How to get comfortable during cancer treatment – and tips to help you rest and relax
When you’re being treated for cancer, it’s not easy to stay comfortable. Going to an appointment or scan, having treatment or surgery and recovering at home can all be difficult. This guide looks at what you can do to make things more comfortable and to help you relax.
In this guide:
Spending time in hospital
When you’re having treatment for cancer, you might spend a lot of time in hospital. You may also have to stay in hospital overnight.
Pack a hospital comfort kit
Staying in hospital, without your normal home comforts, can be unsettling. There may be noises and lights that you are not used to, and this can make it more difficult to rest or to get a good night’s sleep. The Live Better With community recommends taking:
- Ear plugs – to block out unfamiliar noises, especially at night
- An eye mask can make easier to relax to night
- A pair of slippers. As well as making you more comfortable, slippers can help you feel a bit more at home. If you have swollen feet, special adjustable slippers are available. These can be fully adjusted to fit your feet and will help protect them and keep them warm.
“Just right when your feet are swollen, very comfortable.” Betty, Live Better With community member
In the car
Making a lot of car journeys to and from hospital and treatment centres can be difficult, especially if you are feeling weak or in pain.
Take some cushions with you in the car to help make you more comfortable. If you find it difficult to move around, you could try using a revolving seat cushion which swivels around fully, so you don’t have to twist your body.
“Really love this, after my operation I have been unable to get into the car. The upper cushion is so comfortable and I found it really easy to twist myself round into the car and then enjoyed my first trip out in our own vehicle. Wonderful to feel ‘normal’ again thanks so much.” Customer review of the revolving seat cushion
If you find getting into and out of the car a struggle, using a car transfer bar can also help – this is a special steel handle which attaches to your car and helps you to get in and out more easily.
After surgery or treatment
If you’ve had surgery or other treatment for your cancer, you will need some time to rest and recuperate.
If you have to spend a lot of time sitting or lying down, it can get uncomfortable. Using cushions can help – there are many different kinds of chair pads and cushions which are specially designed to help you feel more comfortable and reduce pressure, pain and swelling.
PICC line cover
If you have a PICC line, which is used to give your treatment and other medicines, many people recommend using a PICC line cover, which will keep your line secure and out of the way.
“I loved the mesh window, which makes it easy to see my PICC site and ensure it was doing well. I also love that the band kept everything nice and covered.” Live Better With community member
With some treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy, you might experience hot flashes, sweating or irritated skin.
You can help to reduce the symptoms by wearing loose, breathable clothes and underwear made from natural materials, such as cotton or bamboo. If you have had surgery for breast cancer, a front fastening bra can also make dressing much easier.
“Put scraps of silk cloth on friction areas where clothing hurts your skin, like between your waistband and your skin.” Hilary, Live Better With community member
Chemotherapy can also make some people sensitive to cold. You can help to keep warm by wearing comfy slippers, gloves and a woolly hat. A heated hat can be particularly helpful if you are experiencing hair loss.
If you’re suffering from aches and pains caused by tumours or treatment, many people recommend using a microwaveable heat bag with lavender seeds, which can soothe the symptoms and also help you to relax.
Resting in bed
If you need to spend time in bed after treatment or surgery, it’s important that you are comfortable. Here are some things that can help:
- Pads for swelling and sore spots. Staying in bed for a long time can lead to pain or swelling, particularly where your body is in constant contact with the mattress, such as your elbows and heels. You can use special pads to help protect your skin and avoid pressures sores.
- Support for knees and hips. Long periods of time in bed can also put pressure on your knees and hips. The Live Better Community recommends using a V-shaped support cushion to help with this. You can also try changing position regularly to distribute pressure and avoid skin breakdown if spending long periods of time in bed.
“So comfortable, soft and firm. This became my best friend after my double mastectomy when I spent quite a lot of time in bed. I could read or watch TV without feeling achy.” Diana, Live Better With community member
- Getting up. It’s important to move around as much as you can. If you need help with sitting up or moving in bed, a back rest or mattress tilter can help you to find a comfortable position, while also relieving pressure and easing pain and swelling.
- Sleeping well. While you are recovering from treatment, you may be more tired than normal – but you may also find that you have trouble sleeping! It’s important to get enough sleep to help your body to recover properly.
Using a sleep balm or spray with essential oils can help – the Live Better With community recommends Badger Sleep Balm and Cotswold Lavender Slumber Spray. Cooling gel pillows can also be useful – just pop them in the fridge and then place them inside your pillowcase.
- Try bamboo sheets. To help them to stay cool and comfortable in bed, many cancer sufferers also recommend using bedsheets made of natural materials, such as cotton or bamboo. Bamboo bedlinen is super soft, moisture absorbent and naturally antibacterial, and can help you to regulate your body temperature.
“For me, it was about focusing on the simple pleasures such as enjoying a relaxing warm bath.” Miriam, Live Better With community member.
Bathing and washing can be more difficult when you’re being treated for cancer. However, having a nice bath – perhaps with some relaxing essential oils – can be a great way of helping to relax your body and mind.
Getting in and out of the bath and using the toilet
The good news is, there are plenty of bathing aids available, which are specially designed to help make bathing and toileting easier and more comfortable – from washing aids, to bath seats and raised toilet cushions.
Taking a shower
If you want to have a shower, but feel unsteady or have difficulty standing, an adjustable shower stool will allow you to sit down while showering.
Protecting your PICC line
And there’s no need to worry if you have a PICC line, as you can keep it protected during your bath or shower with a reusable waterproof cover.
When you’re having treatment or recovering from chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery, you could find yourself with lots of time on your hands, and it’s important to keep yourself entertained.
A tablet or iPad can be a great way of keeping occupied while you have chemo treatment or if you are resting in hospital or at home. The Live Better With community recommends using a tablet cushion to help keep your tablet in place and allow you to relax.
“A god send during chemo sessions. Being hooked up to a drip doesn’t make it easy to use an iPad but this fabulous little beanbag cushion makes it so easy. It’s lightweight & stylish.” Cheryl, Live Better With community member
It’s also a good idea to stock up on plenty of good books, magazines or DVDs. A cushioned lap tray can offer support and comfort when you’re reading a book, using a laptop, or having a snack – or perhaps playing cards with a friend.
Meanwhile, if you’re resting in bed an overbed table can make it easier to read, use your laptop or enjoy a good cup of tea.
Share your tips
What helped you to be more comfortable during or after cancer treatment?We’d love to hear about your tips, as they could help other people like you. Share your tips with the Live Better With cancer community here.