I had a great blog post planned but truthfully the flu has knocked me out, so instead I’m going to share a list that was forwarded to me before I started chemo. This list has been passed on through friends to other friends and so on. Sadly the fact that there is even a market for this list shows how prevalent that (breast) cancer is. I don’t think the author would mind if I put this out there, because it might help someone else (and I have no way of reaching her to ask!).
The information below is transcribed as I received it. I’ve added my comments where needed!
CHEMO SURVIVAL KIT LIST
General Background Information
There are a number of major side effects that many women with breast cancer face when they are in chemotherapy treatment. These include, but aren’t limited to:
- Sensitivity to smells
- Dry skin & brittle/discoloured nails
- Mouth sores
- Changes in taste of food
Women should always discuss any side effects with their doctor.
After weeks researching and having discussions with other young women with breast cancer, and through trial and error, I put together this list for myself and my friends who were also going through chemo treatment. My goal here was to try to find products that would be tolerable during chemo. With that in mind, I had several major criteria for each item.
Because of fatigue, I wanted the products to be multipurpose wherever possible, to save both time and energy. They had to have as little scent as possible, or ideally, be scent-free. They had to be gentle, extremely moisturizing, and alcohol-free.
The List (with explanatory notes)
Unscented products are necessary during chemotherapy as many women are highly sensitive to scents of any kind. Scent – ANY scent at all — can be too much to bear, making many women extremely nauseous.
Baby products are a good alternative to those someone might use every day. They tend to be extremely gentle, very moisturizing and alcohol-free.
Unscented Baby Shampoo: Baby Aveeno
- Una: I loved this stuff, but I found the cap hard to open and the product difficult to squeeze out because of the pain in my nails and fingers. So I transferred it into a TOOB and life was good!
- Una: It also doubles as a body wash!
Mild Unscented Soap: Dove
- Extremely moisturizing, no scent
- Una: I already use this 🙂
Super-Hydrating Body Lotion:
- Curel Unscented – Una: This was the recommended lotion by the author of this list. I tried it, it’s good, but I preferred:
- Cliniderm – One of the Reps at Steve’s work brought this in for me to try. It’s unscented and amazing.
- Other recommendations: Udder Butter and Glaxal Base
Sunscreen: Ombrelle Kids SPF 45
- Chemo makes you extremely sensitive to the sun (no matter what time of year). The Kids formula is also waterproof, has UVA/UVB full spectrum coverage. Sunscreen with a high SPF is also important for women who are going to also have radiation therapy – radiation result in damage to the skin that has to be protected from the sun for at least 2 years post-treatment.
- Una: I never used it, I stuck to whatever sunscreen I had in the house. I don’t love Ombrelle.
Bath Suds: Aveeno Oatmeal Bath
- Unscented, extremely moisturizing. A great alternative to bubble baths – which are usually too scented. Also good for days when taking a shower is too tiring.
- Una: I couldn’t find unscented so we bought the lightly scented and it was still too strong for me. Also because of the PICC line it was too much of a pain to deal with a bath. Steve liked it though!
Facial Moisturizer – Aveeno Skin Brightening SPF15
- During chemo, women often notice changes to their skin. Skin gets very dull-looking, pale, greyish during treatment. Some women also get acne flareups (even if they’ve never had acne or troubled skin in the past). Most women’s skin becomes very dry as well. This product really gives you a bit of a glow, and has SPF 15. When I didn’t use this product, people would always ask me if I was feeling ok. When I did, people would always say “you look so healthy…”.
- Una: THIS STUFF ROCKS!! Get it at Costco – much cheaper than in store!
- You can’t have manicures or pedicures during chemo because you are at greater risk of infection. Your white cell counts are low and your ability to fight off infection is compromised, so it’s important to be careful with anything that could potentially lead to infections. Infections can be life-threating during chemo and many women are hospitalized during their treatment because of them.
- Cuticles get really dry, while nails get brittle and discoloured.
- Una: I used Almond Cuticle Oil (similar to this stuff) and the Cliniderm. I still had problems with dryness and tearing, but it helped.
Hand Lotion (Extra Moisturizing) – Neutrogena/ Herbacin kamille
- Important to have with you at all times to prevent cracking (especially in winter) that could, in turn, lead to infections.
- Una: Deciem Hyaluronic Acid – my hands would break out in itchy rashes from the dryness. Hand creams helped at first, but near the end of chemo (and for 6 weeks after!) I started to use hyaluronic acid with rose oil to seal it in (thanks Rebecca!). It worked better for me.
Extra Soft Toothbrush
- Una: each week my gums would bleed more and more – the taste of blood was constant (yuck) but you can’t stop brushing, and for the love of God keep flossing! Chemo is hard on your mouth, so treat it well. Happy to report that at Monday’s dental cleaning I was cavity-free and my gums are in super shape! 🌟
Toothpaste for Sensitive Teeth: Sensodyne
- Many women note that their mouth is always dry. Neglecting dry mouth can lead to developing mouth sores, dental problems and changes in taste. It is perhaps even more important that women in treatment drink at least 8-10 glasses of fluid a day than those in the general population given the chemicals and medications in their bodies. I always aimed to have a water bottle with me at all times and to be sure to stay hydrated all day.
- Gums are extremely sensitive and as many women experience mouth sores during treatment, even a soft toothbrush can be too harsh.
- Una: worked great.
Mouth Sores and Dry Mouth: Baking Soda and Salt; Candies
- Need to swish in mouth every few hours to help prevent mouth sores; and to manage them if you get them. Una: this stuff works!!
- Because women have dry mouth, popscicles or hard candy (especially sour candy) helps to increase saliva flow in the mouth and gets rid of the “tinny” taste that many women describe. Una: I hated the sour lemon candies but Steve loved them!
Lip Balm (extra moisturising): Labello Sport SPF 15 or 30
- Keeping your lips moist helps in managing dry mouth. This product stays on, has a great texture and really keeps your lips moist and protected.
- Una: I used Burt’s Bees
Vaseline Petroleum Jelly
- Multipurpose product that is great for moisturizing
- Una: Never used it!
- Women are not supposed to use tampons as they can lead to an increased risk of infections.
- Una: chemopause baby!
Nether Regions Dryness:
- Water-based Vaginal Lubricant – Replens
- Vaginal Moisturizing/Cleansing Pads – Tucks
- Vaginal dryness is a common side effect for women, especially women who enter menopause as a result of chemo.
- Una: I didn’t need any of these so can’t vouch for them. TMI!
Mild Nausea: Children’s Chewable Gravol
- For minor nausea without too much drowsiness
- Una: I didn’t use this, I preferred GinGins ginger chews.
Meal Replacement: Ensure/Boost shakes – diabetic version with no sugar
- Many women have difficulty taking in enough calories during treatment. Whether it’s because they are too tired to eat, dislike the taste of their food, are having difficulty swallowing, are simply not hungry, or have mouth sores that make it difficult to eat. Nutritional energy beverages are a good alternative.
- Una: the Ensure pudding tasted good to me but isn’t the greatest *food*. It’s better to find a good whey (or alternative protein) powder that you can stomach and make a smoothie. Add avocado for good fats!
Pain and Fever Relief
- Tylenol for fever: Una: VERY IMPORTANT to check with your doctor about the use of Tylenol since it can mask a potentially life-threatening infection. Follow the doctor’s orders!!
- Advil for pain – often joint/muscle/bone pain from chemo
- Una: again check with your doctor since Advil can also mask a fever! I recommend Claritin – I know it sounds CRAZY but taken one day before chemo and up to 2 days after and the bone pane stopped completely. Check with your doctor to ensure it doesn’t contraindicate your chemo.
Multivitamins and Supplements
- Una: Check with your doctor as their may be contraindications.
Artificial Tears Eye Drops: Systane Balance
- As with everything else, your eyes dry out. Many women find that they can no longer wear contacts.
- Una: my eyes were so dry I saw triple for months. Now I’m only seeing double and not all the time!
Nasal Irrigation: NetiPot
- Una: My nose bleeds got worse each week (to the point where it was dripping blood constantly – so icky!!). I used my NetiPot to irrigate my nose but also to help clear a blocked eustachian tube.
Laxatives: Senocot/ Dulcolax/Milk of Magnesia
- Chemo, certain medications, not drinking enough fluid or lack of physical activity can lead to constipation for many women. It is crucial that constipation be relieved because if not treated it can lead to nausea, vomiting, severe stomach pain and hemorrhoids.
- Una: Senocot worked!
Hand Sanitizer: Purell Unscented
- To guard against germs. I had a purse-sized one that I carried around with me as well as a large pump bottle (as they do in hospitals) by my front door. When friends came to visit, they had to clean their hands.
- Una: We kept a bottle at the front door, in both cars (in both car doors!), in my purse and backpack.
Infection Protection: Cotton and Rubber Gloves (2-3 Pairs)
- For cleaning or washing dishes. These are great for protecting against cuts and scrapes and/or against any drying chemicals in cleaning products. Should also use gloves for gardening or for any outdoor cleaning activities. Women should stay away from contact sports or activities where they are likely to get cut or bruised.
- Una: When undergoing chemo you’re also not allowed to clean cat litter (just don’t – find someone else to do it), but also not supposed to pick up after dogs. I bought the Nitrile disposable gloves in boxes of 50 for $9.99 at the Loblaws pharmacy. These were great for dog walks because I’d throw them out after the walk. Not great for the environment, but I didn’t have a lot of choice!
Antibiotic: Polysporin – Triple Strength
- For cuts & scrapes; to minimize likelihood of infection
- Una: great stuff!
- Your sleeping pattern is disrupted so you end up sleeping whenever you can. It’s also handy for if you end up in the hospital (blocks out those terrible fluorescent lights).
- Una: Thanks for sending me one, Jodi!! ❤
Soft nightcap (for sleeping)
- Your head gets cold.
- Una: There was nothing that helped my head when the hair was coming out. I have so many caps and scarves to choose from, but cotton knit hurt the least so that’s what I used.
- Una: I also purchased satin pillow covers to try to ease the hair follicle pain, and while they felt nice they kept slipping and sliding all over the bed so they didn’t last longer than the first wash.
- Regular razors can cut and harbour bacteria that can lead to infection.
- Una: This wasn’t a concern for me, at first I didn’t care how hairy I got, and soon enough all my hair fell out!
- This is a girl’s best friend during chemo. You are constantly taking your temperature. You and your doctor will determine what temperature is too high (signalling an infection).
- This is your best friend during treatment – period. You will forget things – especially during chemo (IE: chemo brain). So WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN.
- I find that 2 journals worked best for me – one for medical stuff and one for everyday. The medical journal should be the place where you write down questions to ask your doctor, make notes about important consultations, jot down answers to your questions, notes on articles you may have read and important names and phone numbers. You WILL forget things. There is simply too much information coming at you while you are vulnerable and not feeling your best. This was everything is in one place and easily accessible. I still write everything down for medical reference. After you are finished treatment, it also becomes a record of what happened to you. Often while women are going through treatment they are in survival mode and just going through the motions. It is after treatment that you stop and say “what just happened?”.
- Una: Agree! I had a bullet journal (thanks to The Lovely) and I used this religiously to track my appointments, my medication schedule (because I would forget) and questions that came up. I also had a tiny moleskin (thanks again to The Lovely) that I kept in my purse because my phone was always ringing with appointments, etc., so I had somewhere to write everything down. The downside, I hate my bullet journal now 🙁
Gentle Yoga Video/DVD: ie: Gaiam
- I found that during treatment, doing gentle yoga really helped to give me energy and a sense of accomplishment. It was something I could do for myself and helped me to relax and de-stress in an extremely stressful situation.
- Una: I found the ROMWOD to be really helpful with mobility. I was sitting around so much that everything was getting stiff, so it made a huge difference in how I felt.
Meditation: Headspace App
- Una: Using this app was a huge part of my coping strategies. It’s guided meditation (but there is also meditation without guides in the pro version). I would use it several times per day – before getting out of bed in the morning, again mid day, when I’d try to fall asleep, and always if I woke in the middle of the night (which was constant) to try to help me fall back to sleep, or at least be at peace with laying there and focussing on a cancer-free body.
Best home appliance investment: InstantPot
- Una: I bought mine on Amazon Prime Day for half price and while I wasn’t eating a whole lot for 6 months, if I had a family it would have saved me – we use it 3 times a week now!