Written Roberta Codemo
Reviewed for Medical Accuracy by Lea Ann Biafora
Newly diagnosed cancer patients have a lot of questions before their first chemotherapy session. It’s normal to feel anxious when you don’t know what to expect, but one way to ease that anxiety is to come prepared.
You may be at the treatment center for six or eight hours, sometimes longer, so make your time in chemo as smooth as possible by taking along items that not only make you feel comfortable, but bring a little bit of home with you.
Chemotherapy veterans and health care professionals agree that the following items are must-haves to pack in your chemo bag.
1. Tote bag
You gotta have something to hold all your goodies, right? Choose a durable, easy-to-carry tote bag that holds everything you plan to bring. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but try to choose a bag that makes you feel good, whether it has a chic design, inspirational saying, or a picture of cats on it.
You’ll want to keep this bag in an easy-to-remember location, all packed and ready to go, so you can grab it and head out on chemo days. Make sure to replenish it when you get home so it’s always ready to go.
2. Comfort essentials
Wear something comfy—say, your favorite pair of PJs or sweats—on chemo days. Dress in layers that you can put on or take off easily, because the treatment room can get chilly, and the chemotherapy medications can often make you feel cold. Just make sure your chemo port or PICC line is easily accessible for your nurses. Apparel like Patch10 and MyHyggeJacket make clothes just for this purpose!
Other items you might want to pack include your favorite blanket and pillow. While treatment centers usually provide warm blankets and pillows, there’s something comforting about having your own that brings a touch of home to a sterile medical environment. If you really want to ramp up the comfort levels, consider bringing fuzzy socks, your favorite hat or scarf to keep your head warm, a neck pillow, a sleep mask, and/or ear plugs.
Remember to bring your photo identification and insurance card. Cancer veterans also suggest bringing a folder with important medical documents, including a list of your medications.
Don’t forget to pack your favorite electronic devices, their chargers, and earbuds or noise-cancelling headphones so you can listen without disturbing others around you. Most treatment centers have a selection of magazines and/or an individual televisions at each treatment chair, but consider bringing your laptop, Kindle, tablet or MP3 player loaded with your favorite audiobooks, movies, music, or guided meditation apps to provide a welcome distraction.
Chemo often seems less grueling when you’re with loved ones. It’s nice to bring a friend or family member with you to not only help pass the time, but also give you an opportunity to connect and build deeper ties with each other.
That said, be sure to always check with the treatment center first. They may have rules about the age or number of visitors allowed in the treatment area. You’ll receive pre-medications before your nurse starts the chemotherapy drugs. Cancer survivors and cancer treatment veterans often report drifting off in a Benadryl haze and spending their time in the chair sleeping.
Most infusion centers provide a limited selection of snacks or beverages for patients and often have a refrigerator or microwave. Packing a variety of your favorite snacks and a personal water bottle is important to maintain your energy level for your long day ahead of you. If you have to travel a long distance to the infusion center, eating throughout the day helps keep hunger at bay.
It may take a little experimentation to find what works best for you, and make sure the snacks you choose are easy on the stomach in case you develop nausea. Don’t forget to include hard candies, mints, or ginger candies; these are considered “anti nausea foods for cancer patients”. These help with nausea and reduce the bitter or metallic taste patients often report. Chemotherapy affects everyone differently, so it’s worth trying to have your friends and family look up other kinds of anti nausea foods for cancer patients.
It’s also important to stay hydrated, so drink plenty of water. This helps flush the chemotherapy drugs out of your system faster. If the infusion center has a kitchen area with a microwave, bring a selection of your favorite teas or hot chocolate and favorite mug.
7. Skin care
Chemotherapy can be hard on your skin. Esthetician Geralyn O’Brien, with the Waterford Place Cancer Resource Center in Aurora, Ill., recommends bringing a few simple skin care items to help soothe dry skin, including hydrating mist, lip balm and moisturizing lotion. You might want to use unscented products designed for sensitive skin, like one of the products from LindiSkin!
Be prepared for a long day and bring items to help make the time go by faster. Pack a journal and several pens in case one runs out of ink to jot down thoughts or write down questions for your doctor or nurses. Toss in a few of your favorite magazines or that book you’ve been meaning to read. Puzzle books like Sudoku, word searches or crosswords help keep your brain active and stave off “chemo brain.” Others suggest bringing an adult coloring book and colored pencils or a deck of cards. If someone is coming with you, add your favorite board game or jigsaw puzzle.
9. Special items
If you have a special item that comforts you, don’t forget to add it to your tote. Kathy Kwasnik wrote she always included a prayer shawl and a good luck medallion that a dear friend gave her. Chemotherapy is not an easy road, so anything you can do to help make the situation bearable is what’s most important.
10. Travel items
Kristine Lathrop was a caregiver for her mom while she was going through treatment for ovarian cancer. She told OneVillage that after her mom finished chemotherapy for the day, she would often get sick on the ride home, and she and family members learned to keep a bin in the car stocked with items through a process of trial and error, including barf bags, wipes, ginger ale, water, hand sanitizer, and plastic trash bags. This way, if her mom became nauseous and vomited, they could help her clean up and throw everything in a trash bag. Being prepared for contingencies made it easier on everyone.
Chemotherapy is hard on a person physically, emotionally, and physically. Having a few items that remind you of the comforts of home makes the experience bearable. Use this as a guide for how to put together a bag for chemotherapy.