Friday, January 25, 2013

Cancer Culture #2

  • Make - We make traditions! Some of those in the cancer world include:
    • The biggest traditions and initiation rites are that of giving and receiving - cancer patients, survivors, and their loved ones are gracious with tips for making it through this journey. They can give advice, always preceded and ending with a hug. Their advice is a gift. Those without cancer experience - no advice please.The patient moves from beginner to experienced once their first treatment is finished. Now they are part of the community - and are welcomed - with a hug.
    • Graduation is another ritual that only is important in the cancer world. In chemotherapy, once the last chemo treatment is finished, the patient gets to ring a ship's bell and receives a bottle of carbonated apple juice. The patient brings in a treat for everyone - usually donuts, bagels, or a cake. There is applause, pictures, and that's it! Scott and I wore our "Thank you" t-shirts and brought donuts. This ritual is taught by example, nothing is said or shared about it, you just follow what has already been done. 
    • The radiation oncology department does similar. 
    • I forgot to mention making hats - and giving them. I have soooo many, most are awesome, some are cute, and I've received a few that I will donate. I have never worn a hat, seriously never, and it has taken some getting used to. But I have grown dependent on them, and I think I look pretty darn good!   
    • There is also lots of breast cancer jewelry - just like hats, some tacky, some nice. I will wear some of what I've received as gifts until I finish my treatments.
  • Food plays an important role in a cancer patient's life. Food is something we make, say, and do.
    • What to eat - advice is given, and stories are told, about what to avoid and what to embrace. Every breast cancer patient I spoke with could eat the Dreyer's fruit juice bars and Creamies brand creamcicles. Most folks liked yogurt as well.
    • What not to eat - avoid spicy foods, but eat foods with flavor. Some foods will have a metallic taste because of chemo, some people eat with plastic utensils during chemo, some say that chemo and food are similar to pregnancy and food - you don't know what you want to eat until the moment you're hungry. It's hard to cook while having chemo for this reason. It's also hard to bring in food for chemo patients because of this. (The first 2 months I lost 10 pounds because of my aversion to food. The second 2 months I gained 12 pounds because I was ravenous and on steroids.)
  • Folk Medicine
    • Of course there are things that benefit the cancer patient as much as the prescriptions given. And even oncology and radiation nurses share these tips. 
      • Candied ginger is great for nausea, so are See's Dark Chocolate Peppermint Patties!
      • Tea Tree Oil and Sally Hansen Hard as Nails are good for preserving nails. As is Gold Bond ultra-strength lotion. 
      • Rub tea tree oil on bald head during radiation. 
      • Senna is a natural stool softener - keep it on hand, don't use prescriptions for this. 
      •  Bathe in Celtic Sea Salts to reduce water retention and to leach toxins out of your system.

  • More Do (unspoken rules): 
    • Naps are expected, and talking about taking naps or naps is expected and encouraged. 2 naps a day are applauded. 
    • Exercise is as important as a nap - 30 minutes a day of walking is said to encourage healing. 
    • Complaining is just fine, whining is not. Complaints about things one cannot control are expected: fingernail and toenail loss, smells, chemo breath, chemo taste, port access, blood drawn, weight loss, weight gain, chemo brain (forgetfulness, names, slow response), tingling in hands and feet, exhaustion, pain. Supporters can complain as well. Aches and pains can be compared, but not trumped. 
    • Manners are important - thank you, please, you're welcome, no smells (no perfume or heavy scents in chemo room). 
    • Sickness is allowed in chemo room, but do not talk about those who are/were sick and their sickness outside of the room. 
    • Chemo room remains quiet and calm. No speaking on phones (text or go into the hall, which is awkward with an IV tower). IPads, Kindles, IPods, books are acceptable forms of entertainment. So is sleep. Not really a place to socialize. 

  • Do Not (unspoken rules): 
    • Outsiders cannot give advice.
      • Sharing tips is great, giving advice is not so readily accepted.   
    • No joking about cancer by outsiders.  
    •  Self-help books, mind over body books, alternative treatments books.
    •  Cancer life is a liminal space - which cannot be judged or compared (I have never worn a hat in my entire life, pre-chemo. Now, I must.). 
    • Don't visit cancer patient during chemo or radiation treatments, unless invited.
Okay, I've beat this up. Summary on Monday!

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