Throwing a pre-chemo hat/scarf shower

jazmynsmom(Z5 Madison-ish)July 5, 2011

I friend of mine in the neighborhood was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. They did a lumpectomy, and she's about to embark on an eight month chemo odyssey, which will be Hades-like, but her prognosis is good. She's not really the "wig type" (her words) but she loves bling and sparkle, so (with her permission), a neighbor and I are throwing her a hat/scarf shower before the chemo starts. It'll be an excuse to bring a bunch of people together to show her love and encouragement and be both positive and honest about what she's about to go through. Plus, she'll walk away with a ton of stylish and comfy coverings for her soon-to-be-bald head.

I know a lot of people here have gone through/are going through chemo. Does any one have any suggestions for how to make this pre-chemo event more fun/special for her? (We're doing alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails and light summery hors d'oeuvres, NO SHOWER GAMES, and presents.) I'm putting together a gift bag which also includes a good lotion, and one of those pillow thingies to keep the seat belt strap off your boob. Any suggestions will be appreciated.

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If she likes to read, paperbacks for the chemo sessions. Anything funny, positive or good mysteries to make time go by faster. I went through books like other people through tissues.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2011 at 2:16PM
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Just be there for her in the same way you were before all of this happened; normalcy is at a premium. Well, when life has been turned topsy-turvy. Glad she's embracing it, but she's unlikely that way all the time. I know you will treat her just fine, but you may not know the key. At least, I felt like a steak at the end after having heard how "rare" my condition was constantly. Too, my nephew wanted to be normal too with his leukemia. He hated when people were suddenly asking him how he was that really never cared before. Or never asked about anything else. Life does go on, and the disease can't be the focus. But knowing you, you already knew!

Basket? With chemo, food's going to be off limits until you know what works for her. That's one of the things the Matterhorn and I remember fondly of his leukemia treatments. Anything that began with a P worked for him. Pizza, pretzels, pickles, popcorn... still makes me smile. Him too. Gosh, does she have any good hobbies that work while sitting still, e.g. knitting? Hm.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2011 at 3:33PM
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A nice and soft lap robe, (machine wash and dry).

    Bookmark   July 5, 2011 at 3:33PM
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I think what you are doing is wonderful and all the ideas are great.I've been having chemo for 2 years now and I ran across this list in the New York Times and heard the author from whose book these came on NPR. It's a list of what to say and more importantly what NOT to say to someone who has cancer.I can tell you these are right on and after having shown this to others with cancer,they totally agreed. Some of these will really surprise you. I know you didn't ask for anything like this but it's good to tuck it away in case your friend becomes really sick with her infusions.

What Not To Say To A Person With Cancer

1. WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP? Most patients I know grow to hate this ubiquitous, if heartfelt question because it puts the burden back on them. As Doug Ulman, the chief executive of Livestrong and a three-time cancer survivor, explained: "The patient is never going to tell you. They don�t want to feel vulnerable." Instead, just do something for the patient. And the more mundane the better, because those are the tasks that add up. Want to be really helpful? Clean out my fridge, replace my light bulbs, unpot my dead plants, change my oil.

2. MY THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS ARE WITH YOU. In my experience, some people think about you, which is nice. Others pray for you, which is equally comforting. But the majority of people who say they�re sending "thoughts and prayers" are just falling back on a mindless clich�. It�s time to retire this hackneyed expression to the final resting place of platitudes, alongside "I�m stepping down to spend more time with my family," or "It�s not you, it�s me."

3. DID YOU TRY THAT MANGO COLONIC I RECOMMENDED? I was stunned by the number of friends and strangers alike who inundated me with tips for miracle tonics, Chinese herbs or Swedish visualization exercises. At times, my in-box was like a Grand Ole Opry lineup of 1940s Appalachian black-magic potions. "If you put tumeric under your fingernails, and pepper on your neck, and take a grapefruit shower, you�ll feel better. It cured my Uncle Louie."

Even worse, the recommenders follow up! Jennifer Goodman Linn, a former marketing executive who�s survived seven recurrences of a sarcoma and is compiling a book, "I Know You Mean Well, but ...," was approached recently at a store.

"You don�t know me, but you�re friends with my wife," the man said, before asking Ms. Linn why she wasn�t wearing the kabbalah bracelet they bought her in Israel.

4. EVERYTHING WILL BE O.K. Unsure what to say, many well-wishers fall back on chirpy feel-goodisms. But these banalities are more often designed to allay the fears of the caregiver than those of the patient. As one friend who recently had brain surgery complained: "I got a lot of �chin ups,� �you�re going to get better.� I kept thinking: You haven�t seen the scans. That�s not what the doctor is saying." The simple truth is, unless you�re a medical professional, resist playing Nostradamus.

5. HOW ARE WE TODAY? Every adult patient I know complains about being infantilized. The writer Letty Cottin Pogrebin, who had breast cancer, is working on a book, "How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who�s Sick." It includes a list of "no-no�s" that treat ailing grown-ups like children. When the adult patient has living parents, as I did, many mothers in particular fall back on old patterns, from overstepping their boundaries to making bologna sandwiches when the patient hasn�t eaten them since childhood. "Just because someone is dealing with a physical illness," Mr. Ulman said, "doesn�t diminish their mental capacity."

6. YOU LOOK GREAT. Nice try, but patients can see right through this chestnut. We know we�re gaunt, our hair is falling out in clumps, our colostomy bag needs emptying. The only thing this hollow expression conveys is that you�re focusing on how we appear. "When people comment on my appearance," Ms. Linn said, "it reminds me that I don�t look good."

Next time you want to compliment a patient�s appearance, keep this in mind: Vanity is the only part of the human anatomy that is immune to cancer.

So what do patients like to hear? Here are four suggestions.

1. DON�T WRITE ME BACK. All patients get overwhelmed with the burden of keeping everyone informed, coddled and feeling appreciated. Social networking, while offering some relief, often increases the expectation of round-the-clock updates. To get around this problem, I appointed a "minister of information," whose job it was to disseminate news, deflect queries and generally be polite when I didn�t have the energy or inclination to be. But you can do your part, too: If you do drop off a fruitcake or take the dog for a walk, insist the patient not write you a thank-you note. Chicken soup is not a wedding gift; it shouldn�t come with added stress.

2. I SHOULD BE GOING NOW. You�ll never go wrong by uttering these five words while visiting someone who�s sick. As Ms. Pogrebin observes of such visits, don�t overstay your welcome. She recommends 20 minutes, even less if the patient is tired or in pain. And while you�re there, wash a few dishes or tidy up the room. And take out the trash when you leave.

3. WOULD YOU LIKE SOME GOSSIP? One surefire tip: a slight change of topic goes a long way. Patients are often sick of talking about their illness. We have to do that with our doctors, nurses and insurance henchmen. By all means, follow the lead of the individual, but sometimes ignoring the elephant in the room is just the right medicine. Even someone recovering from surgery has an opinion about the starlet�s affair, the underdog in the playoffs or the big election around the corner.

4. I LOVE YOU. When all else fails, simple, direct emotion is the most powerful gift you can give a loved one going through pain. It doesn�t need to be ornamented. It just needs to be real. "I�m sorry you have to go through this." "I hate to see you suffer." "You mean a lot to me." The fact that so few of us do this makes it even more meaningful.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2011 at 6:54PM
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lindac(Iowa Z 5/4)

BT...DT....and have the T-shirt!
Once I realized that I could buy a decent wig for about $35 I felt better about losing my hair and eyebrows and eyelashes.
I had 2 fairly decent wigs that cost about$125 each....but I also had a couple of "fun" aubrurn and another straight blond.
A gift of a cheap goofy wig...or even a little curly top to peek out from under a hat or scarf is nice.
As Rob's very important to feel "normal" so people aren't constantly reminded that you are under treatment for cancer. And for me a wig, a good eyebrow brush and some powdered color made a big difference.
Also there are funny things about being hairless.....don't have to shave your legs, you save lots on shampoo and need to blend make up into your hair need to worry about nose hair protruding, and you can wear black without fear of dropped hair on your shoulders.

When I did chemo, the protocol was to chew ice for about 4 minutes before the infusion began to constrict the blood vessels in your mouth and lessen mouth sores. After the first session, my body knew what was coming and I gagged at ice I had a grape popsicle....but next time that didn't I had orange....
a gift certificate for popsicles would be a giggle....and of course an offer to take her to chemo and pack the popsicles and take her home would be lovely.
Not sure why she needs a lap robe....she won't be an invalid. And on that note, gift certificates for a lunch out.....and for a soup supper and a movie would be nice.
As for food being off limits until you know what agrees?...realize that what agrees this week may be nausea including next week. I gained 20 pounds on chemo....because I kept trying to find something that tasted good! LOL!
Nice friends to do that for your pal!!....but after the shower, don't forget to call and take her to lunch or out for ice cream.
Linda C

    Bookmark   July 5, 2011 at 7:08PM
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Thank you for your post,mwoods. Glad to see the guide lines.
I knit and crochet chemo caps and lap robes for charities that support cancer patients. I figure that the charities know what is needed, so I follow their guide lines.
For example, nursing homes prefer a lap robe to be 24"W and 34"L and no fringe. On the other hand there are people who would like a larger lap robe, say 36"W and 48"L, so I make some of those. This is my way to make a contribution.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2011 at 7:55PM
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lindac "Not sure why she needs a lap robe.." Glad to see that you did not need something to keep you warm.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2011 at 8:47PM
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lindac(Iowa Z 5/4)

West gardener...I also knit prayer shawls and lap robes for people who are ill. Lap robes mostly people who are in a nursing home or hospitalized for a long term illness.
I have knit 3 shawls for women undergoing treatment for breast cancer. One was 24 inches wide and 72 inches long made from pink "boa" yarn. If you knit you surely know what that is....fluffy and looks more like a feather boa than a knit shawl.
Another was also 24 inches wide by 72 inches long, made from Pink Polyester and mohair yarn with a 6 inch fringe on each end, the 3rd was a more simple shawl triangular made of Bernat Homespun, in a bright pink.
Laprobes are for people confined to a wheel chair....The friend mentioned is not an invalid, she's having a temporary health problem and won't be sitting in a wheel chair with a lap robe over her knees, but she may want a shawl in a chilly restaurant or at a movie theater.

Read marda's list....the things most appreciated are things that allow the person to temporarily forget their illness....or to make them feel more normal while dealing with the consequences.

I need to get back to the knitting that I often forget in the summer....the basket of shawls and lap robes at church to be given away is almost empty, and I have a shawl that only needs another 12 inches and a fringe.
Linda C

    Bookmark   July 7, 2011 at 10:43AM
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A Pre-Chemo Party..........what a FANTASTIC idea! Or even an "after" party might be welcome if the person is in agreement. My sister-in-law said that one of the very worst exeriences was losing her hair. She cut hers herself before Chemo.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2011 at 2:16PM
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lindac, I've used "boa" in combination with other yarns and they make a fun combination. I also like to use "eyelash" yarn in combination with other (soft) yarns, such a Simply Soft, by Caron. Using circular needles, so there won't be a seam to irritate a tender scalp.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2011 at 8:11PM
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lindac(Iowa Z 5/4) scalp was not "tender" itched when my hair was growing back, but other than that it was just skin.
I think people who have not experienced chemo and radiation tend to think that the patient has ills that they don't have.
My scalp was fine, I had an appetite but food mostly tasted odd. I craved sour things and salsa....but they hurt my mouth. I needed a nap every day....sometimes 2, but loved to go out. I was sometimes hot and sometimes rhyme nor reason for that. But the thing I never wanted was to remind people that I was undergoing treatment for cancer. I came to one of the famous Chicago Get Togethers while I was having radiation and wearing a wig. I hoped people could forget that I was not well and just have fun.

After my first chemo treatment but before my hair fell out, someone gave me a "chemo cap"...
I took it directly to the nursing home and laid it on the desk.
A wig, a stylish scarf and a hat with a brim were more my style.
I am sure there are "chemo caps" that are a bit stylish, but I don't have a pattern for one.
I think the most important thing you can do for a cancer patient is to keep things as normal as possible....keep them wearing their usual stuff, doing what they usually do and eating what they usually much as possible....because the rest of their world is turned upside down.
Linda C

    Bookmark   July 7, 2011 at 8:56PM
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lindac, below is the pattern I use for a fun "chem cap". jazmynsmom, said:" she loves bling and sparkle,". All kinds of sparkles and bling can be added to the basic pattern.
"keep them wearing their usual stuff,".

Talking about that, I've seen a fellow on TV that specelizes in knitting dread locks "chem caps".
I realize that this is my own way of looking at the issue.

Here is a link that might be useful: Fun Cap

    Bookmark   July 8, 2011 at 9:02PM
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Hi, I just happened upon your post. I wanted to chime in with: what a fantastic idea. You are a very good friend.

I will certainly remember this idea. Sadly, I'm sure I will need to borrow it someday for one of my loved ones,or myself.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2011 at 12:26AM
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jazmynsmom(Z5 Madison-ish)

M, I read that list at the same time you did, and it was a big part of deciding to throw the shower. Our friend can't resist a good party, and I knew she'd feel loved, and wouldn't say no if I suggested it. After the shower portion, the other guests and I told her that if she wrote a single da*n thank you note, we were taking our crap back. ;-)

As she opened each hat/scarf, I helped her arrange it on her head (mostly the scarves), and she modeled each and admired how they looked on her. The whole gypsy fortune teller with big hoop earring look REALLY suits her. And the scarf tails hang to the side so she won't be too warm.

I'm laughing at the idea of a lap robe, not because it's not sweet (because it is), but because our friend is at that time of life when she often experiences "power surges" and suddenly strips down to her bottom layer and fans herself vigorously while she "glistens." (We women don't sweat.)

The event went very well. It started at five and didn't end until nearly midnight. One of the guests had just helped her 10 year old son through months of chemo for lymphoma, and she was thrilled to be on the "giving" end of the equation. She was able to share a lot of experience that will help both our mutual friend and us as we're looking to continue supporting her during what is to come.

None of the ladies will disappear during chemo, and we've been present to her since her diagnosis, but it was really fun to celebrate her a little while she's still in a place to join us. I'm sure there'll be a remission party too.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2011 at 10:30AM
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A very joyous remission party too, knowing you. I knew you'd do it right. Gypsy earrings, now that'd cheer me up!

"Present to her", that made me realize, I'd forgotten, and not that any of you would do it, some people can't handle this stuff and just disappear. They don't mean to, but it happens. Hang tough with her, as I know you will. Funny, I can't even name who it was that did that, but there were one or two. Selective memory. Yea!


    Bookmark   July 11, 2011 at 4:05PM
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Good points, rob333,

    Bookmark   July 11, 2011 at 8:50PM
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Such wonderful ideas. My wife and daughter offered to shave their heads when I started losing my hair. Its the idea of support that really ties us thru the tough times.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2011 at 4:23AM
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I agree, the idea of support is important.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2011 at 8:27PM
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