Gift ideas for cancer patients

The holidays are just around the corner, and if this is your first time buying for someone who has cancer, you might be feeling a little lost on gift ideas.

But first, remember that just because your mom (or loved one) has cancer, doesn’t mean you need to buy a gift that’s catered to their cancer.

My mom has cancer and she still loves receiving Pandora charms for her bracelet, comfy sweaters, perfume, etc.

Just remember that you should buy a gift for the person, not the cancer.

But, there are some great gift ideas catered to cancer that your mom (or loved one) would really enjoy.

Based on my personal experience, here are some gift ideas for cancer patients:

 

1. Uber Gift Card
  • If your mom (or loved one) can’t drive during their treatment, get them an Uber gift card. With Uber, they can easily request a ride to the grocery store, the mall, or even to their chemo appointments.

 

2. Massage Gift Certificate
  • A massage is a great way to help your mom (or loved one) relax and ease some of their aches and pains. You should ask their doctor if there’s a certain type of massage that might be best for their cancer.

 

3. Cleaning Service
  • The last thing cancer patients have the energy for is cleaning the house. If you don’t have an awesome father like mine who loves cleaning, consider hiring a local cleaning service to help clean the house. Cleaning for a Reason is a non-profit service in Canada and the US that provides free housecleaning once a month for four consecutive months to women currently undergoing cancer treatment.

 

4. Movie Streaming Service
  • After a long day of chemo, your mom (or loved one) will probably want to come home and take it easy. If they don’t have one already, consider them getting a movie streaming service like Netflix where on long, low-energy days, they can kick back and watch a movie or TV show.

 

5. A Pet
  • I’m serious. I mentioned in a previous post that having a dog has brought so much joy to my mom’s life. If your mom (or loved one) currently doesn’t have a pet, consider getting them one.

 

6. Hats
  • As I also mentioned in a previous post, many cancer patients will lose their hair from chemo. If they’re uncomfortable with wearing wigs or showing their bald head, a hat would make the perfect gift. But as I also mentioned, make sure you find out what kind of hats they’re comfortable wearing. My mom doesn’t like hats that scream “I have cancer!” but she loves plain baseball caps.

 

7. Homemade Coupons
  • No matter how old my sister and I are, my mom loves receiving homemade coupons. Whether it’s “free hugs,” “free movie night,” or “free service to wash the dishes, do the laundry or take the dog for a walk” you can never go wrong with a homemade coupon.

 

As you all know, I created this blog for a class assignment. As the semester is coming to an end and since my mom will be starting a new chemo treatment, I will no longer be writing blog posts. I would like to thank everyone for reading my posts and I hope that sharing my personal experiences has helped you and your families cope with cancer. Please don’t hesitate to contact me directly if you need additional support. Thank you.

Tips on travelling with someone who has cancer

This past summer, my family and I went on a cruise with Royal Caribbean. We went on Harmony of the Seas and travelled to The Bahamas, St. Kitts and St. Thomas Virgin Islands.

Sounds pretty nice, right?

Not exactly.

When you’re travelling with someone who has cancer, vacations aren’t exactly a walk on the beach.

There’s a lot of preparation and planning that goes into your vacation, even more so than when you’re travelling without cancer.

Travelling with cancer isn’t exactly ideal or easy, but it is possible.

Based on my experience this past summer, here are some tips on how to prepare and cope with cancer on your vacation:

 

1. First, your mom (or loved one) must consult with their doctor to see if they are eligible to travel
  • Before planning or even thinking about your next vacation, your mom (or loved one) must get the go-ahead from their doctor. My mom was lucky enough to get approval, but not every cancer patient will be able to travel. It depends on the state of their condition and how they’re treating their cancer. Flying is especially a concern because the oxygen levels and air pressures at high altitudes can be dangerous, or in some cases, life-threatening. So, before you travel, make sure that your mom (or loved one) discusses the possibility with their doctor first.

 

2. Make sure your mom (or loved one) consults with their doctor about bringing their medication
  • As I mentioned in a previous post, there are tons of cancer treatments and medication options. When my family and I travelled to the Caribbean this past summer, my mom was treating her cancer with a form of oral chemo. Unfortunately, her dosage was a little too high, so her symptoms (blisters on hands and feet, low energy, fever, nausea and vomiting) were worse than usual. If her dosage was lower, she probably would have felt a lot better. So, again, depending on their treatment, your mom (or loved one) should consult with their doctor about bringing their medication and determine what dosage would be best for travelling. It is also a good idea to pack their medication in a carry-on bag in case their luggage gets lost.

 

3. If possible, don’t book week-long trips
  • As fun and relaxing as week-long vacations are, they might not be ideal for someone who has cancer. Again, depending on what their doctor says, consider taking your mom (or loved one) on a vacation that lasts a few days rather than a week. Or plan a weekend getaway to somewhere more local. The length of your vacation should depend on the state of your mom’s (or loved one’s) condition.

 

4. Pack extra Gravol, comfortable shoes, sweaters, pillows and blankets
  • If your mom’s (or loved one’s) symptoms include nausea and vomiting, blisters on feet, and fevers, these items are crucial. Gravol helps treat nausea and vomiting in a quick and easy manner and wearing comfortable shoes (like running shoes) helps protect blisters, especially when walking on the beach. If bringing extra pillows and blankets aren’t an option, make sure you buy them on the plane. My mom had a high fever when travelling home, so we wrapped her in pillows, blankets and extra layers to make her feel more comfortable.

 

5. Be careful about your mom (or loved one) getting too much sun

 

6. Plan activities accordingly
  • One of my mom’s biggest symptoms was low energy, so we had to plan our activities accordingly. If you’re planning to see a night show, then don’t do anything that requires too much energy throughout the day. If you’re planning on having a long day with fun-filled activities, then plan to relax during the night. Tell your mom (or loved one) to take naps when needed and make sure they don’t feel guilty doing so, especially if it’ll boost their energy for the day/night. Also give yourselves an extra 10 or 15 minutes for bathroom breaks before, during and in-between your scheduled activities.

 

7. Most importantly, enjoy every moment
  • As I’ve mentioned, cancer is so unpredictable, and you never know what can happen. When you’re on vacation, you need to make the most of every moment because this may be your mom’s (or loved one’s) last vacation. You just never know what the future may bring, so treat every opportunity like it’s your last. Be sure to laugh, smile and take lots of embarrassing photos.

Tips on coping with hair loss

There are two days from 2008 that I remember like it was yesterday:

  1. The day my mom told my family that she was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer.
  2. And the day I saw my mom without any hair for the first time.

For an 11-year-old girl who was so used to seeing mommy’s beautiful, thick, dark curls, this was a huge change.

I remember the exact moment I saw her. I felt a wide range of emotions, but mainly:

Sadness.

Confusion.

And even guilt.

I felt bad that I had hair and my mommy didn’t. It made me want to shave my head and give her my own hair. It was a lot to take in for a little girl – especially since I was already going through puberty and watching my own body change.

But this day wasn’t only memorable cause it was the first time ever seeing my mom bald,

It was the first time I saw her as a cancer patient.

The first time I clued in.

The first time I looked at my mom and thought,

Holy cow, my mom has cancer.

It was the first time everything felt real and that I realized our cancer journey was about to begin.

Fast forward ten years to present day. Same thing is about to happen. My mom will be starting an IV chemo treatment soon where she’s going to lose all of her hair. But since I’ve already been through this once, I know how to cope.

Based on my personal experience, here are some tips to help you and your mom (or loved one) cope with hair loss:

1. First, remember that not all chemotherapy treatments cause hair loss
  • I think we have this common belief that cancer automatically means chemotherapy and hair loss. But just because your mom (or loved one) is treating their cancer with chemotherapy, does not mean they are going to lose their hair. As I mentioned in a previous post, there are several different chemotherapy treatments that have different side effects, many of which don’t include hair loss. If your mom (or loved one’s) treatment causes hair loss, their doctor will let them know before they begin the treatment.

 

2. Consider shaving their head before treatment begins
  • My mom did this ten years ago before she started chemo. Like her, a lot of cancer patients choose to shave their heads before starting treatment because they feel more in control shaving it themselves than seeing it fall out on its own. Shaving their heads beforehand also prevents hair from falling out in unwanted places, like the kitchen floor and clogging up the shower drain.

 

3. Ask them if they’re comfortable with “cancer hats”
  • “Cancer hats” are designed for patients who have lost their hair from chemotherapy, and while us daughters may think they’re cute and advocate their illness, not all patients want to wear a hat that screams “I have cancer!” My mom is especially vocal about this – she doesn’t like drawing attention to her cancer. So before buying your mom (or loved one) a hat with a cancer logo, make sure they’re comfortable wearing it.

 

4. Be open to their opinion on wigs
  • My mom always wondered what it’d be like to be blonde, so she was excited to try on all sorts of wigs. Although we had some fun picking out different kinds, she quickly learned that wigs just weren’t for her. She said they got hot and itchy, especially in the summer, and they didn’t sit well on her head. At first, I couldn’t stand the thought of her not wearing wigs, but then I realized I just wanted her to be happy and comfortable. She eventually found comfort wearing baseball caps instead of wigs. So while wigs might be suitable for some patients, they’re not for everyone. Just listen and be open to their preferences.

 

5. Most importantly, constantly remind them that they’re still beautiful
  • A lot of cancer patients feel less confident and physically attractive when they lose their hair, so make sure you’re constantly validating their beauty. It’s also important to remind them that it’s just hair they’re losing, and it’ll eventually grow back. My mom used to constantly worry about losing her hair, but then she realized there were more important things to worry about than her hair loss. However, if your mom (or loved one) is still struggling to feel confident, there are some great makeup tutorials for cancer patients on YouTube.

 

Every cancer patient is going to cope with hair loss differently. Whether they decide to wear hats, wigs, scarves, or nothing at all is entirely based on personal preference. Regardless, just make sure you’re there supporting their decisions and making them feel comfortable.

Everything you need to know about chemo brain

Ever feel like you’re having an off day where you’re constantly having ~brain farts?~

Like forgetting where you put your cell phone when it’s been in your hand the whole time? Or accidentally bringing the TV remote to the bathroom? (guilty of this on a number of occasions)

Well for some cancer patients, this is an everyday reality.

If your mom (or loved one) is treating their cancer with chemotherapy, they have a 75% chance of experiencing chemo brain.

Chemo brain is often described by doctors as a “cloudy mind” where patients don’t feel as “mentally sharp” as they used to.

Some common symptoms include:

  • Difficulty remembering small details
  • Misplacing items used daily
  • Struggling with multitasking and concentrating
  • Troubles with simple word retrieval
  • Feeling slow and confused

Each cancer patient may experience chemo brain differently, or in some cases, not at all. But chemo brain is often caused by the medication of chemotherapy or sometimes by the cancer itself.

For some patients, like my mom, chemo brain can have a long-lasting effect.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for chemo brain, but there are ways to help you cope.

Based on my personal experience, here are some tips to help you and your mom (or loved one) deal with chemo brain:

1. Be patient

This is, without a doubt, the most important tip when coping with chemo brain. I discussed the importance of being patient in a previous post, but when it comes to chemo brain, patience is absolutely crucial.

  • Your mom (or loved) one may ask you the same question a few times a day, or they might tell you a story and re-tell it like you’re hearing it for the first time. But please don’t get frustrated with them. Just be patient and either (kindly) let them know that they’ve already asked the question and told the story, or just go along with it. If you have to answer the question a second, third, or even fourth time, then do it. If you have to listen to the story and share another laugh or smile, just do it. Trust me, it’s not worth getting frustrated and losing your patience. It’ll just make everyone upset – especially your mom (or loved one).
2. Laugh off their mistakes
  • When I say laugh off their mistakes, I don’t mean using this as an opportunity to make fun or tease them. I mean making a friendly joke out of their mishaps and laughing about it together. For instance, mixing up names is one of my mom’s biggest symptoms of her chemo brain. She often confuses me with my sister (calling me Nikki and her Sara), which sounds pretty normal. But she’s also called me George … who is my father … and Lucy … who is my dog – LOL. Instead of making her feel silly though, we always laugh it off.
3. Most importantly, help them stay organized
  • As I mentioned above, having difficulty remembering small details and misplacing items are common symptoms of chemo brain. To help her remember and stay organized, my mom will write all her appointments and important tasks down on the calendar fridge. The fridge is an easy place for everyone to see, including my dad and sister, so if my mom forgets to check, they will help out and remind her. My mom also keeps important items in the same place – like her keys and cell phone on the tea trolley near the front door, which helps her remember where these items are at all times.

Chemo brain isn’t exactly fun or avoidable, so remember to be patient, add humour when you can (without making them feel embarrassed), and help them stay organized.

Things to consider when your mom is exploring treatment options

When my mom had cancer ten years ago, she treated it with chemotherapy,

And it worked.

But when her cancer came back, she decided to treat it with a naturopath method,

And her decision to do so both upset and confused my entire family.

We didn’t understand why she would want to try anything other than chemo, or how leafy products, jogging and sitting in a hot sauna could cure the deadliest disease out there. But here’s what we learned:

  • A vegan-like diet that limits red meat, processed foods and alcohol reduces sugar intake and makes cancer cells weaker (because sugar makes cancer cells stronger)
  • Exercising daily brings oxygen to the cells which makes them healthier and stronger
  • Sitting in a hot sauna for 30 minutes/day cleanses the body, removes harmful toxins, and weakens cancer cells

At the time my mom was doing this treatment in 2016, results showed it was working. Unfortunately, since then, her cancer progressed and she has moved onto a chemotherapy treatment.

Regardless, starting a new cancer treatment is scary, overwhelming, and often confusing. Based on my personal experience, here are things to consider when your mom (or loved one) is exploring treatment options:

1. There are more treatment options than chemotherapy that may work
  • My mom always stresses how there are so many different treatments; some in the form of chemotherapy, and some not. The type of treatment depends on the patient and their condition, so they should ask their doctor for more information on different options and if they qualify.
2. It may take multiple treatments to find the right one and that’s okay
  • My mom has tried several treatments but hasn’t found the right one. It’s a trial and error process, so be patient and don’t panic if some treatments don’t work
3. You’re going to see a wide range of side effects
  • Shockingly, hair loss isn’t the only side effect of cancer treatment. In fact, hair loss hasn’t been a side effect of any of my mom’s treatments. But the side effects depend on the treatment; some others include blisters (on hands and feet), low energy, bleeding, swelling, stomach pains, etc. Be prepared to see a variety of symptoms. And remember, extreme symptoms are usually just a side effect of the treatment, not an indication of the cancer itself
4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions
  • I guarantee you’re not going to fully understand the treatment and how it works, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. But as I mentioned in a previous post, be cautious of how often you’re asking questions – you don’t want to overwhelm them. But they’ll appreciate that you care and want to learn more
5. Most importantly, be open-minded and supportive of their decisions
  • Especially if they’ve had cancer before because their decisions are most likely influenced by their previous experiences with cancer. The reason my mom wanted to try a naturopath method is because she hated chemo the first time; as she always says:

“It wasn’t so fun the first time.”

It completely changed her life so we couldn’t blame her for wanting to try something different.

Exploring different treatment options isn’t fun or easy, so make sure you’re being supportive, understanding and open-minded of their decisions.

Guest Blogger, Emily Morphy: A Great-Granddaughter’s Perspective

Hi, my name is Emily Morphy and I want to talk to you about how to cope with cancer through a great-granddaughter’s perspective.

My great-grandma, Bernice Siddall, just turned 100 years old on August 30th.

She grew up on a farm outside of London, ON with seven brothers and sisters. Bernice spent her life as a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse while raising three children.

Unfortunately, she was diagnosed with breast cancer in her mid-50s and she decided to have a mastectomy.

It was a brave decision.

Today, my great-grandma is living in a nursing home struggling with health issues. However, she has love from her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who are always close by.

Here are some tips from a great granddaughter’s perspective on how to cope:

1. Be there
  • Spend time with the people you love… regardless of their age. This could mean just talking to them on the phone or eating dinner together.
  • Support your parents and grandparents by being patient.
2. Ask questions
  • It is OK if you don’t understand what’s happening, just ask.
  • But, as Sara has mentioned, be aware of how often you ask, “how are you doing?”
3. Express your emotions
  • Through sports, journaling, meditating, blogging, etc.
  • Express yourself in a way you feel your best!
4. Have a support system 
  • Keep positivity in your life with the people around you; therefore, remove the negativity in your life.
  • Regardless if your support system is friends, family or a pet, keep someone close to talk to. 
5. Most importantly: take care of yourself
  • I prioritize taking care of myself by relaxing. I always feel better watching a light-hearted TV show… Friends is definitely my top choice!
  • One of my favourite things to do is grab a bath bomb and relax in a hot bath.

I want to hear about your experiences and tips you have – leave it in the comments below!

Five things you can do for your mom fighting cancer

Last week, I covered ten things you can do for yourself when your mom has cancer.

This week, I’ll be shifting the focus and discussing things you can do for them.

As I mentioned in my first post, cancer is a battle you fight together. When someone in your life has cancer, they need your love and support to help them fight – and win.

From a daughter’s perspective, here are five things you can do for your mom (or loved one) fighting cancer:

1. Spend time with them

I cannot stress enough how important it is to spend quality time with your loved one when they have cancer. Cancer is so unpredictable; anything can happen, so you need to make the most out of the time you have together. They also don’t want to be thinking about their cancer 24/7, so it’s important to help them take their mind off it. These are some things my mom and I do together:

  • Watch a movie
  • Take our dog for a walk
  • Go shopping
  • Go out for breakfast

Pro-tip: when your mom has cancer, all the little things count.

2. Lend a hand around the house

You know how you get symptoms when you have a cold? Imagine having cancer symptoms – they’re a million times worse (will discuss this further in future posts). There’s going to be days where they’re in substantial pain or have low energy, and that’s where you can step in to help around the house. You can help by:

  • Washing/drying the dishes
  • Taking the dog for a walk
  • Setting the table
  • Assisting with dinner/baking (especially around holidays)
  • Doing the laundry

The list continues. But it’s also important to ask them if they need any help first. Sometimes they’ll say no and that’s okay. Remember, they don’t want to feel like a cancer patient 24/7, so they may want to do housework themselves without any help.

3. Keep them in the loop with your life
  • This is especially important if you’re away at school like I am. I’m living an hour away from my family and I come home at least once a month. Letting my mom know that I’m doing okay has really helped ease the stress and made her feel better. I tell her about my week at school, what I had for dinner, what my weekend plans are, etc. It doesn’t have to be much, just make an effort to talk. Like I said, the little things count.
4. Buy them a pet
  • I’m serious. My mom has told me several times how owning a dog has brought so much joy to her life. If your loved one with cancer currently doesn’t have a pet, consider getting them one.
5. Don’t overwhelm them with questions
  • Specifically, the question, “how are you doing?”
  • I’ve learned that it’s okay to ask them how they’re doing but be cautious about how often you’re asking. They’re probably already feeling overwhelmed, so constantly bombarding them with questions and asking how they’re feeling could stress them out even more. As I’ve mentioned, they don’t want to constantly be reminded of their cancer, so while it’s perfectly okay to check in, just limit the number of times you ask.

Ten things you can do for yourself when your mom has cancer

Cancer is a battle, but not just for the patient.

Watching someone you love fight cancer is a battle of its own.

A battle against:

Stress.

Anxiety.

Trauma.

Fatigue.

And sometimes even depression.

One of the most important things I’ve learned from watching my mom battle cancer is that you need to take care of yourself.

I used to find myself constantly worrying about my mom’s cancer and making sure she was okay.

But then I realized I was the one who wasn’t okay.

And I didn’t want to admit it.

I was scared to confess that I needed help, but once I did, I learned how to prioritize my well-being and found some (healthy) ways to deal with my stress.

Based on my personal experience, here are ten things you can do for yourself if you have a loved one battling cancer:

1. Let your teachers and employers know what’s going on
  • I’ve run into several occasions at school and work where I’ve broken down into tears. Sometimes you can’t help it, and that’s okay. But letting your teachers and employers know what’s going on can really help ease the stress. From my experience, they’ve been more than understanding and accommodating.
2. Vent to your friends
  • Your friends genuinely care about your well-being and want to be there for you – so let them. They might not fully understand what you’re going through, but they want to help. Don’t feel like a burden for venting your feelings to them, that’s what they’re there for.
3. Let your friends know that you don’t want to talk about it
  • You’re also going to have days where you don’t feel like talking about cancer at all, and that’s okay – but your friends may not know that. If the subject is brought up, don’t be afraid to say you’d rather talk about something else. Trust me, they’ll understand.
4. Write in a journal
  • If you don’t feel like communicating your thoughts or feelings with anyone else, write them down in a journal – even if you’re not a writer. You don’t have to be a good writer to keep your thoughts or feelings in a private journal.
5. Get an adult colouring book
  • I’m serious. Colouring, painting, and even drawing have been proven to be therapeutic ways for relieving stress. Plus, it’s fun!
6. Exercise
  • Exercise has also been proven to relieve stress. I always feel my mood has improved after I go for a run or walk around the block.
7. Listen to music
  • I always feel more relaxed when I’m listening to music through my earphones. It feels like a mini escape from the world. (Earphones in, world off).
8. Stay organized
  • Staying organized can keep your stress level under control. I personally found keeping a daily planner and writing all my tasks and upcoming events in a calendar really helped.
9. Go out and have fun
  • I cannot stress enough the importance of distracting yourself and maintaining a balance when your loved one has cancer. If you constantly find their cancer on your mind, go out, have fun, and distract yourself; go to the fair, the bar, a ball game, the movies, etc.
10. Talk to a counsellor
  • If you’re still struggling with handling stress, consider speaking with a counsellor. Sometimes talking to your friends and family isn’t enough. Talking to someone unbiased, outside your regular circle can be really beneficial, and they can help you find additional ways to cope.

My mom has cancer…now what?

When I found out my mom was diagnosed with cancer ten years ago, I was scared.

I was only 11-years-old.

Other girls in my class were afraid of puberty and seeing their bodies change; afraid of getting their first period and not knowing how to insert a tampon. Or watching their breasts develop and having no idea where to get a bra or what size would fit.

But I was afraid of my mom dying.

I was scared; confused. sad. angry even. I needed answers. And I needed them now.

When my mom was re-diagnosed in 2016, all those feelings came rushing back.

Suddenly I was 11-years-old again. Only now I can say I’ve successfully learned how to insert a tampon and pick out my bra size, but those feelings of fear, confusion, sadness, and anger…

The exact same.

Learning that your parent, sibling, relative or friend has cancer is terrifying. You feel overwhelmed, sad, confused, and you really have no idea what to do next.

Based on my personal experience, these are five things I’ve learned to consider when hearing the news for the first time:

1. Remember that many people survive cancer
  • The moment I found out that my mom has cancer, I instantly thought of her dying. But just because someone has cancer, does not mean they are going to die. Especially when you’re just finding out for the first time, it’s too soon to tell what’s going to happen. So, in the meantime, just remember that cancer does not always mean death. Patience is key.
2. Do not make an appointment with Dr. Google
  • When you first find out that your loved one has cancer, you want all the answers. But I can guarantee that using Google to answer your questions is not an accurate source – you’ll often find false information or information that you don’t want to hear. If you have questions, ask a doctor. Google is not a doctor.
3. Do not blame anyone, especially yourself
  • It’s easy to try and put the blame on someone when we feel sad or confused and need answers. But cancer is a disease with various causes, many of which doctors don’t fully understand. It’s no one’s fault – not the patient’s, the doctor’s, or your own. Don’t feel like the world is punishing you because someone you love has cancer. You can’t blame anyone, especially yourself.
4. Try to maintain a balance
  • I used to find my mom’s cancer always on my mind, but it’s important to strike a balance; you can worry about your parent’s cancer while having a normal life. And don’t feel guilty if you’re not sad all the time – trust me, they want you to have fun and not think about their cancer 24/7.
5. Most importantly, remember you are not alone
  • When you find out your parent has cancer, you feel like no one else in the world knows how you feel. But there are people like you going through the same thing – or at least something similar. You just have to find them and know it’s okay to talk to others about your feelings.

Remember to stay positive and keep smiling.

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