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The Tomato Nation advice column addresses your questions on etiquette, grammar, romance, and pet misbehavior. Ask The Readers about books or fashion today!

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The Vine: June 27, 2014

Submitted by on June 27, 2014 – 7:30 AM22 Comments


A recent Ask The Readers inspired me to ask for help for my father-in-law who has colon cancer. However, he is doing oral chemo soon, rather than injection, and the info online is really confusing as to what side effects he will or won't have.

Some places say oral chemo also causes hair loss, some say it doesn't, etc. And I hope the sites the Readers gave for your letter writer were helpful to her, but they seemed to be 99% products for women. (And can I say that I'm a little put out that that TLC Direct, a site associated with the American Cancer Society itself, ONLY sells products for women? What, men don't get cancer?)

Anyway, I'd like two things:

1) Info on what symptoms and side effects a person taking oral chemo IS likely to experience, and
2) Products to mitigate them.

I want to put together a care package for my father-in-law of products — I think he needs a soft hat (he wears ball caps all the time, so something that style but soft would be great), lotions to deal with skin irritation, mouthwash that won't irritate mouth sores, etc.

However, he's a proud "man's man" type, so no fuzzy blankets or soothing teas or meditation tapes or "cancer journals" or any of that kind of touchy-feely stuff. All the care packages I've found premade online for cancer patients seem to feature those kind of products, and he'd just turn his nose up at the whole thing if that's the first thing he sees. I don't mind assembling my own basket, but I want to make sure I buy the right kinds of products, and I'm not sure which brands are good for chemo patients. Please ask the readers.


Fuck Cancer in the Tea Cozy

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  • ferretrick says:

    OP here. This letter is a few months old, and things have progressed. We recently got the news that the oral chemo has not done anything, not even slowed the cancer down, so he is progressing to injection chemo, one treatment so far. Apparently, that treatment didn't cause much in the way of side effects besides extreme exhaustion, but I suspect they will get worse. So now, I'd be particularly interested in if those sweaters that have zippers to accommodate the injection site are really all they are cracked up to be. Obviously, it's not the time of year for it, but maybe towards fall I've been thinking of getting one if he is still receiving the injections then. Of course, advice about other products is welcome as well. Thanks, all.

  • Kate says:

    Do you know the specific name of the chemo he will be taking? Every chemo drug has different side effects, so it's really hard to predict the way it will affect your father-in-law unless you have a specific drug to look up.

    Having just finished chemo myself, one of the most common side effects is lack of appetite. My sister put together a care package for me of all my favorite high-calorie foods. It was the greatest thing ever: Goldfish crackers, Oreos (regular, NOT double stuff, because that's just plain wrong), Milano dark chocolate cookies, basically anything chocolatey or crackery.

  • Kate says:

    Just saw your comment, OP. I'm sorry the first rounds of chemo didn't work. Hopefully the next ones will!

  • Chrissi says:

    I know you said no blankets, but what about a throw or blanket with his favorite sports team's logo on it? My dad had a fleece blanket with his Alma Mater's name on it. Also, my dad had a neck pillow he really liked because then he could sleep more comfortably sitting up in his chair. His wasn't one of those U-shaped ones you see in the airport, but just a small cylindrical one.

  • Penguinlady says:

    I don't know about the sweaters; my sister just got through chemo for breast cancer, but had the port in her jugular (shudder!). The things she needed were good quality plastic utensils because metal forks tasted weird, soft fleece hats, coconut water to help balance electrolytes, and Jolly Ranchers to help the yucky chemo taste. I also sent her money for a couple massage sessions.

    Good luck and strength to yout f-i-l.

  • Tyliag says:

    A lot of cancer patients tend to run rather cold because the treatments may make them a bit anemic, so I'd get him the jacket anyway, regardless of weather. Layering is always good.

    If he's gonna have to spend a lot of time in an infusion share, may I recommend getting him a bunch of books or getting a kindle loaded with books and games.

  • Wehaf says:

    I'm so sorry, ferretrick.

    The kits at Lacuna Loft were designed at put together by a former cancer patient. They do skew towards the feminine and touchy-feely, but include specific products for dealing with dry mouth, nausea, skin problems, etc. Maybe looking at them would be helpful for product recommendations.

    Clothing with openings for ports may be useful even during the summer – hospitals are chilly, chemo treatments can make patients feel very cold, and patients sometimes have to lie still for long periods of time. So looking into warm clothing options for treatments might be worth it now, even though it's a bazillion degrees out.

    If you still need some kind of hat for him, consider looking at base layer options for outdoor/athletic/winter activities. They're generally designed to be warm, non-irritating, and thin, so he could wear a skull cap under a baseball cap, for example.

  • Mary Beth says:

    One thing I remember from when my dad was undergoing cancer treatments was how bored he got in the hospital or at the clinic where he got chemo. We got him a bunch of those little handheld games – poker, blackjack, etc. Of course, this was in the pre-smartphone era, so nowadays, a gift card for the iTunes store or the Google Play store might be a better bet. Also, whatever books he might like – Dad read the entire Dan Brown oeuvre and Louis L'Amour westerns.

    Check and see if you have any local knitters groups who do chemo caps. They're usually pretty savvy about using soft, washable materials and doing a range of colors, including neutrals, because not every person wants to be running around in a bright purple knit hat when they're more of a navy / taupe / gray person. They might even be able to do a made-to-order hat for your dad.

    I'd also check with your local branch of the American Cancer Society. They have kits for patients with everything from binders to organize all your medical paperwork to samples of things like the special mouthwash or throat drops for that chemo sore throat.

    Hope this helps! It's not fun to watch someone you love travel this road.

  • maggie l. says:

    I got nothin' to help you, but I know you're a longtime regular Tomato National, and I just want you to know that your father-in-law is on my Warm Fuzzy List for strength and healing, as is your whole family. And I'm totally going to steal your letter sign-off.

  • GeekChic says:

    Long time reader, first-time commenter.

    I'm a three-time cancer survivor currently dealing with round 4 of the beast. My comments:

    1) Honestly, this is too general a question. Different chemo drugs have different side effects. Some of my drugs caused me to lose my hair (and that was "typical" for those drugs) other didn't (and that was also "typical"). Some changed my appetite and taste sensations, some didn't. Etc.

    Just about the only thing I could say was consistent across all of my treatments – chemo (oral or IV), radiation, surgery – is that fatigue is a killer and was always present to some degree. Still is.

    2) The times when I lost my hair, my favourite headwear was a Buff ( because I could make it into almost anything and it was gentle on my skin. They come in a bunch of colours / patterns too.

    I'm not much of a sweater person but I did use the suits at RonWear ( and found them quite comfortable but not too hot (I tend to run hot). It helped me to retain some dignity while getting treatment.

    I'm sorry that your father-in-law is dealing with the beast that is cancer. I hope this helps in some way.

  • patricia says:

    ferretrick, I don't have any recommendations, but I wanted to say that I've been reading and enjoying your comments here for years- I don't exactly feel like I know you, but…it was a shock to see a commenter name I recognized posting as OP. I just wanted to send my sympathies. I'm really sorry about your FIL and I hope he makes a good recovery.

  • Rachel says:

    You're right, it's tricky to find sites that aren't exclusively for women. Even places that have options for men may just carry skullcaps and bandanas. I did find one site, Headcovers Unlimited, that has quite a few good options for men in lots of styles, but no ball caps. There are quite a few sites that sell sportswear and baseball caps that might have something with a comfortable band, but it would require quite a bit of searching.

  • cayenne says:

    @ferretrick, I don't have any suggestions on the sweater, but did want to say I wish your dad all the best in his new round of treatment & hope that this one is successful. Sending you all some good vibes.

  • Meredith says:

    A nerf gun with loads of extra ammo. I have yet to meet a cancer patient that didn't have at least one condescending nurse that they wanted to throw things at, and I firmly believe that expressing your feelings is good for your health. And treatments can be long and boring, and you dad doesn't sound like to kind of guy to sit around and feel sorry for himself. Bonus? If he gets in trouble he totally can play the cancer card, if he's capable of having a sense of humor about the whole thing.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Ferretrick and Tea Cozy, my deepest hugs to both of you.

  • Maddie says:

    Your FIL May very we'll be getting the FOLFOX regimen. My husband had it, as do many if not most colorectal cancer patients, and he didn't have hair loss .

    He was mostly bored during treatment , so anything in the way of games, tablets, movie watching/reading apparatus (kindle or ipad) would be much appreciated.

  • Cyd says:

    Hi, Ferretrick. I had colon cancer last year and went through the FOLFOX regimen mentioned by Maddie. Everyone is different, but FWIW, it wasn't as bad as I feared, and I hope the same will be true of your FIL. One of the drugs, oxalyplatin, commonly creates a sensitivity to tasting or touching cold things, so gloves can be handy for reaching into the fridge, etc. And plastic utensils can be good not only for reducing the infamous tinny taste in food, but also cold transference from metal. I wore shirts with buttons for my treatments, and the chemo room was often on the chilly side. Due to a personal setback early in my experience, I would recommend that he have his port inserted by an interventional radiologist vs. a general surgeon. Best wishes!!

  • ferretrick says:

    Thank you all for the wonderful suggestions, thoughts, and prayers.

  • turtle says:

    I'm a two-time survivor, and what I found helped in the chemo room more than anything was a zip-up hoodie. You can unzip if you're a little warm, put the hood on if you're cold, or pull it all the way over your head if you want to nap. Also, you'll want Biotene toothpaste and/or mouthwash. They're non-alcoholic & specifically for people with dry mouth. If he's having problems with mouth sores, he needs to ask for magic mouthwash (by prescription). It also helps clear up thrush, if that's an issue with his type of chemo, as it was with mine.
    As far as headgear, I agree with what everyone else here has said, although he may be just as happy with his beat-up old ball cap. Under Armour, specifically has skullcaps that would go well underneath a ball cap. I'm sure most other major athletic brands do, as well.
    For boredom, I agree with what everyone said – I spent hours on my iPad, watching shows, listening to music, emailing/texting, getting addicted to stupid Candy Crush. Magazines are good, too.
    If you can figure out what he can tolerate food-wise, then definitely buy a few packages of whatever that is. I think I lived on mac & cheese the first go round. Oh, and gum! Especially chewing gum – I find bubble gum goes flavorless and hard quicker. It helps with keeping the mouth moist, which can help with thrush & maybe mouth sores.

    Best of luck to him & you & your family! I hope he kicks cancer in the ass. Which would be the best kind of irony.

  • Laura says:

    Sorry I'm a little late here, but hopefully you see it anyway. This isn't a care package but a suggestion for you – if the service is available, I highly recommend a palliative medicine consult. Some people see the word "palliative" and think it is the same as hospice – it's not. Medicine as a whole has become very specialized, so physicians and other team members tend to become focused on their particular area. The palliative medicine team looks at the patient as a whole and focuses on all of their issues – pain, nausea, mental state, etc. It's someone looking out for the "smaller things" that really make a huge difference to the patient. I have never been a cancer patient myself, but work as a health care professional and see the wonders that the palliative medicine team can do. Good thoughts to you and your family.

  • Rlnpirate says:

    My thoughts and prayers to you and your family. I lost both my parents to the beast this thanksgiving. My mom specifically to colon cancer. She fought for 10 years. I have some advice if you are up for it. Mom loved ice cream, but she had a major cold sensitivity from the chemo. I found some freeze dried ice cream at the camping store and she LOVED it. Tastes like ice cream but feels like a lucky charm marshmellow kinda thing.
    Soft, soft, soft anything. Her skin was so sensitive to feel and the cold was an issue also. She loved her ipad mini, it was easy for her to use and I had her favorite music on it and she could play scrabble. The chemo made stuff taste weird and also changed her reactions to lotions and creams, so watch out for that.
    Think about a support group for your family. The hospital had a great one for both my parents and it helped tremendously. AND lastly, EVERYONE, get your annual cancer screenings..colonoscopy, mammogram, prostate exams..don't make excuses, just do it. It will save your life.

  • Hillary says:

    My Dad did port chemo for colon cancer, and the side effects are different for everyone. Loss of appetite yes – if he said he could eat it, we got it for him. Comfort food, and stuff that helps with feeling ill – ginger ale and such. Small plates and glasses, sometimes a little bit of food or drink is all he could stand to look at. I agree with others who said something he can do sitting in the chair for hours – an ereader if he is a reader, handheld game, tablet or something you can download a movie to so he can watch with headphones, etc. Same for home, he was just so tired and rested a lot, so movies on DVD or a Netflix or Amazon Prime subscription if you think the cable TV does not provide enough options. Toward the end of the course he lost some dexterity in his fingers so if he has hearing aids or such, learn to put the batteries in and how to help him put them in. Plastic eating utensils at the ready, the metal thing is common. Dad's mouth rinse for sores was just water with salt and soda, easy to make, so make it up for him.

    Mostly company and cheer is needed. Sitting and watching TV with him while he rested is one of my best recent memories. I even made it all the way though a football game, my first ever.

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