Hijacked

Stories from a Life I Didn't Plan

Month: December 2015

Best-laid Christmas Plans Derailed

Best-laid Christmas Plans Derailed by Family Illness

The best-laid Christmas plans derailed due to unexpected family illness. While on chemotherapy, I maintain a quiet, sequestered life to protect me from the risk of infection. Once I realized my chemo schedule would leave me free the entire week of Christmas, I made plans with family to spend the week at my elder sister’s home and go across town to my parents’ home for various activities, including gift opening and Christmas dinner. I anticipated this special time to enjoy with my loved ones. Little did I know a severe, highly contagious virus would sweep through the household, resulting in our best-laid Christmas plans derailed.

Best-laid Christmas Plans Derailed

Annual Tradition of Admiring Christmas Light Displays Was Missing a Few Important People

Early in the week, it became apparent that sickness had hit my parents’ house. First one, and then another fell ill with a nasty respiratory virus, making it imprudent for me to be in close contact with my dear family. Thankfully, my sister’s family across town remained healthy, so I stayed nearby with the hope that the virus would pass quickly.

 

We had also all joined in a family meeting using Skype early in the week, so I began to think about Skyping with one sister who could not be with us for Christmas for gift opening. It seemed to be the next best thing to being there.

As Christmas dawned, family members were still ill, making it impossible for me safely join them for our planned celebration. So, we cooked dinner in separate kitchens across town, transported dishes for Christmas dinner and gifts, and then logged into Skype so that we could watch as gifts were passed around and opened.

Although I did not get the hugs I normally enjoy while home to visit, amazingly, the joy of Christmas surrounded us and we were able to watch via Skype as each one peeled back wrapping paper of carefully selected gifts. Skyping made us slow down and focus on each individual family member, appreciating the joy of receiving a well chosen gift and the resulting gratitude expressed. And, we sent one another air hugs and other expressions of love through cyberspace.

While we had seen our best-laid Christmas plans derailed, we still savored a delicious, potluck home-cooked Christmas dinner and celebrated this special time together through the miracle of modern technology.

Losing Hair on Chemo

When I first met with the oncologist about my impending chemotherapy regimen, he told me that most people do not lose their hair on this chemotherapy. Only about 15% would tend to bald. He emphasized that my chemo is a medium sort of chemo, which would not be too onerous. Unfortunately, several weeks ago I noticed I was losing hair on chemo.

All of a sudden, my hair started ending up in my mouth, in my food, all over my clothes and the floor. It was coming out in my comb and brush, lining the sink and the tub whenever I was near. Even the dust bunnies that accumulate on my hardwood floors are now somewhat blonde like me.

Since my oncologist had assured me I would not lose my hair, I was alarmed thinking that I was going to be bald. This was not supposed to happen to me! I was not supposed to be losing hair on chemo. Chagrined by my vanity, I felt doubly grieved: first, for losing hair on chemo and second, for feeling so mournful about my hair loss.

One day, I awoke with such terrible bed head that I had to rejoice that I still had enough hair to support this amazingly, ratted mess. The silliness of my appearance and the sheer volume reassured me. And, after all, hair grows back, and thankfully mine normally grows quickly.

As my hair continues to thin, admittedly I still struggle with how cancer and chemo have changed my life. I wasn’t supposed to be losing hair on chemo, but in my imagined version of my life, I wasn’t supposed to have an aggressive, fast growing cancer before I turned 50. I wasn’t supposed to have a port infection, either.  Perhaps finding myself the exception to these medical statistics should make me feel exceptional, a stand out from the crowd. Still, I would settle for not being such a medical exception, unless it is to never have cancer again–in spite of the statistics.

 

Losing Hair on Chemo

Is that really my hair?!?

 

What Should Go in My Chemo Bag

 

Soon after receiving the news that I would benefit from chemotherapy, I began to research chemo and learned I could make the cancer detour easier on myself if I learned what should go in my chemo bag.

I found numerous posts on Pinterest about chemo bags. So, with the help of my family, I put together the biggest chemo bag I have seen in the chemo infusion room. Each chemo bag is unique to the patient, but there are certain things I have found help make time in the infusion room more pleasant.

My Chemo Bag Essentials

Family members have contributed to my bag. Because I get cold in the chemo room, I take a fleece blanket that my mother made me to keep me warm. Coffee Beans, the Build-a-Bear my youngest niece made me, keeps me company and has come close to celebrity  status in the infusion room. Comfy, red sequined slippers from one sister keep my toes warm and pillowed. Encouraging words on smooth stones from my oldest sister and a friend remind me to have hope and to just breathe.

A few other things I include are reading material, music, snacks (especially saltine crackers for nausea and hard candy to mask the taste of saline when the port is being flushed or disagreeable medications start flowing) or a healthy lunch. I also take a journal and pen, art supplies to draw or color, hand wipes and sanitizer, and a mask so that I can go to sleep when the meds start to make me sleepy.

If you are wondering, “What should go in my chemo bag?” or have a friend asking that question, then I hope you find some of my thoughts helpful. Many have shared suggestions for how to prepare for chemo so you can easily find resources to support your loved one or yourself on your cancer detour. These resources have shaped how I decided what should go in my chemo bag. If you are on Pinterest, you may check out my  Cancer and Chemo Board for some ideas I have found helpful.

What Should Go in My Chemo Bag

Coffee Beans, the Build-a-Bear my youngest niece made me.

Other Chemo Essentials

Two things I always try to take to chemo do not fit in my bag: a positive attitude and a smile for the courageous patients around me; the compassionate caretakers who do all they can to help me to be well; and kind, efficient office staff who ensure my care runs smoothly. I believe those two things might be the most important of all.

 

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