A Few Trivial Tech Tricks

As I put this sheet together, I was surprised to see how much "personal technology" played a role in helping me get through my treatment.   As a result, if you are not a "techie" as I am, a lot of the following tips may seem useless, but, give them a chance.  A big part of "surviving" chemotherapy is going to be "distraction" and as an additional benefit, the time I spent using and learning many of these tech tips went a long way toward preventing me from spending a lot of time sitting around and thinking about the misery that I had to deal with.

Many of these tips are "gear head" solutions that will appeal mostly to the technically inclined, but, at least, give them a read and store them away to remember if and when the "need" arises.

Paper, Paper, Paper... Coping With the Paper Storm


Paper, and a lot of it, is an unfortunate part of the medical system these days.  In the internet age, a lot of this information can be found on the "web" and much of it can be downloaded as Adobe Acrobat PDF files.  For pages that are not in PDF file format, there are ways to "print" these pages to create your own PDF copy.

Once in
PDF format, make sure you have a good PDF reader installed on your phone and/or tablet.  For me, "good" means a reader that will allow you to magnify the text so that it is readable and, at the same time, re "wrap" the text so that it will fit on a small screen and still be easily readable.

The only PDF reader that meets my requirments is from "FoxIt" and it is not only free, it is available for desktops and mobile devices.

All versions are available at https://www.foxitsoftware.com/downloads but for the "Free" Desktop versions, look to the left column on this page.

On Android devices, "FoxIt for Android" turns out to be the best PDF reader that I have tried for the above reasons. 

The "Foxit for iOS" app (for iPhone and iPad) is also available.


It's obvious that each new medical site you visit allocates from fifteen to thirty minutes of your first appointment just to fill out their patient information and consent forms.  Even if a medical provider has multiple facilities in the same city, it's likely that you will still be expected to fill out the same forms for each first visit to each location.

Fortunately, most medical facilities now post these forms as PDF files somewhere on their websites, so, if you know about them, you can download them at home or office and fill them out before the appointment.  You may have to call the facility in order to find exactly where these forms are located or even ask that they be emailed to you in advance of your appointment.

Most medical PDF forms don't even use the PDF capability for these forms to use "entry fields" so that you can fill in the information in using your computer.  As a result, in addition to squandering your time, they condemn their staff to the task of reading your handwritten scrawl on a paper printout of each form with handwritten entries.

Fortunately, the Acrobat Reader replacement FoxIt (as well as several other PDF readers) give users the ability to "type" on top on any PDF document.  You can then print the document that includes these typed in additions.

FoxIt also allows you to "save" the forms that you have filled out with FoxIt's "Typewriter" option.  I ended up going to multiple locations of some providers, so, the ability to simply reopen their previously filled in forms that reprint them saved even more time.

fwiw, on every occasion when I walked into a reception area and handed the receptionist completed forms with legible, typed entries, I was greeted with a large smile no matter how chaotic their day might have been at the moment.  On several occasions, I even ended up getting in early because the person scheduled before me was still busy filling out their forms in the waiting room.

For the computer techies out there, everything you type over PDF forms using FoxIt is stored as "objects.  The can subsequently copied from one document and pasted into other documents.

For example, you can highlight and copy all of the entries you "typed" into one patient information form, then open a form from any another medical facility and paste your information onto the new provider's form.  You then simply grab each field and slide the entry to wherever the new form wants the information to go.

Another tech note is that some PDF's are so "locked down" by the person or firm that generated the document that using this tool may not be possible.  One trick that often works to at least partially "unlock" these unreasonable Acrobat documents is to "print" the document to another PDF document.  CutePDF is what I have been using for years to quickly and easily generate Acrobat files, but there are many other ways such as FoxIt's PDF printer option. In the past several years, windows has included the ability to "Print to PDF" and third party PDF (Acrobat) readers have started including their own "Print to PDF" options.  These "Print to PDF" files do not contain the security restrictions of the original PDF file.

An observation on how pervasive this need is, even though I didn't start using the above tips until my diagnostic process was well under way, but I note that I now have almost two dozen forms stored in the "Documents/Medical" folder on my PC

Cards Cards Cards!!!

Your wallet will also end up with skid marks from the number of times that you pull out your ID and insurance cards for each new facility.  About the same time I started filling out PDF forms at home before appointments, I noticed that most facilities simply copied my ID and insurance cards on a copy machine, so, I scanned them and printed out a number of copies that I could grab before each new appointment and hand over with the requisite forms.  The saved seconds added up along with the good will generated by saving time for the medical staffs.

I did the same with my prescription insurance and prescription discount cards and also copied those images to my phone (along with the above ID and insurance cards) so they were quickly available when dealing with pharmacies as well as quickly available for reference or emailing no matter where I was.

Is That a Resource In Your Pocket?

As mentioned, major aspect of any cancer diagnosis is the fact that you will be absolutely swamped with information along with the requirement to make a continuing number of critical life decisions covering all aspects of your treatment as well as for your life in general.  Now, at the beginning of this twenty first century, we are fortunate to have a raft of technical tools to make these tasks much easier than they were even a decade or two earlier, and for most people today, a great resource tool is the phone in your pocket.  For individuals, current smartphones offer a large number of valuable tools to assist you during this trek, including, but not limited to;

communicationsphone, email, text message, video calls, conference calls
note taking written, voice notes, voice transcription, recording consultations
researchinternet searches, specialty apps, PDF readers
pictures/videospeople, cards, documents, personal health issues
calendarappointments, meds scheduling, treatment history, personal diary
contactsdoctors, providers, friends, support, prescriptions
entertainmentmusic, poetry, videos, games, pictures
readingresearch, novels, medical information, medical records, audio books
navigationmaps, directions, street views

To expand on a few of the above and how they may relate to your path.

Note Taking

It does not matter how good you might be remembering facts, the diagnosis of a serious medical problem is going to overwhelm your ability to remember and retain all of the information that is going to suddenly flow over you like a storm surge.  If your phone does not have a voice recording app installed, find and download one before you start participating in consulting sessions.  I have never had any medical person object when I asked if I could record any of these sessions, but, more importantly, when I listened to them later, I always heard details that I did not remember, so, even if you think you remember everything discussed in the first session you record, sit down later the same day, play it back and take notes.

Related to this, after you install a voice recorder or any other app, take time to experiment with it and learn how it works.  If you don't, when you need it, the likelihood is high that you will get frustrated and end up not using it in situations, such as a consultation with a doctor, where the app is most valuable.  A good place to start is to use a voice recording app to record your thoughts throughout each day about how your life has just changed.

Google Keep Note Taker

There are a wealth of note taking apps out there, so there is likely one that will meet your needs.  EverNote is probably one of the best known ones, but, I strongly recommend looking at Google Keep.  In addition to taking typed notes, pictures can be inserted.

Keep also "syncs" all notes to the Google servers so your notes can then be accessed using any computer connected to the internet.  If you have more than one device, they will be synced so that when you add or edit notes on one device, they will be automatically updated on your other device(s) as well.

Even better, you can share selected Keep Notes with specific people and you can share individual notes publicly so that anyone with a link to that note can view it.

A voice recorder and note taker will allow you to easily store thoughts and information immediately and you can always return at a more peaceful moment to arrange those thoughts as needed.

I have compiled a page of Google Keep Tips that goes into detail about the pros and cons of using this App.

In my case, notes taken regularly throughout each three week chemotherapy session not only made Q&A followup sessions with my oncologist very easy and productive, they provided a solid foundation for being proactive during subsequent sessions.

Pictures and Videos

There are a large number of people who will be involved and working with you throughout this journey.  It's important to realize that if each one knows that you care about them, they will likely return the favor above and beyond the normal commitment they have to their job.

Personally, I have never been good at remembering names of people I meet, but I concluded early on that I needed to really make an effort simply because of the increasing number of new faces I was encountering every day of the process.  While I "know" that my phone has a camera, it still took a conscious effort to start using it to take pictures of everyone involved in my treatment.  The effort pays off.  Everyone was flattered that I cared enough to make the effort and I explained to each person that I was taking their picture and recording their name because of my standard difficulty with names.

The picture is only half of the solution.  Recording each person's name to associate with the picture later proved to be a more difficult, so, here are a few tips learned by failure.

Try to get the person's name tag included in the picture.  This didn't always work ...including one occasion where two staff members had accidentally swapped their lab coats, but, later when I no longer remembered anything, much less names, tags visible in the snapshots paid off.

Optomize your camera's resolution settings.  That does not mean to set it at the highest resolution, which will slow down the processing and lead to blurred details.  In my case (an Android Nexus 4 phone) setting it to 2 megapixels instead of the default maximum resolution of 8 megapixels made a major difference.  Experiment!

Practice keeping the camera steady when taking pictures.  (this will, unfortunately, get harder as the treatment progresses)  A major help in keeping the "shake" to a minimum when the shutter "clicks" is to understand that on most phone cameras, the image is not taken when you tap the screen button, but it is taken when you remove your finger from the button.  By placing your finger on the button and leaving it there, it allows you to compose any shot and keep the camera still by slowly removing it from the button.

PRACTICE!  As rushed as things tend to be when you want to take a picture, you will probably have a lot of other "alone time" to practice taking picures and keeping notes.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any Android photo program that allows easily making a voice note at the same time the picture is taken.

When I had time, and felt up to it, I edited the images and added everyone's name in large print to their photos and kept them available in the phone for reference.  It makes a surprising difference when the medical staff you work with realize that you took the time to remember their names.

If you carry a digital camera to use for this and similar needs, take a moment to check it's capabilities.  Three of our digital cameras (all Panasonic) have the ability to record a voice note after taking a picture that remains associated with the image, but the settings to do so were well hidden in their menus.

Taking the time to make and keep a record of the people involved with my treatment is probably the best decision I made! 

Pictures are also valuable as part of medical communications.  When an infection developed with my "port" the ability to take a picture of the swelling and email it to help define the problem and probably saved at least a day in getting things moving toward resolving the problem... the hardest part of most of us old farts is simply remembering that if we have a phone... we have not only a camera, but an instant picture transmission machine.

Schedule "Checkoff" vs "Reminder"

This is a slightly obscure point.  Smartphone calendar/reminder programs are excellent tools that can remind you of things and actions that you need to take.  Medication schedules might be one of them, but relying on a calender "reminder" can lead to missing meds.

Because of the memory issues that I described above, I found that it helped to create a checklist and layout medication times by treatment day and time, then "check them off" after I took the meds since "reminders" frequently happen when may not be able to take them.

Google Keep allows you to create lists with "checkboxes" but, you can simply add an "x" to any list, including printed lists to meet the same goal.

Reminders or alarms can easily be missed in the chaos that is a given throughout this process.  Using the "checkoff" method, even if I missed a medication when it was due, I could still see that I needed to take it later.

Add Your Prescription Pharmacy to Your Contact Entries

Despite whatever your treatment regime might be, the odds are high that you will be spending a lot of time dealing with prescriptions and pharmacies.  Since some of the drugs are potent and potentially, you will probably need to regularly "refill" prescriptions over the course of your treatment.

Sounds minor, but the time needed to phone in refills adds up over the course of treatment and the amount of time needed to execute each one depends on the options that your pharmacy offers.  In addition, taking care of setting up refills will become harder over time.

Costco, and many other pharmacies, now offer an automated "phone in" refill option... automated for them, but not so much for you when you consider the number of digits that you need to key in for each refill.

Since almost everyone, including cancer patients, now have cell phones, there is an easy option in your pocket if you know the secrets of entering dialing codes in your contact list.

Here's an example of a (fictitious) telephone number under a pharmacy entry in contacts for one of your refill numbers;


After all of the digits are dialed, the system will then ask you to confirm your name by pressing "1"   I suggest dialing this confirmation digit manually rather than adding that to the number to guard against errors.

Question?  Do you know how to bring up the number pad on your cell phone so you can "press 1?"  (Another one of those necessary tech skills)

You can then make additional phone number entries in the same contact for any prescriptions you might need to refill.  The Android/Google contacts allow many phone numbers for each contact entry and you can tag each prescription entry number with a "custom" description so you can select the refill you need without referencing the prescription number itself.

Most home and business phones now allow you to store frequently called numbers and add pauses to accomplish the same as above... time to read the phone manual.