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How Can I Help?

Posts: 39
Joined: Jul 2011

My partner has been diagnosed with breast cancer--her third bout--and is going to start chemo on Tuesday. She's pretty scared; me, too.

The thing is that I have just gotten hired for a new full-time position (didn't think I could possibly find a job in this economy and at my age), and they've got a 90 day probation period. There are supposedly no days off until after the 90 days have passed. My partner and I've been together for 20 years, and we've gone through a lot in that time--her 2nd bout of cancer and my long-term chronic Lyme disease. We have a strong network of family and friends, really good friends...but my heart is breaking that I won't be able to actually be there.

Certainly, she understands my having to work--we couldn't stay afloat if I didnt, esp since we don't know how the chemo and surgery will affect her work--but still, I feel terrible that I won't be physically present. I'd like to know if someone has any ideas of how I can be present in some way (other than prayer) while she's going through this.
Have other people faced this, and if so, what did you do? How did you bridge the physical absence?

I've thought about getting her cards--funny and supportive--that she can have; Maybe a physical token of some sort? Of course I'll make sure there are meals ready for that night before I leave the house.

She's an extraordinary woman--being with her has been the biggest gift of my life. But now, at this time she really needs me, I'm not able to be there for her.

Thanks for any thoughts, ideas, comments, inspiration, experience...


Faithful_Angel's picture
Posts: 88
Joined: May 2011


While it is difficult not to physically be there, my suggestion would be write a little note letting her know you are thinking of her, leave it somewhere you know she will find it. And through the difficult times she can reread it as she is able, Maybe buy her a stuffed animal a Teddy bear something like that she can have near her. A symbolism of you being there holding her through her tough times. If you are able have a cell phone on you so if she is having a really rough nite she can call or text.

You will find the proper way for the two of you. Hang in there I know it can be tough. If she has a favorite candy leave it somewhere she would be surprised to find it. God knows with chemo the added calories are great as long as she can tolerate it. Maybe flowers once in awhile. You know how we girls love that kinda stuff...

Just a suggestion. But something that reminds her of you is always a comfort.

Best of luck and let me know if any of this works..

Posts: 39
Joined: Jul 2011

These are such good ideas...especially the chocolate! I hadn't really thought of that. I had given her a stuffed lion --a guy sort of soft but very light in color--after her last cancer surgery, and when she was coming out of the anesthetic, she saw him, and for some reason, he spooked her. She rarely gets annoyed, but that lion annoyed her...so I'm hesitant to try that again.

I do love the idea of the notes...leaving them somewhere she can find them.

And, yes, I am able to have my cell phone with me, so I can send her text messages. Not sure, though, if cell phones are allowed in the hospital when you're getting chemo. I'm cooking tomorrow. Went to the farmer's market and got some fresh greens and baby arugula for a salad one evening and a chicken breast to grill for another. Since I read that some people can have altered taste buds, I thought I'd try and keep the food pretty simple.

Can you give me a sense of what I can expect after her first round of chemo? I think she's taking a combination of drugs.

Thanks again, so much, for your suggestions and for your help; it really does mean a lot!


Lelia's picture
Posts: 98
Joined: Jun 2011

Hi Andie: The very best thing you can do--aside from your unconditional love and support-- is to be educated and informed re her treatment plan. You'll need to know exactly what chemo she's on, and the schedule. Is surgery first, then chemo?

With chemo as you may know from her earlier bouts with cancer, there are prescribed anti nausea drugs. She may not benefit from all of them, often there's one or a combo that works best. But when people are sick from chemo, staying on med schedule is VERY HARD to do. For instance Zofran works ok if you take it every eight hours like clockwork, even when not feeling nauseous. Once a chemo patient sleeps through their dosage time, nausea can hit and they'll become dehydrated too. With both nausea and dehydration, she won't be able to keep down the meds, and that can begin a downward cycle.

Helping her keep to a med/fluids schedule will add immeasurably to quality of life. For many chemo patients, the sickness hits 2-3 days after. Are you familiar with how she responds from before?

Posts: 39
Joined: Jul 2011

She's really good about taking medication...at the prescribed time. Sounds like that's a plus.

She's having the chemo--cytoxin and taxotre--prior to her surgery. Her surgeon wants to shrink the 3 cm mass before he operates.

This is her first experience with chemo...and mine, so I have no sense of how she'll respond. Except that she's extremely brave, grounded in faith, surrounded by good people and determined to kick this.

Lelia, if you have any experience with this specific protocol, I'd love to know.

And I really appreciate your response and your help.


Barbara53's picture
Posts: 658
Joined: Aug 2009

Hi Andie, and sorry you're here. I look after my elderly mother (late stage ovarian cancer), and she had taxol as her first line chemo. Sorry to say it's one that causes hair loss -- expect to see it go 12-14 days after the first infusion. When the chemo is over, it will grow right back!

Mom had taxol with carbocisplatin, so things may be different with cytoxin, but Mom's cycle went like this: Ok day 1 (infusion day) to late in day 3. Then she fell down like a stone, very uncomfortable with constipation and lethargic, for about 3 days, then started coming out of it. By day 11 she was pretty good.

Stock up on old movies and plenty of liquid nourishment. Really push liquids those first few days, before the troubles kick in. She may not feel like eating but may go for some ginger ale or chocolate milk. I think she will be fine during the day as long as people check in on her once or twice. Open a conversation with the oncologist's nurse so she will have a pro to call. And MUCH can be said for helping to preserve your loved one's independence, which to her may be more precious than gold.

Do the paperwork so you have health care proxy, otherwise communication could get muddled at a crucial time. Good luck with this day.

Posts: 39
Joined: Jul 2011

What a great forum this is; I'm so incredibly glad I found my way here and grateful beyond words for everyone's help.

Barbara, sorry to hear about your Mom. If the chemo tracks the same way in my friend, she's going to have to make a change of plans. She's already planning on returning to her work by the end of the week. When I started to tell her that might not be realistic...I suddenly realized that those plans were giving her structure and hope.

In the meantime, I spent the weekend cooking, so at least we wouldn't have to think about food. and I'm already monitoring the TCM channel, to see what choices there are for her to DVR. Are you allowed to take electronic devices into the room wtih you? I gave her my iphone, so she'll have lot of music, games and pictures of friends, kids and grandchildren.

And thank you, thank you, for the health care proxy reminder.

We'll do the best we can with all of this. I'm inspired by the millions of women and men who've survived this awful disease and go on to live long, rich lives.

And I'm grateful to you all for your time, your help and all your ideas!

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