Dear Mary
Taking a friend to chemo.

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Dear Mary,

My friend is going through Chemo. The person who normally goes with her and stays with her during her Chemo treatments cannot do it for the next 3 weeks. I am glad to help my friend yet not sure what to do or what to expect. How best can I help my friend when I take her to chemo?

Sue

Hi Sue:

I am so glad that you are helping your friend. She will be very thankful for your assistance and company.

Over 8 years, I helped my Dad and my best friend Wendy go to virtually all their chemo and cancer related treatments and appointments. I am happy to share what I have learned about how to add value to someone’s treatment day.

Preparing for the hospital visit is very important. Think about how to make the day as easy as possible for your friend. Depending on her health, she will let you know if she can take public transit or will need a ride right to the hospital door. If that is the case, you will need to find a wheelchair when you arrive at the hospital, perhaps help her into it and then go park the car. Make sure she has her medical binder/records with her. Many cancer patients have created a binder to keep themselves organized through their journeys. She will want to have her binder/notes with her. If the weather is bad, plan to leave early. If you live in a large urban city and have the highway lanes for 2 people, use them. Wendy always called them the “Chemo Lanes”. We would laugh and zoom by everyone else.

The first thing to learn is that the day at the hospital takes on a life of its own.   Your friend may have her appointment scheduled for 10:00 but that does always mean she will start her treatment at that time. Perhaps there is blood work to be done first, or a visit with her doctor(s) is often required before the day’s treatment can begin. There could also be other reasons why the schedule can go crazy. Perhaps the Pharmacy is very busy and they have not delivered her “personal cocktail” as Wendy use to call it. Other things that can change the schedule could be that there are not enough chairs for the Chemo patients to receive their treatments or it just takes longer to receive her Chemo that you both had expected. Also, don’t be surprised if no treatment can be done that day because of her blood work results. In those cases, she will have to try again another day.

Here are a few tips to making the time at the hospital go as quickly and as enjoyable as possible.

-Bring along pictures to share of some current stories (perhaps you have new pictures of babies, wedding, homes – bring them all along). You will want to keep your friend entertained and engaged with your stories.

-Bring your IPad to share more pictures, news and things that she might find interesting on the Internet.

-Offer to go down to the coffee shop and buy her some coffee or a sandwich. At most Chemo clinics, volunteers usually come by with free sandwiches and juices, but it is always nice to get something extra from the coffee shop. I always asked the other patients that I walked by to see if I could buy them something too. Not all patients receiving treatment have someone with them all day, so buying a treat for them may make their day at bit better too.

-Your friend may also want a blanket, help getting up to go to the bathroom or just some quite time. If your friend falls asleep (which often happens) decide whether to stay there and also close your eyes or take the opportunity to go for a short walk.

-When a doctor or nurse comes by to talk with your friend, it is a good idea to stay and listen to the conversation. An extra set of ears can help keep conversations clear and accurate.

You may also need to be your friend’s advocate. Sometimes people and schedules get all mixed up. Getting things understood and moving can make her day better and less stressful. Be prepared to ask questions of the staff and confirm the day’s agenda and the details for the next appointment.

Finally, your job that day is to offer love and support to her in every way possible. Make suggestions that are in her best interest and even just holding her hand will make her day better.

I also learned that the days after Chemo are the hardest. The drugs have kicked in and that is when she will need ever more help and care. Drop in with her and see how you can help her and perhaps give her family a break for an hour or two.

You will learn a lot through this caregiving experience.

Be Brave, flexible and loving.

Mary

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Caregiving Matters

Mary is a daughter. She also Chairs our charity. Mary has also held Director roles on three other boards, most recently with The Palcare Network of York Region.

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