Chemotherapy Comfort Stuff
April 21, 2011 9:01 AM   Subscribe

My beautiful, hilarious, brilliant, elegant mother started chemotherapy today. Please give me your best suggestions for comfort items.

My mother is undergoing chemotherapy right now. For reasons I won't go into here, I can't (can not) be there in person to support her. This is killing me. We are very close. Until I can get there to hold her hand, I want to read up on comfort items that I can send in care packages to make her day brighter. What made chemo easier for you and/or your loved ones?

For example:

Headcoverings. She has the loveliest hair in the entire world, and I know she's devastated at the thought of losing it. I want to procure her the prettiest, most comfortable headcoverings possible. Catches: she isn't a huge fan of hats and has very sensitive skin (even before taking chemo into consideration). She is extraordinarily elegant with refined taste and loves natural fibers. I know her recovery will mostly be spent at home, so I would love suggestions for cozy things to wear around the house and keep her head warm, but maybe also a wig for appointments?

Amusements. (Aside from the obvious audiobooks, streaming subscriptions, etc.--those are taken care of.)

Other comfort items, of all types--tangible or not.

Further data points: I'm already planning on daily calls and emails, funny cards, photos, maybe setting up Skype, etc. Another family member is in place to be her caretaker right now, and she has a regular cleaning service.

I'm sorry if this has been discussed a million times before and I'm missing it, and I'm also sorry if it's scattered and awfully written. I am so broken up, and any suggestions you have for ways I can support my mom from afar right now would be so very welcome. If you'd rather speak privately, you can email me at

Thank you in advance for any help you can give.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Presents I gave to my godmother when she was having radiation and chemo for breast cancer that were the best-received:

-Thick unscented lotion- skin gets very dry but smells can be intolerable
-Silk/cashmere blend drapey cardigan from BCBG that is very soft and warm but isn't a pullover and allows easy access to any tubes etc they put in (don't know if that applies to your mom)
-Fancy silk scarf (Hermes knockoff but go for the real thing if you can afford it) for her head. Silk is good because it is smooth and not itchy and warm but not too hot, which is nice for the sensitive skin and temperature fluctuations from chemo
posted by rmless at 9:07 AM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

I know you mentioned this, but when I have friends in the hospital, I send a card EVERY damn day. It's fun to get real mail these days.

What about a really soft bathrobe or some sort of sundress to hang out in?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:08 AM on April 21, 2011

My coworker's mom has gotten a lot of use out of her Snuggie during chemo. Chemo patients tend to get COLD during treatments.

2nd silk scarves for the head.

Is there a delivered dish service you can buy a gift certificate for? Good for your mom and also the family member caring for her.
posted by momus_window at 9:10 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

My neighbor has finished chemo & started radiation. Lots of our friends sent cards, gifts & flowers early on. Now that it's been a while, that's down to nothing. So I'd say take it easy in the early days, when she will get lots of thoughtful attention, and as things drag on, be the one who picks it up.

In the early days you might send cards to the family caretaker. Being a caretaker is so thankless, and the patient gets all the attention.
posted by MichelleinMD at 9:28 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I sent my mother-in-law a postcard a day while she went through radiation (not the same thing, I realize), which she said she really treasured and she kept all of them.

A really nice, comfy and colorful throw or blanket to wrap up in.
posted by questionsandanchors at 9:30 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Think about some sort of lounge clothing that is comfy but stylish -- more than pajamas, but soft and flowy, without zippers or buttons if you can help it. She'll probably have people who want to visit, and whether or not she has the energy to "dress up" she will likely be tired of wearing a robe and PJs (or simply the same thing all.the.time.). If she finds a particular kind of garment that she likes, buy a few in different colors or variations if you can.
posted by Madamina at 9:31 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Good quality chapstick.
posted by Sassyfras at 9:32 AM on April 21, 2011

When my wife went through chemo, she liked having silk scarves for her head (she tried a wig and hated it) and warm pajamas for when at home. There were days when she just wanted to sleep so don't worry if she can't answer some of those phone calls. There were also times when she was very limited in her diet -- white rice and thin soups much of the time -- so don't assume she'll want to eat whatever is delivered if you choose to go that route.
posted by maurice at 9:32 AM on April 21, 2011

Get a weird/cute/dorky stuffed animal (maybe super unique from Etsy-type) and write a little story to go with it. You could call it the "Rebecca(whateveryournameis) Spirit Stand-In Monster" or something goofy like that, so when she sees it she will think of you. Perhaps Bartelby the HorseDog or whatever has a history of comforting only the most brilliant of people and heard about your mom and asked to be placed in her care... or whatever silly kinda-related-to-your-mom specific thing.

Periodically you could send a letter addressed to Bartelby the HorseDog in care of your mom with instructions from the Society for the Advancement of Spirit Animal Efficacy. Or somesuch. (Maybe it would remind him to remind her to drink more water or fluff her pillows regularly or remind her of a little story from your childhood.)

Possibly overly dorky, definitely not for everyone. But you never know.
posted by Glinn at 9:54 AM on April 21, 2011 [7 favorites]

due to the exhaustion: books on tape if she loves reading/stories (either tape/cd/or even a small mp3/ipod with things already pre-loaded). they can keep her company. i also recommend wait wait don't tell me and other funny games/stories.
posted by anya32 at 9:59 AM on April 21, 2011

Books helped me a lot, but there were three items I absolutely had to have when I went through chemo: sparkling water (the carbonation really helped with the bloating), those Edy's fruit bars (better than a popsicle IMHO) and gum. Chemo leaves an awful taste in your mouth and I always had gum on hand.

And, um, Senokot's a lifesaver too.

Contact info and a link to my "what it was like to have cancer" blog is in my profile if you have more questions.

Sending as many positive vibes as I can muster...
posted by Atom12 at 10:01 AM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh, and a Netflix membership.

Depending on how long her treatments are, a portable DVD player and a season or two of her favorite show would be great.
posted by Atom12 at 10:03 AM on April 21, 2011

Hi, I'm sorry for your mom, and for you.
Judging from your description, I think she and I may share some traits.
I was just diagnosed with a recurrence after 10 years "clean" -- 2 days ago. I am waiting on the game plan, terrified, amped up, exhausted. So I've been making my own mental list as I face chemo again.
I'd say no to the silk scarves. They are a little too Grey Gardens. How about a fleece beanie or a linen Kangol? Or even a bandana!
No to the snuggie, yes to Lululemon fleece-y things, or cashmere.
A perfect, beautiful soft-colored throw (blankie).
New slippers.
Lip balm by Fresh or Laura Mercier.
Lightly scented or unscented hand cream.
Laura Mercier eyebrow powder to draw them in -- this works WONDERS.
Fill her ipod with music she loves. Load up her netflix. Light reading or books on tape -- nothing too "brave survivor".
I would suggest you do not provide her with uplifting/spiritual/beat-this-thing type books? Most cancer patients I know prefer to choose their own or forego; and don't really love getting them as gifts.
Make sure her computer is portable, and in good working order.
Send her great links.
Don't sign her up for anything cancer-related unless she wants to do it (walks, prayer circles, etc etc). I once walked past my supermarket and saw my name in a giant pink circle balloon taped to the window. Someone well-meaning had offered me up but I was really unhappy (and went in and took it down!)
Memail me if you want more ideas.
posted by thinkpiece at 10:09 AM on April 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

Sorry two more things! A Love Quotes or Matta scarf. A great tote --Kate Spade makes cheerful canvas ones that are perfect for chemo-day supplies.
posted by thinkpiece at 10:11 AM on April 21, 2011

You haven't mentioned the type of chemo, but some are particularly hard on the hands and feet, causing soreness and cold sensitivity. Some really soft socks and slippers might be nice if her feet are affected. Also gloves if she lives somewhere cold. If she's normally a reader, books of short stories, poems or magazines might be good for her to read without tiring herself out too much. Ginger beer/ale/sweets or mints may help with nausea and bad tastes.

Aside from the comfort items, I think anything that can also maintain some degree of normality might be a boost. I think my mother-in-law found it frustrating to have so much of her world centred around her illness.

If it's appropriate (if it isn't, I'm sorry) maybe start planning something fun like a trip you could do together when she's feeling better to give a bit extra light at the end of the tunnel.
posted by *becca* at 10:14 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Silk scarves + youtube links on how to tie stylish turbans.
Silk kimono robe + satin or egyptian cotton pajamas.
Cashmere or silk lounge apparel with elastic that doesn't bite the skin.
Pure sheepskin slippers for cold.
An iPad is great for occupying time when you're weak and bored.
Lucas Paw Paw ointment for chapped lips/skin.
A lightweight but warm blanket - my dad is ill and can't tolerate heavy or itchy blankets, and the best ones he's found are wool/cashmere ones.
posted by shazzam! at 10:27 AM on April 21, 2011

Maybe some great pot and a pipe wouldn't be inappropriate (laws allowing of course). This worked well for someone I know. The recipient was an elegant lady who probably would have had a bit of trouble acquiring it herself, yet it was something her doctor recommended. She appreciated it. And the conspiratorial vibe is good for some smiles.

With warm thoughts towards you and your mother.
posted by okbye at 11:17 AM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Please don't send pot in the mail unless you think going to jail would make you and your mom happy.
posted by rmless at 12:26 PM on April 21, 2011

When my grandmother was being treated for cancer, I knitted her a lap-sized afghan from a silk-alpaca-cashmere blend. When I sent it, I mailed it with a card that basically said that it was a hug replacement, since I couldn't be there. She used it all the time. Now, you may not be able to knit, but something similar would probably go over well. A lap blanket is good because it can be used that way, or as a shawl -- however the recipient needs to use it to keep warm.
posted by linettasky at 1:08 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

A Kindle or Nook preloaded with some books you'll think she'll love.
posted by Wordwoman at 8:00 PM on April 21, 2011

you think she'll love, sheesh
posted by Wordwoman at 8:00 PM on April 21, 2011

Long, mindless but smart TV series on DVD. My buddies Mom made her way through chemo watching episode after episode of Dallas, Twin Peaks, The Simpsons and other shows.
posted by EvilPRGuy at 8:11 PM on April 21, 2011

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