Top 5 Tuesday: What’s in your bag?

For anyone that has seen and come to love the movie High Fidelity with John Cusack you would know that he would be proud of this addition to the blog since his character makes Top 5 lists throughout the film. Luckily I won’t be listing top 5 saddest break up songs or anything like that. This is a little more practical and cancer-esque.

Now I tend to shy away from dishing out “how to’s” because there is no instruction manual for cancer and everyone’s experience is uniquely theirs. But I can offer some nuggets that have come to help me personally over the years. If you find any of it useful, perfect! If not, find comfort that I still have a day job.

When you’re in chemo you have a lot of time on your hands and comfort isn’t always optimal. Here are my Top 5 must-haves packed for a chemo infusion.

1.) A designated chemo bag

This seems like a silly one but let’s face it, chemo brain is very real and without some level of consistency I will likely forget to bring something to treatment. I generally use one of those reusable cloth grocery bags. I’m glad they’re getting used somehow because I am the worst offender of owning them and forgetting to bring them with me to the grocery store. Sorry environment. I’m trying, really.

A reusable grocery bag or tote will be enough to fit a few necessities. Keep it in your car if you drive yourself to treatment or pre-packed in the same spot in your home.

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I think we can agree that I should upgrade from stop and shop bag to this gem. GASP. NEED.

2.) A soft/fuzzy blanket

As a blanket enthusiast I have many throws around my apartment but I have one specifically that I keep in my car so that I never forget to bring it with me to chemo. Why BYOB (Bring Your Own Blanket)?

  • Hospital blankets are generally glorified burlap tarps. They don’t provide much warmth beyond the first few minutes out of the blanket warmer and the material doesn’t make for a cozy experience.
  • Emotionally it’s nice to have one blanket specifically for chemo so I am not making that association when I am trying to relax at home. That blanket serves one purpose, my other blankets are my home blankets.
  • Sometimes one of the pre-drugs for chemo (depending on your treatment) is Benadryl. If you are anything like me you’re cross eyed within a few minutes and ready for a solid chemo nap. When I’m napping I am seeking optimal comfort, especially if I’m being infused for a few hours at a stretch.
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This is what I’m 99% sure I look like post-Benadryl

3.) Entertainment

Boy is this necessary. My first stab at chemo had me there for 8-9 hour infusions. Now it’s more like 2-4 hours. You have a lot of time on your hands here. In the chemo units I have experienced there are usually televisions and maybe a few magazines hanging around. I would suggest packing one or more of these items for variety.

  • A good book. I prefer something that is going to make me chuckle. If you haven’t read anything by fellow blogger Jenny Lawson do it. You will undoubtedly be THAT person belly laughing in the chemo unit.
  • Cell phone with good battery life
  • Tablet or iPad if you have one. Good for movie watching/Netflix binging if the cable options aren’t great or answering work email if you’re still working and a true overachiever (just don’t answer email post-Benadryl…trust me. It makes for some weird outcomes)
  • Favorite magazines or crossword puzzles. Nice touch for your chemo bag for the sake of anyone volunteering to come with you for support. If you’re a chemo napper like me, your friend/loved one is going to need entertainment as much as you.

*Ok, ok so I know I cheated with #3 and listed 4 different things in a Top 5 list. You can write angry letters to the editor if need be. Spoiler Alert: I am also the editor.*

4.) Phone charger/Ipad or tablet Charger

I mean, if you’re there for a few hours killing time with non-stop Facebook and Insta-creeping you’re going to need to charge up.

5.) Sweater/Sweatshirt

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Maybe have a little bit of chill and don’t pack this one…

I’ve found that comfort and layers are key. The particular chemo drugs that I get make me immediately freezing then I wake up sweating bullets shortly after. Having an extra sweater to keep in your bag can help to manage that. Also if you’re low on magnesium and they add that to your IV, it tends to make people run a little warm

 

So there you have it, my top chemo staples for maximum enjoyment  okay-ness?

I purposely did not include water/snacks/meals because in my experience the infusion center has graciously provided that in all three hospitals that I have been in. If yours does not it never hurts to have a bottle of water to stay hydrated and a granola bar or fruit to keep your tum tum happy.

 

Cancer friends- what are your top chemo necessities? I’d love to hear from you! Feel free to leave your favorites in the comments.

 

 

 

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Boots

Sarah and I have just arrived to the ornate Providence Performing Arts Center settled in the heart of downtown Providence. We are about an hour early to the 7:30 show: An Evening with David Sedaris. In front of us is a vendor selling his works. To the left I spot an unassuming table with a sign that reads: “Please no photos”. I’ve never seen David Sedaris in person aside from a promotional headshot or two but I’m willing to make an educated guess that the man at that table is not the representative for RI NPR. In a fit of nerd-ity I gasp and whisper to Sarah: “that’s him!”

Our early arrival afforded us the opportunity to step in line behind just four or five other people to have him sign my copy of Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. As I consider what I would like to say to him I observe his interactions with other fans. He has a kind face, he’s making eye contact, he’s engaging the fans, really listening to what they have to say. Full conversations are happening beyond the anticipated: “who do I make this out to? Pam? P-A-M? Oh, two M’s. Okay thanks for coming out PAMM.” Sedaris takes his time with each person.

My turn presents itself sooner than anticipated and I look back at Sarah wide-eyed. She shoo’s me along like a supportive mother sending her baby off on the school bus for the first time. I approach the table and before I can think of how to introduce myself he says: “If we were friends I’d call you Boots! So Boots, what’s your real first name?” I giggled and told him that my name is Jessica but he can call me Boots, you know, since we’re friends and all.

This little icebreaker made me feel more at ease but certainly was not enough to control the level of grade A awkward that was coming out of my mouth. To this point, there have been three occasions in which I have been able to express to other writers how their work has contributed to developing my own voice as an aspiring writer. Once through a well-crafted email to Will Schwalbe (where he was all too gracious to return my email with mind-blowing kindness), another smaller book signing with a local author, and now this event with David Sedaris. It’s always weird and voyeuristic. You, a total stranger, gushing over the author’s work and their personal lives (in the case of creative non-fiction).

In what felt like a mess of painfully awkward word-vomit, I somehow articulated to David Sedaris my appreciation of his work, how it has impacted me as a budding writer, and how writing has played into living with cancer. I must almost mention that when I drop the ‘C’ bomb on anyone unsuspecting, I tend to totally overcompensate for how serious it is by acting far too casual. In this case I explained my situation in short that I was diagnosed with advanced stage Ovarian Cancer in 2012 and “have just been riding the cancer wave since.” This was accompanied by a wave motion with my hand (oddly reminiscent of Clueless circa 1995).

Now, I expected a “thank-you” followed by a polite head nod but instead he asked me if I was writing a book. I explained that it is my ultimate goal to do so and that I have pieces written that are in progress. He then asked me what the name of my book was to which I do not yet have an answer (it may need to be Jess in Boots after this encounter). It was at this point that I mentioned maintaining this blog and the man picked up his sharpie and WROTE DOWN THE BLOG URL.

It doesn’t matter if he never visits the blog. I don’t expect him to. The fact that he cares enough to inquire about things that are important to his fans speaks volumes. It only served to reinforce why he is one of my favorite authors.

He handed me back my book:

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I could write another 700 words on the reading itself but I’ll keep it brief. It was hysterical, exceeded expectations, and included a story of how a stranger removed a fatty tumor from his body that he froze and he later fed it to a sea turtle. Need I say more?