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What to bring to chemo: Michelle's packing list

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My experience with cancer is likely the same as that of many others in that it was absolutely the last thing I was expecting and it came at the most inconvenient time.  My husband and I definitely had no idea that when we were planning for our second baby we would also be planning for a battle with cancer.  Half way into my pregnancy we realized that along with our beautiful baby boy, I was carrying an extremely large germ cell tumour.  This is a fast growing type of ovarian cancer that, thankfully, is treatable through aggressive chemotherapy. 
Those days were terrifying.  We made some decisions we never thought we would have to be faced with.  Those days taught us how strong we are together.  I had to have the tumour removed for my sake as well as the baby's, so I underwent a  laparotomy at 24 weeks.  A couple months after recovering from surgery, our daughter became a big sister to a beautiful baby boy a month early so I could begin chemo, but she has never been a patient one anyway! 
When I found out that I was going to need chemotherapy after surgery, I immediately went online and researched all I could about my protocol, the side effects, and what to bring to my treatments.  All of a sudden, I felt like I was catapulted into a whole new reality.  I had no idea what to expect, and to be honest, the things I read online only made the upcoming experience more of a mystery. 
My personal treatments were three week cycles of four hours a day for five days, then one day a week for the following two weeks.  I received a combination known as BEP or bleomycin etoposide and cisplatin.  These drugs have some pretty strong side effects and so do the drugs that you take to control them.
The cycles began relatively easy, but soon the fatigue, nausea, pain and hair loss set in.  All in all, it feels like a whirlwind of fatigue--half in part to the chemo, half due to a toddler and a infant who don't sleep!  My purse has gradually become replete with things that I need during my treatments. As the weeks continue and the cumulative effects of the drugs set in, I rely on my "supplies" even more.  
1. Someone close to you.  A person who will understand if you need to chat and be distracted, or if you need to just sleep.  Someone who you don't mind taking your itchy and hot wig off in front of! 
2. Natural, chewable ginger Gravol. It's non drowsy so I allow myself to take as many as I need.
3. Large water bottle. Although I am being pumped with endless amounts of liquids, there was nothing I crave more than ice cold water.  It also helps your body process the drugs. 
4. A selection of snacks.  The steroids that help with the nausea made me hungry, so I gave myself permission to snack a little.  You never know what you might crave, so bring some options! 
5. Unscented lotion.  Many hospitals don't allow scented products anymore, but it's nice to give yourself a little hand massage as chemo can be soooo drying!
6. A good book, iPad or magazine.  There is nothing that helps pass the time better, in my opinion. 
7. A positive attitude.  Sounds cheesy, but it couldn't be more true. Staying positive helps you and those around you.  I met some amazing friends in those rooms by being open and willing to strike up a conversation.  
This list is by no means exhaustive.  There are many more things that help, but you will know what works for you once you get adjusted.  Remember to lean on those around you.
Having a support group is so important for me.  My family and friends have been there for me in ways that continue to humble me everyday.  I gather so much strength from them. When you find it hard to accept help from others, remember that you would do the same for them. There will be time to give back when you are strong and well again. 
I remind myself everyday how lucky I am to have a cancer that is treatable, and two beautiful babies to be strong for.  
My prayers go out to everyone else who is fighting this fight.  Stay strong, you are not alone. 

Michelle Ulmer 
What would you recommend bringing to chemo? Join in on the discussion here.
Thank you again to Michelle for sharing her story with us here on


When I had to explain to my four year old nephew about chemo, I told him that I have a big bobo inside and the doctor was going to give me a BIG "poke" that would give me the "'niffles" to make to big BOBO go away.

Next time I saw him, he gave me a stuffed bear call "Coco" so the "poke" wouldn't hurt.

My chemo "bag" contains Coco, headphones for the TV, a deck of cards and a cribbage board and a chess set. I don't know if Coco makes the chemo any easier to tolerate, but he is a great conversation started with the nurses and other patients.
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Date Posted: Aug 27, 2014 at 5:51 AM BY HeatherAre That's a lovely post, Michelle. I can totally relate to the things we cart about with us to Chemo. The two things I'd miss most if I couldn't have them would be my husband and my blanket. Like you, I'm humbled by the generosity of spirit of my family and friends. Cheers!
  • Posted Tue 21 Oct 2014 04:49 PM EDT
Date Posted: Aug 11, 2014 at 12:39 AM by SRT I am moved by your story and beautiful photograph.
  • Posted Tue 21 Oct 2014 05:01 PM EDT

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