The Two Kinds of Cancer Patients – A Survey – What Kind Were You?

Diann, my sister who is in the midst of chemotherapy for Stage 3 breast cancer, was settled into the bed at the cancer center as the Oncology Nurse, Erin, came in with the drugs. Erin had been Diann’s nurse a couple of times before, so Erin knew that we were sisters and that I was a breast cancer survivor who had been through chemo at her cancer center.  We had  developed a rapport with Erin. She said to Diann, “Your blood counts look good.”  Diann’s response:  “Great.”  I’m sitting in an adjacent chair and ask Erin, “Can she get a copy of her blood counts?”  The nurse smiles and hands Diann the copy.  Diann immediately hands it to me as she was not interested in looking at the numbers.

As Erin is hooking up the drugs, the steroid shots looks a little different than usual.  I say to Erin:  “What dosage is she getting today?”  Erin smiles at me and then gently laughs and says:  “You know, you sisters represent the two different kinds of cancer patients I see.  One is laid back and lets the nurses do the work and asks no questions, and the other kind needs to know everything going on.  Neither kind is better and as chemo nurses, we appreciate both kinds of cancer patients.”

And we all laugh!       firewater2

Diann and I have different styles – we always have, we always will.  I envy her style and she envies mine.  Well, she might not tell you that, but she has to, don’t you think?  But I believe she is the better patient.  She trusts her doctors, her nurses, and lets them heal her.   Certainly, I trust them, but I need to know details, facts, studies and statistics over the past 10 years.

Please answer the following poll – thank you!

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25 things to do for a Cancer Patient

I’m always being asked, “what should I do for a cancer patient??  My answer is always the same:  “It doesn’t matter what you do, but please do something!”  Every kindness is never forgotten.  Many friendships are lost because cancer patients are ignored during treatment.  Being 3.5 years out from Chemotherapy, I have never forgotten one kindness extended to me.  Watching my sister go through Chemotherapy, it becomes even more real. And I learn from my sister that many cancer patients are stubborn!  When I ask my sister, “What can I do to help you?”  her usual response is, “Nothing, I’m trying to act normal.”  Knowing firsthand, there is no normal during chemotherapy, I ask her:  “How is that working for you?”  Finally, I get truth from her when she answers, “Not very well.”

If a friend or loved one is going through chemotherapy, trust me, they can use some help and lots of it!  Here is my Top 25 list of ways to help:

1)  Offer to take them to Chemotherapy and give them dates that you are available to do so.

2)  Drop off muffins at their front door — most cancer patients can manage to eat a muffin.  Lower fat content is best.

3)  Money is always an issue with 98% of cancer patients.  Cancer is so expensive no matter what insurance they may have.    A grocery store or drug store gift card, no matter what the denomination, would be extremely helpful.

4)  Send greeting cards and send more than one.  One of my dear friends sent me a card every week for one year!!

5)  Flowers are always welcome but ask the florist to send the least fragrant kind.  Some cancer patients are not able to be around fresh flowers, so if in doubt, ask a family member before sending.

6)  Mow their grass.

7)  Drop a small gift at their front door.  Often the cancer patient is just not up for visitors.  But a small gift will bring much hope.  I found many a gift just sitting at my front door!  What joy it brought me!

8)  Offer to weed their garden or water their flowers during warmer months.  My cousin and her husband came and planted my outside flowers when I was too sick to do so.  Their kindness still brings tears to my eyes.

9)  Offer to pick up groceries for them.  Going to the grocery store is one of the most challenging things during chemotherapy.  A dear friend of mine called me every week to see if I needed anything.

10)  If they have children, offer to watch the kids, offer to take the kids to school, or pick them up for school events.  This is so helpful for moms going through chemotherapy especially on their worst days.  Moms going through chemo are the women I most admire!

11)  Drop off soup or a casserole for the family — if you are dropping off food for the patient, be sure to ask what they are able to eat.

12)  Send them a cute chemotherapy hat as a gift.  This will lift their spirits.  Check them out at my online store FBlogoI will include a gift note card and special gift wrapping at no additional charge.

13)  Pedicures and manicures are not allowed during chemotherapy because of the risk of infection.  If it is a close female friend, offer to paint her toenails or fingernails.

14)  Offer to clean their house for 2 hours.  Set a time limit because staying too long will exhaust the patient.   Cleaning is on the bottom of the list of things cancer patients are able to do.  Offering to sweep for them, dust for them, or change their bed clothes would be much appreciated!!

15) Do their laundry.

16)  If they have a cat, change their cat litter for them.  Chemotherapy patients are not supposed to change cat litter because of germs!  This is something I do for my sister on a regular basis which she greatly appreciates and so does her cat!

17) Many agencies offer services or food or money to cancer patients, but the cancer patient does not have the energy to pursue this.  Do it for them, but be sure to ask their permission!!

18)  Send a card to their spouse or significant other to show they are not alone. The cancer patient will so much appreciate your support of their caregiver.

19)  If the cancer patient needs constant care, offer to sit with the cancer patient to give the caregiver a break.

20)  Offer to fill their gas tank or wash their car!

21)  Tie balloons at their front door to cheer them up!  I will never forget my aunt tied a “Congratulations” balloon at my front door on my last day of chemo!  It still brings me joy to think of it!

22)  Send them a list of things you are able to do for them with your telephone number – let them know you are really serious about helping them.

23)  Ask them if you can research something for them – often older patients who don’t access the internet, don’t know things that will help them feel better during chemo.

24)  Take out their garbage, especially if they live alone.  I finally got my sister to admit this was extremely hard for her to have the energy to dump her wastebaskets and haul her garbage can and recyclable bin to the street for garbage pickup.

25)  Ask if they are up for a 30 minute visit.  Do not stay too long.  It is very tiring for the cancer patient, but a short visit helps lift the spirits!

Inspiration from the Chemo Ward

Chemo Ward is rather a 1960s phrase — Infusion Area is the new, modern term.  But if chemotherapy is involved, I think it should be in the title.  So I will call it Chemo Area to blend the old with the new.  Going to the Chemo Area is inspirational.  Now I say that as a Cancer Survivor, not as a Cancer Patient!  I did not find it so inspiring when I was the patient.  But now that my sister is the patient suffering the horrid consequences of Chemo, and I am along for moral support and unsolicited advice, I can be more relaxed to realize all the inspiration that is transpiring.


Inspiration comes in the form of the patients who are gathered for the same objective on any given day: receiving toxic drugs to kill cancer or prevent cancer from recurring.  It seems to me fate has a role in deciding who will be your chemo “neighbors” on infusion day.  Somehow, they are always inspiring and just what you need to hear.  Like the woman who was in her mid 50s sitting next to my sister.  As she told us what her diagnosis was, my sister and I simultaneously tried to suppress gasps when she said “pancreatic cancer” as our father died of that horrible cancer.  But we were both so uplifted after talking with her.  She has been alive over a year, her tumors are being managed with chemotherapy, and she is hoping to live quite awhile.

The following week, the woman next to Diann was also receiving Chemo for pancreatic cancer.  Her husband said she was a “walking miracle” – and she was!   It was healing for both Diann and I to hear about great breakthroughs they are making in pancreatic cancer.

Then there was the 34 year old young man, diagnosed with testicular cancer.  It was so uplifting to hear his story and hear about all the people who were helping him make the several hour journey to the cancer center DAILY for 5 hour infusions!   He told us he had been with his employer only 2 weeks when he was diagnosed.  How marvelous to hear that his employer has been behind him all the way.  That made me feel so good as I get letters from cancer patients whose employers fire them with a cancer diagnosis after many years of dedicated service.

The Chemo Nurses are a special breed all their own!   Chemo Nurses are definitely at the top of my list for those people whom I admire!  One nurse who has 7 months to retire, has been an Oncology nurse for 40 years.  Talk about dedication!!

And anyone who reads my blog knows that as a result of going through chemo and seeing a need, I began selling Chemo Hats and created my online store at    As a result of constantly searching for new and different hats, imagine how I am around a bunch of cancer patients many with hats on.   I start staring at their hats – and I mean staring!  The other day a gal had on a darling sequined cap.  I get sidetracked and don’t realize there is a person under that cap – until she finally asked me, “Can I help you?”    I started to laugh and apologize at the same time.

Spending the day in a Chemo Area isn’t anyone’s first choice of how to spend a day.  But if you have a chance to accompany a friend, family member or stranger, get beyond your fears and do so.  Not only will you make a difference in their lives and do the cancer patient a kindness they will never forget, you will come away inspired by the amazing people you meet!

Lifetime Dosage – Adriamycin Cytoxan – AC Chemo

As the chemo nurse came in to administer #4 out of 4 Adriamycin Cytoxan Chemotheray to my sister, Diann, she said:  “Good news!  This is the last of your lifetime dosage of Adriamycin Cytoxan!”   Diann, who is going through treatment for Stage 3 breast cancer, was beyond relieved that she never has to get another dosage EVER of the Red Devil.  It is so strong that your lifetime dosage is measured!  What an accomplishment to finish that drug.  But the grueling side effects remain for quite some time before Diann begins Taxol, her next drug for 12 weeks. Any of you who have been through AC, know that you feel like dying through Adriamycin Cytoxan chemotherapy.  I certainly did.  When women write me for encouragement getting through AC, I tell them it is normal feelings to want to give up and die.  The drug does that to you!  It is torture, but it kills cancer cells – along with a lot of good cells.  You feel the death of all of them.  But once you are 3 years post-chemo like I am, you never take a day for granted that you did it, that you did not give up, and that you are still alive!  Diann and I did it and you can too!!

Here is some advice from Diann for those going through AC Chemo:

1)   Infusions –  #3 AC is the worst both emotionally and physically.  By the time you get to #4, you are so glad it is over, mentally you are better able to handle it.

2)   Mouth sores and metal taste – Biotene really helped me.  It can be purchased over the counter.  But make sure any nausea has subsided before you rinse your mouth with it or I would start gagging.

3)   Dry heaves and nausea –  be sure to take your anti-nausea meds ON TIME even though most Oncologists say “as needed.”  Don’t wait because you think you are okay.  The nausea will sneak up on you and then it takes much longer for the medicines to work.  If one medicine doesn’t seem to be working for you, call your Oncologist.  They can prescribe many other anti-nausea meds to help you.  Compazine worked for me better than Zofran.  But Zofran worked better for a friend than Compazine.  We are all different!

4)  Good Days – If you are having one of those rare good days, get out of the house and do something that you enjoy!  Even if it is just a change of scenery over to a family or friend’s house because of low energy and sit in their recliner rather than yours.  Anything helps to get off of the sick bed, couch or recliner!!

5)  Energy – Plan anything that needs more energy in the morning while you have it.  If it is necessary for you to go to the grocery store (try to get someone else to do it, though), do it in the morning.

6)  Work – If you are attempting to work through AC Chemo, try to make it part time.  Fortunately, my boss was very flexible.  I was able to work for 4 or 5 hours on the days I could.  During AC #3 and #4, those days became less.  But I did find it helpful to go to work as it made me feel more “normal” for a little while.  On my best days, I only lasted until 2:00 pm.

7) Naps – Take them as needed and take them as often as you can!  It really helped me both with nausea and energy.

7)  Children – As a single mom who raised 3 children on her own and now I am a grandma, I kept thinking of women going through AC Chemo who had small children and wondered how they do it.  If you have small children, you will need help and lots of it.  Say yes to the people who offer to help you.  Little kids give you energy as well, but you definitely will need help.

8)  Accepting Help – And speaking of accepting help, it will be most challenging, but learn to receive.  I needed help and absolutely hated to ask for it.  But I had no choice on some occasions.  This was one of my biggest lessons.

Diann gets tired of people telling her she looks great when she has her hats and headgear on from my online store  because she feels so bad physically.  But we can all agree, she does look amazing even during Chemotherapy!!  Diann’s favorite headgear from my store is the Breezy Collection which she can wear over a wig like she has done in this picture!

Click on her pic to get to my store and in Diann’s honor, get an additional 10% off already discounted prices with Discount Code   DIANN


Chemo, Steroids, Mood Swings and Bitchiness

My poor sister is in the worst of Adriamycin Cytoxan (AC) right now.  When the bottom falls out of her cell count, she feels like dying, she knows she is being poisoned, feels the death of her body, can’t get off the La-Z-Boy, and is so miserable there aren’t words to describe it.  If you have been there, you know.  It is so painful for me to watch.  I rarely cried during my own chemo nightmare because it made me feel worse.  Watching and empathizing with Diann, I cry.  I feel what she is feeling, and I’ve been there.  It is worse watching and listening to her than it was for me going through it.  But, on the other side, I laugh a lot too, at Diann’s expense.

Steroid Bitchiness – there really isn’t anything more pleasant you can call it. “Mood swings” may be a little more gentle, but the mood is always swinging in one direction.  And no medical person really tells you to expect a different person to emerge.   My mild-mannered, kind hearted, rather soft spoken sister has become a truck driver swearing, outspoken, raving maniac!!  The other night I took her for a drive so she could get out of her house.  As the drive began, I heard more swear words coming out of her mouth beginning with a “B” and an “F” than I had heard from her during her lifetime.   I can’t help but laugh at her because her personality is so opposite her usual pre-chemo self.  Yesterday I told her, “Diann, I’m not going to lie to you, I’m a little afraid of you!”   Then we both burst out into laughter!


I did warn her this personality change would occur.  Now I was leaning toward the menopausal side of bitchy before chemo, but it still really reared its ugly head to the extreme.  Some examples stay with me and cause me to laugh even now!  My insurance agent dropped me and gave me to a new agent because during chemo when my insurance carrier wouldn’t cover severe storm damage and every other house in my neighborhood had coverage, words came out of my mouth I didn’t even think I knew!  I created a scene in Walmart when a woman ahead of me had about 84 items in a 20 item or less line. You understand the frustration of that one, but this time I could not hold it in.   It was such a scene that the entire line of people behind me and this filled-to-the-top cart person erupted into applause when I got done with my tirade!

My family members and a few understanding friends laughed at me as they thought I was funny.  Now I understand as I listen to Diann!  People who don’t know you that well or don’t understand about steroids, chemo and the impact they have on your mouth and moods really don’t know what to do with you!

If your loved one is going through chemo, they really cannot help or stop their behavior!  Chemo and drugs took the filters away.  The filters do come back, but it just takes awhile. And in the meantime, the anger helps them deal with the suffering they are experiencing.   Laugh with them, cry with them, and understand their moods and behavior.  It is not easy, but do it anyway!

Please check out my online store by clicking on the hats! Many great summer sun and swim hats for everyone, not just cancer patients!


Adriamycin Cytoxan AC Chemo – Understood Less Than Five Percent

My only sibling, my sister, Diann just had her first Adriamycin Cytoxan (AC Chemo) Infusion this past week for Stage 3 Breast Cancer.  This drug is so hard it is called “Red Devil” and “Red Death.”  It was beyond challenging for me to watch her get the tubes of Adriamycin Cytoxan pushed into her veins in the same chemo chairs that I was sitting.  Five days into her first infusion, Diann called me with deep emotion in her voice.  “Denise, I owe you an apology.  I’ve been thinking about this.  I had less than a FIVE PERCENT understanding of what you were going through during chemotherapy.”  Lessthan5%graph

Looking at that graph put things into perspective for me.  Now, Diann was with me often during my own chemo struggles – she was there for Mastectomy surgery, for port placement, several times to infusion, to Oncology checkups, she cleaned my house, she drove me places when I was too weak to do so, and she called me several times a day every day for the duration of my treatment.  And after all that, the fact that she understood what chemo was like less than 5% amazed me and brought much clarity.

If you are going through Adriamycin Cytoxan Chemotherapy or any chemotherapy right now — be encouraged when family, friends, and strangers say what seems like stupid stuff to you, don’t offer to do anything to help you, or ignore you out of their fears. Remember my sister’s words:  “I had less than a FIVE PERCENT understanding of what you were going through during chemotherapy.”  Perhaps it is your husband, your child, your mother or your best friend who has abandoned you.  Try to give them the benefit of the doubt, because they absolutely have no idea what you are going through.  Chemotherapy is one lonely road.

My words to women going through Adriamycin Cytoxan Chemotherapy always include this:  “No one can understand what you are going through no matter how kind or compassionate they are unless they have been through it.”  My trusted sister’s words to me made this even more clear.  I hope it helps you as well.

Diann has amazed me thus far exhibiting a determination and strength that make me wonder if I had half of what she has.   I was always been a medical sissy up until cancer, so her stamina has shocked me!  Diann has what it takes to get through Chemo. But it is just so damn hard.  Diann is more than strong.  She has been going into work for 5 hours per day on weekdays, has already learned you have to store up what little energy you have, and have to rest or you will just pass out in a heap.  She told me she felt like a little child today when she either had to lay her head on her desk and sleep or go home. She went home.  Diann has learned that you have to save up all your energy for the day to just stop for milk since going to a grocery store seems almost impossible.  This morning she told me she thought about a small grocery store in her neighboring town that is about one-fourth the size of the mega grocery stores.  Diann was excited to see if she could pick up orange juice and bread and felt that store might come in very handy.

If you are going through chemo, you definitely understand about how daunting grocery stores seem!  You will make it through!  You and Diann can do this.  You can get to the other side.  If you feel like giving up today, keep going.  Tomorrow will be better.


Diann will be shaving her head after her next infusion since on average the hair starts to go 14 to 17 days after chemo begins. Thankfully, she has a good selection of caps and scarves from my online store to get her through her bald days. I told her being bald will be better than she imagines. Thinking about it is the most difficult part.

Redemptive Suffering, Breast Cancer, and TEEN Magazine

Anyone remember TEEN Magazine from the 1970s and 1980s?  In it, they had a section for Pen Pals. Even at age 16, I had an interest in writing to people from all over the world, so I asked for a Pen Pal from Australia.  At the same time, a 16 year old girl from Australia wanted a Pen Pal from the USA.  And thus my almost lifetime friendship with Helen began.

Helen and I wrote countless times through our teenage years exchanging stories about our countries, our families and our lives.  Whenever Helen’s letters arrived, I immediately ran to open them and see what new adventures she could teach me as Helen grew up in the middle of the Australian Outback!

When I was in my early 20s, Helen wrote and said she was going to visit the USA, could she come to visit me?  We were both thrilled that we would finally meet.  It was so much fun meeting this friend as it felt like we had known each other forever.  After her visit drew to a close, Helen shared the bombshell with me that she was discerning a call to be a nun – and not just any nun!  A contemplative nun in a cloistered monastery where prayer is their main ministry.  I was shocked!!  Even though I was a practicing Roman Catholic, I found it hard to believe that this young woman that often talked with me about normal teen and young woman stuff – LIKE BOYS – was going to be a cloistered nun!  Helen did discern that she had a calling.  We wrote through her transition from Postulant to Nun, and so my Pen Pal exchange has continued with now Sr. Helen for all these decades.

Sr. Helen is in a lovely monastery in Australia.  Although I’ve never been there, from her vivid descriptions and pictures she has sent, I feel I have.  The nuns in her community prayed for me all the time I was going through breast cancer treatment.  And ironically, one of their Sisters was going through Breast Cancer and chemo almost simultaneously with me.  Literally, I felt their prayers.  One of their sisters uses email and  the internet on behalf of their community, so I was able to keep them posted with my progress.

The Sisters prayed for my mom and her breast cancer diagnosis.  And then when Diann, my sister, was recently diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer, one of my first emails was to Sr. Helen’s community to ask them to pray for Diann.  I knew without a doubt that my old friend, Sr. Helen, would make sure that happened and would pray faithfully for Diann and all her family!

Yet another day arrived I had been dreading for Diann:  Her post-surgery consult with her breast surgeon and first meeting with her Oncologists to discuss pathology, her chemo schedule and treatment plan.   Standing in the driveway, getting into my car, the postal truck pulled up and my familiar and friendly carrier handed me my mail.  Immediately, I spotted a letter from Sr. Helen.  Sr. Helen’s Aerogramme’s with a beautiful Australian stamp have looked much the same for these 40 years!  Eagerly, I stuck it in my purse to read LATER as I got in my car to pick up Diann for the all too familiar 120 mile round trip trek to Ann Arbor, Michigan.

LATER came while I was waiting for Diann while she was in a medical test.  My compassion for Diann, what she was going through, and my fear of the appointments that lie ahead were overwhelming.  Sitting at the Cancer Center at University of Michigan, where I have spent more time than many of its employees,  the weight of Diann’s diagnosis, my mom’s, my own, and my father’s death from pancreatic cancer seemed absolutely unbearable to me.  My heart was filled with tremendous grief, and I felt overcome with emotion and fear for Diann.  My suffering seemed more than I could bear.   In an attempt to distract myself from my emotions, I reached for the 6-month old Christmas Good Housekeeping magazine lying on the waiting room table while making a mental note to  donate current magaines on my next trip.  Then, thankfully, I remembered Sr. Helen’s letter.

Opening the letter, Sr. Helen’s words were balm for my breaking heart, and I knew God was speaking them directly to me.   I believe you will find great meaning in Sr. Helen’s words no matter what your religious beliefs:

My dear friend Denise,

…When Sister brought your email to me while I was cutting the altar bread sheets (into round hosts), I knew it held bad news with such a delivery.  While I wait for the sheets to dampen down in a large humidifier, I do my spiritual reading.  The book I was reading on that particular day was Austen Ivereigh’s book, “The Great Reformer – Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope.”  Just before your email arrived, I had read about Pope Francis’ suffering when he was 21 and had part of his lung removed.  His mother and others were telling him to displace his thoughts, it will soon pass, etc., which was NO HELP AT ALL.  It was only when his old high school teacher, Sr. Dolores told him that “with your pain you are imitating Christ” was he able to find peace.  What had been pointless, was now redemptive.  The pain was no less, but bearing it became possible.  Later in the book, Pope Francis is quoted as saying, “Christ’s suffering on the cross was intensely lonely.  In any deep suffering, physical or spiritual, what a person needs is people who love them, who respect their silence, and who pray that God may enter into that space which is pure solitude.”   Ivan Ivereigh also quotes Victor Frankl (Holocaust Survivor) “…the secret to enduring great suffering is not to try to imagine its end, but to find meaning in the present.”

Denise, I KNOW you can resonate with this.  I cry with you concerning the breast cancer diagnosis of Diann.  And Diann’s anxiety must be great as she knows what you went through.  We are praying that her ordeal will be kinder.”   My love and prayers, Sr. Helen

I marveled at God’s timing, because as I read Sr. Helen’s letter, my fears literally vanished. Pondering what all it took to get to that precise moment – my email magically going across the globe to a nun’s computer at a cloistered monastery, arriving on a different date than when it was sent although only seconds apart, the perfect timing of the hand delivery of that email to Sr. Helen, Sr. Helen reading a beautiful book with just the right words to write to me with her great spiritual wisdom, and her letter arriving via snail mail at precisely the time I needed it.

And so TEEN Magazine circa 1972, thank you for matching me with my Pen Pal, Helen, from Australia.  God does indeed work in mysterious ways.