dipped Mini Coconut Cakes.

  • Books and Magazines
Reading helps pass time and distract people from discomfort. Light reading like magazines are good options. When people are ready for something more, I highly recommend Dr. Lise Alschuler's book, The Definitive Guide to Thriving After Cancer, and Dr. Servan-Schreiber's book, Anticancer, because they are full of inspiration and information about how diet and lifestyle can help the body heal after treatment and prevent recurrence in the future.

  • Music and Movies
When people going through chemotherapy don't have the energy or inclination to read, it's nice to listen to music or watch movies instead. Good gifts include CDs, DVDs, an iTunes gift card, or a paid subscription to Netflix.

  • Journal
During chemotherapy, it's good to have a journal for tracking treatments, medications, and side effects. It can also be a tool for expression and reflection, as well as a drawing pad for the artistically inclined.

  • Spices and Sea Salt
During chemotherapy, making food as flavorful as possible can help compensate for losses in appetite and taste sensitivity. If someone is cooking at home, consider giving a nice sea salt and/or spices with accompanying recipes or ideas about how to use them.

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