What to Do to Pass Time and Make Chemotherapy More Pleasant

What can you do during your chemotherapy appointment to pass the time and lower your anxiety? When you're in for an all-afternoon chemo infusion, time can pass slowly unless you have something to do. If you've been an active person, it can be very difficult to sit still for several hours. Without a plan you may find yourself rehearsing an unfinished to-do list that's getting longer by the day due to both cancer fatigue and the full time job of being a cancer patient.

Take heart, there are many ways to use your time while you're stuck in those big recliners—here are ten things to do during chemo.


Tara's Story: Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer


Read a Good Book

man reading during chemo treatment
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It could be a mystery or a romance novel, true crime or history, but if it tells a story that draws you in and keeps you absorbed—that’s what a good read means to many people. Some people like mystery series, while others like humorous short stories. It doesn't matter as long as it's something you enjoy.

Books can be a great way to escape the reality of cancer treatment, and since the infusion rooms are generally quiet, it can be a good place to read. Whether a book is on paper, in an e-reader, on your laptop or iPad, a good story can take you far away from Cancerland and give you a welcome break.

Some people enjoy reading breast cancer survivor stories, whereas others want to leave cancer completely behind (at least in their minds) for a few moments.

As an added note, don't feel you need to read the tomes that your caring friends have purchased for you. Simply feel grateful for their effort and open the spine of something you would rather read. Most people don't expect you to wade through books they send.

You won't be tested on your ability to regurgitate the contents. Rather, most books are given as a way of sending a message that someone cares. In that way, they are priceless, even if you never crack the cover.


Keep a Journal

Close-Up Of Person Writing In Book
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Writing and journaling can be very therapeutic. If you're keeping a blog, updating your supporters, or venting your feelings, put it in writing while you're in the chemo parlor. We are learning that there are many benefits from journaling your cancer journey.

If people are wondering what they can get for you, you may want to suggest a journal. Some people keep more than one journal during treatment. You may keep one to detail what you experience each day and another to write about strong feelings that you have.

Some cancer survivors have found that keeping a gratitude journal is healing. In this journal you may want to write about the "silver linings" of your journey; the people you've met and the good things you would never have experienced had you not had cancer.​ Studies are telling us that cancer can change people in good and positive way; something that is referred to as posttraumatic growth.

You could also work on your health notebook, making sure that your invoices and receipts match up and that you understand your lab reports. Talk to your infusion nurses about any questions you may have and write down their answers and tips. On another practical note, bring along your weekly bills and get caught up on payments and correspondence.

If you're still at a loss about writing topics, consider doing some free thought writing. Begin by writing three pages writing about anything that comes to your mind. It's sometimes amazing how writing can help you understand what your are feeling while simultaneously removing some of the clutter that circulates in our minds day to day.


Get Crafty

Woman knitting
  Esra Karakose/Getty Images

If you don't have an IV line stuck in your hand (if you have a chemotherapy port) you can do some crafting while your infusion drips. If you knit, crochet, or sew, you could make caps or hats to wear while you wait for your hair to return. Some people choose to work on cross-stitch projects, sew children's clothes or work on quilting squares.

Other options for filling your time include working scrapbooks, putting together photo albums, or creating small polymer clay projects like Bottles of Hope.

One woman spent her infusion time putting together memory albums to give each of her children at Christmas. Take a moment to brainstorm ideas that might appeal to you.


Listen to Music

man listening to headphones during chemo
Martin Barraud/Getty Images

One way to lower your stress levels during your visit is to bring along some great music. Load your laptop, pack your iPod, or slip some CDs into your portable CD player.

Choose music that soothes, encourages, or distracts you. Use some music to support meditation or to help with guided imagery. The right music may transport you to a comfortable mental and emotional space in which you can relax.

And, that's not all. We are learning there are benefits to music therapy for cancer patients beyond simply feeling good. Some studies even suggest that listening to music may increase the number and activity of your T cells, cells in our immune system which fight cancer.


Watch a Movie

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Movies can inspire and entertain you—and they can certainly help you pass the time. Check your local library for their selection of movies, or contact your friends about their video collections. Try watching a movie with the friend who drove you to your infusion and take the time to discuss the stories after they are done playing.

If your infusion rooms have televisions, ask if you can use those, and if not, try out portable DVD players or online movie services that let you view movies and television programs on your iPad, laptop, or e-reader. Line up a series of classic Oscar winners and work your way through the whole set—it might just give you something to look forward to.


Make Future Plans

woman writing in journal
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It's hard to forget that you have a life-threatening illness when you're at a chemo appointment. One way to fight back negative and limiting thoughts is to make plans for the future. Think about what is on your bucket list.

You can think of classes or workshops you wish to attend, vacations you wish to take, and new skills you would like to learn. One way of planning for your future—and lowering your stress level in the process—is to make a vision board. Creating a visual chart of what you plan to accomplish in survivorhood can help you stay motivated to complete your treatment.

Along with your bucket list, some people make a second (get rid of) list. Not only does living with cancer prompt many people to pursue their bucket list, but it can prompt some to think of things they want to eliminate from their life. Are there activities you don't really enjoy? Do you have any toxic friendships? Getting rid of the unnecessary or negative parts of your life will give you more time to reach out for the things you do want.


Pray, Meditate, or Visualize

Close up of serene woman with eyes closed
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If you are feeling anxious during your infusion, you might want to take a mental and spiritual break by using prayer to center yourself on the task of recovery. If you don't want to focus on yourself, you can this time to intercede for others in your life.

You could also try some mindfulness meditation to keep your mind from running off in negative directions, to lower your stress levels, and possibly to boost your immune system. And if you are a very image-oriented person, try healing visualization. Picture the drugs actively seeking out and taking down your cancer, cell by cell—and then your body rebuilding itself into better health.


Play a Game

man and woman playing cards
 Science Photo Library/Getty Images

Bring along some games or puzzles to occupy yourself during an infusion. If you have an electronic device, you can load your own games on it. If you're not a geek but prefer more intellectual entertainment, get a book of word puzzles or number games like Sudoku.

If you have enough table space, spread out a jigsaw puzzle and work it over. Even your nurses or your chemo buddy may help you out! When your session is over, tuck your games away in your chemo bag and roll on home.


Surf and Network on the Internet

woman using smartphone
 Manop Phimsit/Getty Images

Get out of the chemo room without walking away—use your computer, e-reader, smartphone or iPad to link to the network and connect with friends. Update your blog or Caring Bridge site, email your supporters, search out your genealogy or get on a chat site and connect with other people! Organize your photo files or clean up your email inbox. If you get really absorbed in your tasks, the time may pass very quickly.

Use social media to get virtual support from other survivors.


Take a Nap

woman sleeping in chair
Asiaselects/Getty Images 

Some of the anti-nausea medications that are given before chemo can make you drowsy, so plan on napping. Bring along a small pillow, blanket, and eye mask (if light bothers you.) Your feet may get cold while reclining for so long, so if you sleep better without shoes, be sure to bring along some fuzzy, furry socks with non-slip soles. You can even bring your favorite teddy bear and tuck it under the blanket with you.

No matter how you plan to spend your time at the chemo clinic, remember that good preparation is the key to comfort. Your infusion nurses will do what they can to keep you settled and comfortable, but they won't have time to entertain you. Plan on how to pass your time in the chemo room, and enjoy it if you can.


How to Pack Your Bag to Prevent Boredom

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It's hard to know exactly what you'll have the mind to do before you get to your infusion. Many people go to their infusions with thoughts that they will do one thing, and wish they had brought different supplies along with them.

Before leaving home, gather and check off items on your chemotherapy bag packing list so that you are prepared no matter how your mood strikes you.

A Word From Verywell

We shared a number of ideas for passing the time during your infusions, but not all of them will be a fit for you. It's important to do what makes you happy, not what you feel you should do or what will make someone else happy. Your infusion times can thus be a way to practice the self care that is so essential for living well with cancer.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Mugerwa S, Holden JD. Writing therapy: a new tool for general practice?. Br J Gen Pract. 2012;62(605):661-3.  doi:10.3399/bjgp12X659457

  2. Peng X, Su Y, Huang W, Hu X. Status and factors related to posttraumatic growth in patients with lung cancer: A STROBE-compliant article. Medicine (Baltimore). 2019;98(7):e14314. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000014314

  3. Pauwels EK, Volterrani D, Mariani G, Kostkiewics M. Mozart, music and medicine. Med Princ Pract. 2014;23(5):403-12.  doi:10.1159/000364873

  4. Ondansetron. US National Library of Medicine. November 2019.

Additional Reading
  • American Society of Clinical Oncology. Cancer.Net. What to Expect When Having Chemotherapy. 
  • MD Anderson Cancer Center. Advice from Other Patients on Preparing for Chemotherapy. 

By Lynne Eldridge, MD
 Lynne Eldrige, MD, is a lung cancer physician, patient advocate, and award-winning author of "Avoiding Cancer One Day at a Time."