What to Talk About During the Chemotherapy Process

Help your friend during the chemotherapy process.

Contributed by Haley Burress

If you have never had a family member or friend trudge through the chemotherapy process, you might be nervous or anxious about giving your friend a ride to his next chemo appointment. It can be daunting to walk in the room and sit next to those big recliners. You might feel scared or sad that your friend has to be there at all. However, all of those feelings aside, you are doing the best thing you can for your friend – you are showing up. When you show up, you are demonstrating that your friend isn’t in this cancer fight alone; you are showing that you are here for the long haul and that you will sit with them through the bad parts so that they are not sitting alone.

But before you head out the door to give your friend a ride, you might feel more comfortable if you have a few things prepared for your time together. Depending on the diagnosis, the chemotherapy process can last for hours at a time. These hours are sedentary, with the patient sitting down receiving medications through a port near their collarbone. Prepping a bag of things to do together and brainstorming topics to talk about during the chemotherapy process can help both of you pass the time well. In fact, there are plenty of memories – silly, sad, and serious – to be made in those chemo recliners. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Keep up with current events
Depending on your friend’s interests, current events might be the latest stock exchange numbers, who won the game last night, or the latest gossip on The Bachelor. Just know the topics really don’t matter, as long as you can keep up with his interests. Stock up on a few magazines or newspapers before you head to the chemo appointment. Read a few articles aloud and discuss while munching on chemo staple popsicles.

Escape reality with a good book
It can be difficult for an otherwise active person to sit for hours at a time during a treatment. Come prepared with a good book that the two of you can read together. If your friend has a headache or is too tired to read, you can still read the book aloud. Choose a best seller, an easy beach read, or maybe something from the Jack Reacher series for more action. Reading together will not only give you both the chance to escape your current situation, but it can be a bonding activity for the two of you as well. Remember to only read the book together during your time at chemo or during other visits, so you will have plenty to discuss during and after you finish.

Plug in to technology
If there ever was an appropriate time to spend too much time in front of a screen, the chemotherapy process is it. Take advantage of your chemo hours together by binging on Netflix (House of Cards is popular addiction) or Podcasts (be sure to look up Serial). Pick a series that you have never seen to try it out or choose a classic that you both can’t get enough of. You might be surprised to see nurses or a few other patients looking over your shoulders to catch a glimpse of the newest Scandal episode.

If you find yourself bored with television series or true crime podcasts, use your iPad to play some games. Heads Up is a fun guessing game that The Ellen Show uses frequently, while Crossy Road features a busy street and random animals who want to cross it. Give a few a try and watch as you both end up laughing.

Leave a legacy
Depending on your friend, the patient, you might find that it is important to use the chemotherapy process as a time to talk about memories. So often, we shy away from talking with one another about our memories, worries, or regrets when someone is facing a serious illness. It can come off as too depressing to talk about happier times or morbid to talk about past regrets. However, it can also be the most therapeutic thing to do. Feel your friend out and don’t let your sadness or discomfort make you steer the conversation away from serious subjects that he might want to talk about.

This much is true – people want to leave a legacy. They want to be heard, to share their story with others. Be a friend that allows that to happen. Keep your friend’s stories alive, ask his opinion, ask deeper questions. Be the safe place that hears him, values his stories, and holds his thoughts.

Take up a new hobby together
Never been a knitter, but always wanted to learn? Get some needles, yarn, and a YouTube tutorial and learn how to knit together. By the end of your friend’s treatments, you might both be professional knitters. Or, you might end treatments with balls full of knotted yarn, but hearts full of laughter and memories. Either way, it is a win. Choose a hobby to learn together, keeping in mind that it has to be something that can be done while sitting for long periods of time. Pick something silly like thumb wrestling or rock/paper/scissors, or choose something meaningful like scrapbooking for family members or knitting blankets for the hospital’s labor and delivery unit. You are only limited by your imagination – and the recliner.

Be quiet
Chemo can be physically, emotionally and mentally exhausting for those who are going through it. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to simply sit in the silence with your tired friend. Tell him it is okay to doze off, or to say nothing at all. What matters is that you are sitting by his side. That act alone speaks louder than anything you might have said all day.

Educate and empower yourself
A good friend and chemo partner should know at least some basics of the chemotherapy process so that you can better understand what is happening. You can better advocate and ask good questions when you know the chemo basics. The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society is a great point of reference, so start to do a bit of research on your friend’s condition and find out a bit more about the ins and outs of chemo.

Finally, if you are a caregiver or a patient and are overwhelmed by the scope of your chemo schedule, Lotsa Helping Hands is here to help. Start a Community today so you can rally friends and family members around you and take a look at how you can use a Community to manage your chemo visits.