A hanging saline bag pushes a burrito, two sizes of clothes, and a cane through to an infusion pump.

The Incidentals Of Having Cancer

Having cancer is overwhelming for sure and it is life-changing, and stressful, and one of the most horrible things that can happen to a person. That’s not up for debate. The thing is cancer isn’t the only thing you have to deal with when you get that awful diagnosis. There is so much more that goes into “cancer care,” and we rarely talk about it.

More than meets the eye

Having lymphoma or another blood cancer is unique in the cancer world. We don’t have something we can point to, per se, and say “here is my cancer.” If we did, it would be like “I have cancer here, here, here, here, here and here – everywhere!” Yeah, it would just take way too long and when you have cancer you just don’t have the energy anyway.

Because of this, it can sometimes be frustrating to exist in the world because others may not as readily step up to help and so you have to ask, and therein lies the tragedy because most people don’t realize how much more goes into cancer treatment than just the medication.

Presence of a loved one during treatment

First and foremost, there’s transportation. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are a stout few out there who, like the protagonist in Call of the Wild, brave the traffic and COVID crowds to take themselves to their chemo infusions but in general, most of us prefer to have someone take us.

Even me, a thirty-year veteran of chronic illness, preferred to have my mother with me when I went for infusions. Not only is it less stress, but having to worry about parking or arranging an Uber and knowing there is someone with you in case something goes wrong is reassurance. The general comfort a friend or loved one can provide makes the fact that you are getting killer poison mainlined into your veins easier to take and all of that takes some arranging.

Stocking food and supplies for access

Second, there’s all the paraphernalia that comes along with cancer care at home. Assistive devices like pillows, canes and crutches, shower seats – those sorts of things, not only do they cost money but even if insurance does pay for them, you still have to go through the fiasco of getting them to your house.

There’s also food – that’s a big one. When you are on chemo, eating transforms from something you probably enjoyed doing to the bane of your existence. Eating on chemo, especially in the beginning, well, I liken to microwaving a frozen burrito from the back of the freezer at 7-11 when you are drunk at 2am – it sounds like a great idea at the time but when you actually try it you end up chipping a tooth on a frozen tortilla while molten hot bean mash spills out and sears your tongue with third degree burns. It’s not fun – everything tastes like cardboard, and you will probably end up nauseous afterwards.

Still, though, you make sure to have every favorite food you’ve ever liked since you were five ready to go at moment’s notice just in case you get hungry, which you won’t. All of that takes money, preparation, and the wherewithal to get that stuff into your home.

Body changes due to treatment means multiple wardrobes

Finally, there is clothes. No one ever thinks about clothes. Like JC from N-Sync, clothes are the forgotten member of the cancer boy band. They never come into the conversation when talking about cancer, but they are a huge thing to have to worry about.

I think it goes without saying that your weight is going to flip flop more than a congressman from West Vir… err, from… no particular swing state, and in order to accommodate those fluctuations you are going to need clothes.

I mean, sure, you’re covered one way – if you lose weight, you can always tighten your belt and look like a walking cartoon sausage wearing a tent, but if it goes the other way and you gain weight, be it from prednisone or something else, well, then, you’re pretty much out of luck.

You have to not only spend money on clothes, which are not cheap these days, but you have to pick them out and have them delivered or, worse yet, go to the store and try them on. Ugh! Id rather eat a light bulb than go and try on clothes in a rickety Old Navy dressing room while having cancer.

Even so, I went through three complete sets of clothing when I was in the thick of my cancer journey – by the end my bedroom closet looked like the wardrobe of the master of disguise from the Pink Panther movies. All I was missing was an eye patch and a Napoleon hat.

Things to prepare for

All of these things are some of the incidentals that come along with having cancer, some of the things that no one tells you about when you are diagnosed. The doctors don’t sit you down and say, “you have cancer. I’m sorry. Now let’s talk about Out-Fitsssss!” I mean, in my weird head it does but in real life, not so much… but they should!

These are things that people need to know when diagnosed and I hope reading this here will help you prepare for some of these things, the things I had to find out I needed on my own. Talk soon.

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