By Sam Reynolds
As well as myself, I have had friends who have had to face the start of headscarf chemotherapy, and prepare themselves for the side effects, and the whole intensity of the coming few months. So, in the vague effort to support them, offer solidarity and care for their well being, as well as trying my damnedest to be a good friend, I have given them my own version of 'The Chemo Collection'. No, it's not a 'mix tape' with inspirational, stay strong Brittany ballads (though I am sure at my lowest I probably found something in them helpful!) or a new line of fashion (hospital gowns are most attractive when tied at the back exposing reliable M&S knickers!) It's a basket (or box, or bag, or whatever you fancy) of goodies to nurture a friend or loved one when they need it most.
Below is a list of gift ideas that, from personal experience can be really helpful, bringing a much needed smile at a time when friends and understanding are in dire need. I've also explained why my suggestions may be helpful, however since everyone is different, do tailor to individual needs.
The first and in my opinion, couldn't live without item, is a pack of Werthers Original. That metallic, bitter and disgusting taste in the mouth that chemo drugs cause, was one of the most tedious side effects but these yummy sweets, aside from being a naughty childish treat, were a god send and helped ease away the taste well into day three post treatment and were a tasty equivalent to Corsodyll mouthwash! Throw in a tube of Bonjela to attack the pesky ulcers and ones mouth will revel in some TLC.
A new pair of PJ’s. Goodness knows there will be enough time mooching around, with operations and time in hospital beds, so why not make someone feel a little more stylish and buy them a comfy new pair of PJ’S or a track suit to live in, as well as a cosy pair of slippers.
A cashmere beany hat or very soft headscarf. Assuming the friend or loved one may be expecting hair loss (or dealing with the actual heartbreak of losing it) one or both of these will really help. My head got so cold at night, and a dear friend gave me a cashmere beany which I only wore in bed. I know, I know, you don't want to resemble Wee Willy Winky running about town in his night gear but believe me, comfort of that kind was way more important than a red negligee at that point! A soft headscarf will be a welcome fashion accessory too, depending on whether the patient in question decides to go down that route. You can always go shopping together to try them out. I wish I had done that, rather than standing in a changing room in Accessorize all by myself for an hour, trying to work out how to tie the knot!
A bottle of lavender oil. This helps with a multitude of things; insomnia, panic attacks, and brilliant in a bath. Pop a few drops on a tissue and sniff for instant calm.
The Defiant Beauty itchy skin oil. My scalp became so sore and sensitive when my hair started falling out, I was desperate to soothe it, so having an oil that can nourish and do exactly that, would be an absolute necessity. Wish it had been around then!
As a practical pressie, something I found a fantastic distraction, was a tapestry/needlework set. It made all the hours spent waiting around before chemo sessions, or wrapped in a blanket in front of the TV, slightly more bearable and (however much Brie from Desperate Housewives it may sound), I actually found it therapeutic and satisfying to make something homemade!
An audio cd (or download) makes for another distraction. I listened to Alice In Wonderland on my iPod during the later chemo sessions and zoned out with escapism of the Wonderland kind. Music is also good for the soul so even if you add a pair of earphones to the pile, they can listen to whatever floats their boat!
Another necessity, fake eyelashes or eyelash extensions! My godmother bought me a session at a local beauticians and she gave me lashes to be proud of! They only last as long as your eyelash cycle but once I had lost them all, I used fake eyelashes, and relied on them to make the reflection in the mirror that little more familiar every day.
A couple of good old DVD's or a box set, depending on what the patient is into. Anything that can be watched from bed or the sofa (or on an iPad) while under the duvet! Add to this a selection of magazines and 'R&R' is ready and rocking!
A shawl or poncho (cashmere or not!) is a thought for the more feminine friend, especially around this time of year. Ones temperature turns slightly loopy during chemo, be it hot flushes or fatigue fueled chills, so something that can be wrapped around one minute and thrown off the next, during treatment or while out and about, is definitely a thoughtful idea.
No chemo collection would be complete without a bar of chocolate! Indulge with a whole box of Cadburys or throw in a Green and Blacks selection box. With up to 80% cocoa, a chocolate fest is totally acceptable.
One more thought, as a little extra, would be a juicer. Fresh juices throughout chemo to replenish missing minerals and vitamins were a great boost and after being generously given one I found fantastic recipe books of ideas and felt very pro active making one up every morning.
Whatever is added to the 'collection' you can't go wrong with the personal touch. The one thing someone dealing with all of this needs is a lot of love but, aside from all the gifts, potions and treats, the most meaningful thing the support team can do is sit patiently in the passenger seat, while ‘they’ figure out the best route through it all.
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