Cancer = Plastic

4 min readJul 7, 2022


Week 5: Cancer Treatment is not for tree huggers

Sorry buddy, I have cancer and I’m destroying the planet (photo by me)

My neutrophil count was actually up a little bit this week (white blood count continues to fall) so I was good to go for Chemo week five. I didn’t pass out getting my IV put in, even though she missed on the first attempt. Hair is still holding strong.

One thing people talk about when getting diagnosed with cancer is guilt. Guilt about getting sick, guilt about being a burden, guilt about the cost (because holy shit, cancer is expensive,) survivor’s guilt if you are one of the lucky ones. One of the lesser guilts, for me anyway, is the sheer environmental impact of cancer treatment. Plastic, plastic, plastic.

Okay yeah, my body is currently a toxic wonderland and I have to constantly remind myself to put the toilet lid down and always flush twice, but the amount of plastic I go through on a chemo day is, well, a lot.

When you check in at the lab they offer you a bottle of water. A little pint sized bottle, for me that’s barely enough to take a pill. Get in the chair for blood work and everything is wrapped in plastic- needles, tubes for blood (also made of plastic and once full a biohazard,) the hot pack they put on your arm to help bring out your veins (and what’s the stuff in there, that’s probably not great,)the bandage they use to cover the IV once it’s in, the bandage itself.

Upstairs to get my vitals- plastic wristband, thermometer cover. Bottle of water?

Up one more floor for infusion. This is where it gets bad. There are three trash cans in the infusion room. None of them are for recycling. One is trash, one biohazard, one is for “blue gowns only.” Again, everything here is wrapped in plastic, from the thermometer covers, IV tubing, alcohol wipes (well, those are foil/paper but not recyclable I guess,) the bags all the infusion drugs are in-saline, steroids, Carboplatin, Placlitaxel, more saline. There’s big syringes they use to flush out the IV line.

And the gloves! The nurse puts on gloves whenever she is touching you, then takes them off to use the computer, then puts on a new pair of gloves. When it’s time for the toxic chemo drugs she has to put on an extra blue, plasticy gown and double up on a different type of glove. There are no less than six boxes of gloves in the infusion room. They live in a stainless metal holder called the “Glove Butler.” I guess “Glove Box” was already taken.

They do re-use the blue gowns when they are switching out the drugs, but I’m guessing they actually wear them for less than five minutes altogether and then it’s into the bin.

Every time a nurse comes in they ask if they can get you anything. All of it is wrapped in plastic. Tiny bottle of water, string cheese, saltines, Kind bar.

So what can you do? For the most part I think you have to accept the fact that as a cancer patient you want everything as clean and sterile as possible. And these days that means plastics.

I do bring a big metal water bottle with me and fill it up at the water fountain 2 or 3 times. The Proton Therapy Center actually has a bottle filler which is awesome. I pack a lunch and my own snacks in reusable containers (although yesterday everything was slightly pickle flavored due to equipment failure.) It all gets packed in a vintage canvas shopping bag. If I do end up with wrappers or other plastic trash I bring it home and put it in the Ridwell bin.

I don’t know what the answer is, I can’t imagine a corn based IV tubing is really a viable option for such toxic chemicals (Placlitaxel is so toxic there are stories of people losing their arm when it leaked out of the IV.) I can see maybe a compostable packaging for other things though, wrappers and maybe the big fat syringes they use for flushing. I am saving all of my wristbands for an art project.

And maybe, at least, bigger water bottles.

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Part time erotica writer, full time estate saler, cancer haver.