Best Way to Prepare for Your Child’s Chemotherapy, Radiation Treatment
Having your child be diagnosed with cancer is a scary time. The idea of starting chemotherapy or radiation therapy can be overwhelming. As a nurse practitioner in the Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Diseases at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, I’ve seen these treatments affect every patient differently—which is what inspired this blog post. I want to help you and your child get through treatments as comfortably as possible. Continue reading for helpful tips and recommendations to help keep you and your child as comfortable as possible during treatment.
Before Starting Chemotherapy or Radiation
It helps to make an appointment to take a tour of the clinic or hospital unit. A tour is a great opportunity to meet staff, learn about the patient and family resources and get an overview of what will happen during your child’s treatment. I also recommend:
- Visiting a support group, which can help you or your child build a network of support that has knowledge of what you and your child might experience
- Making sure your child is well hydrated before arriving for chemotherapy or radiation treatment
- If available, request a Child Life specialist to help your child before and during their treatment. Child Life specialists address the needs of children dealing with the stress of illness and hospitalization.
Fun (and Distracting) Activities
Many parents have a bag that they designate as a “chemo” bag to keep their child’s desired essentials in. Sometimes getting to appointments can be hectic and this will help you keep everything together. I also recommend:
- Designating a special pillow and blanket for chemotherapy treatments. Have your child help you pick out these items. I’ve had some patients bring their own sheets from home because they couldn’t stand the feel of hospital sheets. If this is something you would like to do, check with your treatment team.
- Designating a special toy or stuffed animal to provide your child comfort. It’s a good idea to have multiples of the same in case the original becomes lost or damaged.
- Keeping age appropriate games and activities on hand. Some good ideas are:
- Books and magazines
- Coloring books and crayons
- Deck of cards
- Note pad or journal. This can be helpful if your child wants to doodle or write down their feelings. It also helps you write questions for your child’s treatment team.
- Portable DVD player with headphones in case you share a treatment room
- Travel size version of your favorite board games
- Word games
If you bring electronics to your child’s treatment, don’t forget to bring a charger. Never leave your items unattended.
- Keep a bag of snacks and drinks for you and your child. We encourage a healthy diet when children are receiving chemotherapy and radiation, but allow your child to make choices.
- Try to supplement their diet with smoothies if their appetite is poor
- Avoid acidic foods and juices
- Keep hard candies available. The sugar-free or “made with xylitol” hard candies help combat the weird taste and dry mouth that can come along with chemotherapy and radiation. Make sure your child is old enough to have hard candy as it can be a choking hazard for younger children.
- Encourage frequent sips of liquids to keep the mouth moist and keep your child hydrated.
- Bring plastic utensils because chemotherapy can cause a weird metallic taste, eating with metal utensils can enhance this. Encourage your child to eat with plastic utensils while receiving treatment.
For you and your child, dress as comfortable as possible. Choose natural fabrics that are looser in fit and wear layers. Sometimes hospital rooms can be very cool. I also recommend:
- A button-down or v-neck shirt for your child. If your child has a port-a-cath, it allows for easy access to the area.
- No tight clothing. If your child is receiving radiation treatment, avoid covering the area being treated with tight clothing and avoid temperature extremes to the skin.
- Slippers with grips on the bottom to keep feet warm.
- A change of clothes for you and your child in case of accidents (include plastic bags to transport soiled clothing).
- A hat or bandanna. If your child has very little hair, a hat or bandanna keeps their head warm and protected from the sun.
Don’t forget alcohol-free hand sanitizer! It’s important for everyone who comes in contact with your child to disinfect their hands. Most hospitals have many sanitizing stations strategically placed, but it’s always best to have extra on hand. Make sure to also bring:
- Extra bucket or air sick bags in your car in case nausea hits on the way to or way home from your child’s treatment
- Lip balm
Avoid wearing heavily perfumed soaps or lotions around your child because they can be very sensitive to smells. Be sure to bath your child with gentle soaps and use perfume-free lotions. Your treatment team will give you specific suggestions on specific products. As treatment progresses you will learn what you and your child prefers during their treatment. Be sure to utilize the resources available to you in assisting with treatments. I encourage you to share this with parents and care givers of children going through chemotherapy or radiation treatment.