Ways to cope with chemo when you’re far from home

When people talk about surviving chemotherapy, the conversation almost always turns to the importance of having family and close friends around, of being in familiar surroundings and having lots of support.

However, many of us now live far from loved ones; or, if we have relatives nearby, the best treatment may be many miles from home. Friends and family members, even with the best of intentions, can take off only so much time from work and other responsibilities to see a loved one through chemo.

How do you get support and keep your spirits up when your family and closest friends live hours and miles away? Here are few ideas:

Bring home close
Print photos: If you can’t be in familiar or happiness-inducing surroundings, or around people who make you smile, then you can bring their faces into your room, where they can comfort you at any hour.

Set up video or audio chats: If you can afford a notebook computer or a tablet, get one. It doesn’t have to be fancy. All it needs is the ability to connect to Wi-Fi and enough power to support Skype or other chat software. The microphone and speaker will make it easier for you to talk with people when you are tired. Video is optional; if you are having a day when you would rather not be seen, limit the chat to audio.

Bring friendly voices: Before you first leave for the hospital, ask family and friends to record stories or messages as MP3 files. (A teenager or schoolchild can help with this project, giving the younger generation a way to provide support.) Put the files in your audio player — iTunes, for example — and give them to yourself as auditory treats: Play one in the morning and one at night when you’re feeling low, or whenever you need something to lift your spirits. New recordings can be sent by email, or you can share your password with a go-between and let that person do the uploading.

Build an away-from-home team
Recruit extra players onto your team — folks that few people would consider enlisting.

Reading helpers: If you’re a reader, get to know the hospital book volunteers. Chat with them early about what you like, and get advice about audiobooks and other alternatives to reading print – including visiting readers, who can provide a comforting presence as well as words.

Friendly pharmacist: Find a local pharmacist you trust, someone you can check in with about drugs and side effects. Such a person can relieve a surprising amount of stress. Connect the pharmacist with your physicians and nurses to ensure that your foods and medications are in order, with no problems or contraindications. Pair the pharmacist with a smart nutritionist — there will be one in the hospital.

With a little bit of forethought and attention you will have a support team that can carry some of the weight of worry and make getting through chemotherapy that much easier —enabling you to arrive at the state that makes everything else possible: health.