What to Bring in Your Cancer Treatment Bag

CURE, 2021 Breast Cancer Special Issue ,

A mother of three who received a diagnosis of stage 4 breast cancer right before the pandemic shares what her must-have comfort and entertainment items are in her treatment bag.

In July 2019, 35-year-old Stephanie Judge was a married mom of three young children who had just delivered a surrogate baby. One day, after finishing pumping breast milk for the baby, she found a lump in her left breast. After visiting her doctor, Judge received a diagnosis of stage 2 breast cancer in December and scheduled a lumpectomy for one month later. On March 6, 2020, Judge received a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer.

“Being diagnosed right at the beginning of (the COVID-19) pandemic was definitely interesting. You’re kind of hit twice,” she explained. “I’ve done almost everything alone. I’ve had two surgeries because I had a very quick recurrence. ... Well, I’ve had three surgeries because I had a port put in. I’ve done all my scans alone. I’ve done (the) majority of my appointments alone. I’ve done every single (chemotherapy) alone. ... I don’t know any different, but it’s also been kind of sh-tty.”

Judge now is 18 months into her first line of treatment of intravenous chemotherapy. She noted fatigue is one of her biggest side effects, along with nausea, headaches, bone pain, joint pain, weight gain, hair loss and allergy-like symptoms.

“I decided very quickly that it wasn’t worth my time to be angry or focus on what could have been or what could be. I needed to focus on the time that I do have, because no one can tell me when my time will come up,” she said.

What Judge Packs in Her Treatment Bag

Hard Candy

“For me ... my tolerance for saline is very low because I associate the taste with chemo and it makes me nauseous when I get it. So for me, (I bring) hard candy or Tic Tacs or something that will mask the taste (of) any flushes that I have, which happens a few times every time I go in. I would say that’s pretty high on my list because otherwise I don’t feel well.”

Warm Socks

“I ice my feet with my treatment (to reduce) neuropathy. ... If you wear the ice booties, they are very, very, very cold. So having socks with me is always super important.”

Notebook and Pens

“Any appointment I have, I will write down all of my questions before I go in because half the time you get there and you forget what you want to ask. ... And then I usually write my answers to those questions in my book so that I can discuss them with family later.”

Headphones (Wireless or Corded)

“They prefer in the chemo suite that you wear headphones so that you’re not disturbing other people. ... I usually charge them in the car on the way there.”

Memory Journals

“I’m starting to do some legacy work for my kids because of my diagnosis. I know it’s not the same for everyone. But I did just pick up these little memory journals that I bring with me now. ... They’re basically a ‘their story’ kind of thing. So it’s not necessarily a baby book, but it’s stuff from when they were infants all the way up to when they’re grown. It’s just questions that you can fill out for them, which I thought would be cool if I do during chemo, and then, eventually, they can read them when they’re older.”

Medicine

“I always have Advil with me or Tylenol, and then I also carry my ... nausea medication because sometimes I am nauseous during chemo. ... So I just like to have it on hand.”

Sweater

“My chemo center ... is notoriously freezing. I think they keep the chemo suites cool because it’s supposed to help with nausea, which makes sense, because if you’re warm and you don’t feel well, it just makes it worse.”

Bag Organizer

“It keeps all my books and stuff separated. A friend of mine gave it to me, and it just kind of keeps things a little more organized.”

HOLY GRAIL ITEM:

Cell Phone Charger

“I always have a cell phone and a charger. Always, always. Because half the time I spend on TikTok doing mindless stuff. There’s a lot of waiting. There’s always waiting.”

PRO TIP:

Call the Cancer Center

“I did buy the icing booties and the icing mitts. In the beginning I didn’t need them, but someone had recommended having them, and it turns out that I didn’t need them until about halfway through before neuropathy. And my cancer center has them. So I didn’t have to waste the money on that, and I didn’t realize that they would have them and be able to provide them to me. ... The ones that I purchased weren’t as heavy duty as the ones that the hospital already has. I would definitely check that before you waste your money on something off of Amazon.”

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