Hi friends! One question/comment I get all the time is “My friend was diagnosed with cancer and is about to start chemo…what things did you receive that were helpful while you were going through chemo?” I also hear “I want to put together a chemo care package for my friend and I have no idea where to start.” I’m expanding on this list as of September 2020 since I’m still learning with my new chemo drugs
If you find yourself asking those questions, the fact that you are asking (and reading this blog) tells me that you’re ahead of the game (because you care). I should start by being honest. The unfortunate reality is that no “thing” is going to make this better for your friend. It’s probably the worse news they’ve ever received and they’re scared, sad, and confused (I know I was). But, I did find comfort in having so much support all around me and comfort in my faith. With that being said, I’ll try to put together a list of things that I used/received during chemo for all of the people who have asked me. Disclaimer, everyone is different. We all have different tastes and preferences and ways we handle stress. Moreover, each chemo regimen is different and some people are more private about their cancer “journey” than others, so I would take all of that into consideration. Nevertheless, here’s my list.
Things I brought to my chemo infusion:
1. A long iPhone charger
2. Healthy Snacks
3. An extension cord with USB ports. This is crucial. I’m having my second chemo todayB (well. The first after my reoccurrence) . Anyway; this is what I’m using:!
3. A Huge Yeti Cup (or two) filled with water and a little fruit juice for taste (regular water can be nauseating during chemo from what I remember). I also brought long reusable “fat” straws to force myself to hydrate. (This won’t be the last time you hear this, but hydration during and after chemo is really important!)
4. If I hadn’t been doing cold cap therapy to save my hair, I would have brought a pair of nice headphones or Air Pods. (I also get asked all the time what kind of cold caps I used. Answer: Penguin. http://www.PenguinColdCaps.com (not getting paid to say that!) 😉 In 2018 I didn’t know anyone who had used cold caps. I think more people use them now and there are more brands available. I’ve heard a couple friends say they used the Paxman Cold Caps and that it worked for them. But I digress.
5. Speaking of headphones, a gift idea could be an Audible.com audio book subscription. I listened to a lot of audio books in bed after chemo (because sometimes you’re so sick you don’t even feel like watching TV).
6. I also brought “frozen mitts” or the gel freezer packs to keep my hands and feet cold during certain infusions (to help prevent neuropathy). If your friend doesn’t have a small portable ice chest, that might be a nice gift.
Things that were provided at my treatment facility (each facility is different):
1. Warm Blankets
3. Nurse Volunteers bringing unlimited smiles and snacks
4. Your very own IV bag of fluids! (Kind of kidding but this is true- I always asked to finish my IV bag of fluids….hydrating during and after chemo is SO important….so don’t turn down the free hydration) 😉
5. Cups of Ice Water
6. Small bags of ice for your hands/feet.
Things my friends/family brought to Chemo:
1. Popsicles to keep my mouth cold during certain infusions (to help prevent mouth sores). I changed flavors each week because anything I ate during chemo would make me nauseous to smell it again. (It’s a thing). In the beginning, my sweet coworkers were searching hi and low for “organic low sugar popsicles” and by the end (8 months later) I was requesting “the most ratchet popsicles you can find” specifically, “random flavors….anything…..something I’ve never heard of!” 😁 Who knew they made so many kinds of popsicles? (Random fact, I never understood the Sex and the City Episode where they were eating popsicles with Samantha during chemo. It all makes so much more sense now.)
2. My friend Darrell bought silly hats for each of my chemo infusions to bring some levity to the unfortunate fashion situation I had going on.
3. Other friends brought magazines but I couldn’t read them during chemo (again- if you aren’t doing cold caps, I imagine you can do all sorts of things!) The time I spent with my family and friends during chemo is still something I think about and will always remember.
Helpful acts of kindness and gifts I received during chemo:
1. A Daily Devotional. My favorite one is “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young. I still read this one.
2. A co-worker sent over someone to pull weeds in my grass and plant flowers. So nice.
2. My mother in law/father in law set up an account with a local meal delivery service called “clean dish” (nope, they are not paying me either…what a shame!😉). Clean Dish delivered ready to eat healthy meals for Mark and I so that 2-3 nights a week we didn’t have to cook dinner. (In fact, they started doing this again recently when my dad unexpectedly passed away last month). I’ve said it before, but my in-laws are REALLY kind and caring people. I drew the short straw with cancer but my husband and his family have been so wonderful to me. Side note: At some point I am going to talk about what happened with my Dad, but it’s still fresh and I’m not ready yet.❤️
3. My high school friend Natalee and her daughter showed up one evening and decorated my door and porch for Halloween (you could do that for any season). Similarly, you could get creative with sidewalk chalk at your friend’s house….it sounds silly but just knowing that people are thinking about you helps. Trust me.
4. The same high school friend also went to Costco and brought over healthy snacks and plastic forks/knives/spoons and paper plates so we wouldn’t have to do dishes on chemo days.
5. My friends and family used the “LOTSA Helping Hands” App on iPhone (my coworkers set it up and it ended up being really helpful). On the app, my friends and family would sign up to bring over meals, come with me to chemo and doctors appointments, volunteer to go grocery shopping, etc. I could log into the app to make requests and see who was doing what on any given day.
6. One of my favorite surprises: the sweet people from my dentist office had one of the Real Housewives from Orange County send me a personal message (the video of me watching the message for the first time is on my Instagram @HollyHollisStars). I’m unapologetically a fan of almost all things Bravo- so the personal video message from a “Bravolebrity” really made me smile. They used http://www.cameo.com (again- not being paid here…just passing along the info!) I assume other celebrities are on this website, other than reality TV stars 😉
7. My friend Sarah and other friends offered to come over and clean my house (how sweet). My neighbors also cut my grass for me several times.
8. A couple of people made blankets and quilts by hand and my friend Courtney had a picture collage turned into a blanket.
9. Unicorn socks…..a unicorn coffee mug (that I still use) …..unicorn everything (because I AM the cancer unicorn after all) 🦄 💜
10. I’ll never forget the first “chemo care package” I received from my friends Becky and Jeff (Jeff admits that Becky was the brains of the operation but he called and checked on me every single week and still checks one me to this day). Anyway, they sent me realllllllly nice sheets. I didn’t realize it in the beginning, but you will be spending more time in bed than you realize during chemo. They also sent silk pillowcases, satin PJ’s and a giant carton of goldfish crackers. I remember thinking to myself originally “oh I can’t have those crackers they are full of sugar and carbs”…..fast forward a couple weeks and I was army crawling down the hall whisper yelling for Mark to find the da#m goldfish. (Not dramatic at all…..but I really dislike being nauseous and I had the Long Island Ice Tea of Chemo cocktails). Anyway, suffice it to say, the crackers came in handy.
11. Nice PJ sets: someone recently asked me about this. I would recommend button down because chances are they will be having surgery. Also something lightweight because chemo puts a lot of women into early menopause (which means hot flashes!). So, anything with bamboo fabric is great. I also really like these PJ’s from Target believe it or not. (No, not sponsored haha).
12. Gift card for a mani or massage (I mean, who doesn’t like that?)
13. Boujee hand lotion and goat milk chapstick
14. Handwritten cards in the mail
15. Social media posts can also lift someone’s spirits. Find a fun throwback picture, post it, and write about why you love your friend and what makes them special. I’m a words of affirmation person and I still tear up when I read comments on my posts. (Happy tears😘).
16. My #hollyannstrong and #HollyStarsStrong bracelets are still so special to me (my family and close friends are still wearing them actually). My friend Elizabeth’s and her husband Gray never take their bracelets off. In fact Gray has a legit tan line from his bracelet. That is commitment😁) I’m not sure when I’ll stop wearing my bracelet. Maybe at the 3 year mark?….maybe at the 5 year remission mark? It’s hard to think that far ahead. But, I’m just praying every day I can celebrate those milestones. You all know what the bracelets look like at this point 😉 Something else I’m holding on to is the sign (pic below) that is still outside of my office. I’m not taking it down until I hit 3 years without reoccurrence. It makes me smile every time I see it.
17. One of my BFF’s had a custom unicorn drawing created and they made t-shirts and wore them to my chemo bell ringing 🙂
18. In the beginning, I felt overwhelmed and it was hard to keep my friends and family updated on what was going on with my treatment. My friend Courtney posted weekly updates on her social media for the first few months until I felt like I could do it myself. It was such a huge help at the time (and I find myself going back to her posts before I started the blog to remember what in the world happened …and when). To that extent, you could offer to send out updates via text/email/ social media to your friend’s family, etc. so they don’t have to. Gifts don’t always have to be tangible. Sometimes taking even one thing off someone’s plate makes a big difference.
I’m SURE I’m forgetting so many things that people did for me. But, at least I have this post and I can add to it as I remember things. Also, wow- my people are amazing. Just listing these things was a really good exercise in gratitude. I’m so fortunate that I was able to experience so much kindness during a time in life that would have been pretty miserable otherwise.
List of helpful things during chemo…according to other Survivor Sisters: (I’ll update the blog as I hear new ideas!🙂)
1. My friend Stacie said the best gift she received during chemo was a deep freezer so people could make freezer meals.
2. Another one from Stacie: Grocery Delivery Subscription. Here’s a link to the one she used: Shipt Grocery Delivery Service
Disclaimer: the next part of the blog isn’t about what to put in a chemo care basket. It’s been awhile since I’ve posted an update so I figured now is a good time. My next set of scans are on May 6th ….NEXT. WEEK. If you have time, please say some prayers for clean scans. I know I should put all my worries on God’s shoulders (and I really try to do that) but it’s hard not to be scared. I have a CT of my chest to check the same spot that lit up on the November PET Scan and I’ll also have a full body bone scan (my last bone scan was in May of 2019). I’ll keep everyone posted when I receive the results. I want to be here and be alive so badly. I can’t really put that feeling into words.
In other news, I was on the news this week and earlier this month😊 (@BravoTV, I’m ready for my close up!) Kidding. Sort of. Anyway, if you want to watch, see below. I learned a valuable lesson from the FaceTime interview below: angle matters, light matters, and good grief don’t do an interview right after a workout🤦🏻♀️. Oh well. The fact that I can look fairly ratchet on TV and feel okay about it is personal progress. Right?
The 3 videos above were from the news this week. The video below is from a news segment that was aired around April 2nd I believe.
I’m still amazed that there are so many people that keep up with my story. If you’re still reading, thank you. It’s strange because Stage IV cancer isn’t something that just ends. It’s a part of my life now and it has changed me (for the better I think). In talking with my therapist this week, she helped me realize that it’s okay to admit that cancer also took a lot away from me. However, I still think it has given me so much more than it has taken away. It makes every moment precious. It helps me spend time with the people who are kind to me. It helps put small issues into perspective. It helps me live in a state of gratitude. God has a plan. I’m just praying for peace as it unfolds.
Thank you for reading and keep the prayers coming as always…but especially on May 6th💜
⭐️ Holly Hollis Stars ⭐️