5:00am: I woke up to tiny groans. Jeff had his fourth round of chemotherapy Wednesday – Friday, so we decided to stay at SCCA House on Thursday. We thought it best to avoid the late night, hour+ drive home and “gift” ourselves time in the morning to relax and rest before Friday infusion.
Jeff was having a bad reaction to the chemo drugs (Cisplatin and Etoposide). His face was bright red, swollen and accompanied by a crushing jaw and headache. Jeff has a high pain threshold so when he told me the pain was an 8, we both knew we needed to take action.
I went into our overnight pack and realized…we forgot the thermometer. It’s one of the most important items to have on hand when someone is going through cancer treatment.
inside voice: I…can’t…believe…I…forgot…it.
Fever and chills can signal a possible infection. A cancer patient is super vulnerable to infection during chemo, radiation, immunotherapy or when blood counts are low. Whereas healthy individuals pop a Tylenol, cancer patients must connect with a doctor prior to taking steps to bringing down a fever. Redness or swelling of the skin, cold symptoms, back pain, toothache – all important signs to watch for possible infection.
I grabbed my phone and found a drug store a few miles away. It opened in 30 minutes.
6:00am: I explored the aisles of Bartell Drugs seeking a thermometer, Benadryl (you never know) and Gatorade (because you can never have enough on hand).
6:30am: No fever. Phew!
6:45am: Called the doctor. They recommended we head to the ER for testing.
Damn you cancer!
7:15am: We threw on clothes and I packed up. So long SCCA House.
8:00am: Arrive at the ER.
Anyone who has been to the ER knows the overall experience is challenging. Despite the extended visit, the care was thorough and compassionate. Most appreciated when navigating the complexities of cancer and how treatment affects each person individually.
1:30pm: Leave the ER.
Net-Net is that they 100% aren’t sure what caused the reaction. After IV hydration, 3 different pain meds, nausea meds, steroids and 3 dates with the vomit bags, we were on our way home with 3 new prescriptions to fill and add to the 20-pill daily intake.
Today, he’s sleeping (normal for 4-5 days post-chemo). The swelling and redness seem to be almost gone. Our attention now shifts to hydration and nutrition.
The Birth of the “Traveling Treatment” Toolbox
During the down time in the ER (aka waiting), I designed a Treatment Toolbox. It doesn’t replace the various bags we pack for treatment days. This toolbox can be kept in the car for easy access to key supplies used regularly during treatment and doctor appointments.
BONUS for CAREGIVERS: This toolkit will reduce early morning and late night trips to drugstores and it’s especially handy when treatment is miles away from home.
The Treatment Toolbox Includes:
- Portable urinal or bedpan (ask the nurse for a few)
- Toss in an empty Gatorade bottle for a 1-time use. It works in a pinch.
- Vomit bags (available in every hospital room)
- Thermometer probe covers
- Stop Nausea stick by Inhalation Products (they work)
- Gloves (powder free, disposable)
- (2) Towels
- Bottles of Gatorade (G2) or Powerade Zero (replenish electrolytes)
- Protein bars
- Nuts or trail mix (or any other snack you enjoy)
- (2) cans of chicken soup or broth with pull top (lifesaver to 2 reasons: 1) if an impromptu late night visit is in order and 2) broth is great for hydration and typically the stomach can accept it)
- (2) spoons and bowls
- (2) pairs of clean underwear (for patient and caregiver)
- (2) pairs of adult disposable underwear (Depends for Men; Depends for Women)
- Catheter supplies (as appropriate)
- (2) shirts (for patient and caregiver)
- Travel-size toiletries
- Soap / body wash (hotel options are usually drying)
- Toothbrush and toothpaste (biotene helps to prevent mouth sores)
- Fragrance free lotion (cancer centers are fragrance-free zones)
- (2) resealable gallon-size bags + (3) sandwich-size bags
- Hat or Head scarf (cancer patients are notoriously cold)
- Fleece blanket
- Refillable water bottle
- Plush toy (I see more adults during treatments have a stuffed bear or other animal next to them. Hospitals state that stuffed toys soothe adults, especially elderly adults. It provides a distraction, helps with loneliness and is another small act of compassion)
++Some of these supplies are specific to those with prostate cancer or other genitourinary cancers. Modify the supplies in the toolbox so they work for you and your loved one.
I recommend an air-tight storage container that can be placed in the car – either back seat floor, cargo or trunk and can be easily moved into the house, garage or hotel room. Please use discretion when storing the toolbox in the trunk if you live in warm climates as some supplies may not hold up to high temperatures over an extended period of time. Always check expiration dates on food items and similar to a first aid kit – regularly check to make sure supplies are replenished after use.
Do you know someone touched by cancer? Make a Treatment Toolbox for their vehicle. It will save loads of time and minimize stress when unexpected challenge arise – which they do – often.
What’s missing from the Toolbox? Share your ideas!
Note: I am not being paid to recommend products. These are products we have found to be helpful.