The Essentials List of What to Pack for Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy sessions can sometimes be long, and for most people, you will have several infusions. If you haven't had chemotherapy before nor spent time with someone having an infusion, it can be hard to know what to expect. What should you pack in your bag for either your chemotherapy or that of a loved one?

Before going forward it's important to mention that there is a lot of "down time" in a typical chemotherapy infusion. Many of the medications need to be infused slowly over several minutes or hours. And even prior to the infusion, you may spend minutes to hours receiving drugs designed to reduce your risk of nausea or allergic reactions from the chemotherapy drugs given later on.

Going through chemotherapy can be emotionally challenging, to say the least. Yet in some ways, if making an effort to do so, it can be a time to take advantage of "free" moments with loved ones when you simply can't be doing anything else. You are hooked up to an IV in the infusion clinic so you can't load the dishwasher or straighten the garage.

But if you arrive at your infusion center you can not only make the most of this time but can spend it enjoying the presence of your loved one as well. So let's talk about what you should bring with you to make your time as pleasant as possible.​

1

List of What to Bring to Chemotherapy

Tote and list of what to bring to chemo
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The following list of ideas will help you maximize your comfort,  convenience, and entertainment at a totally stressful time.

The first item to bring is this list! Most people have several chemotherapy infusions, and during those days or weeks between chemo sessions, the items in your bag may end up in other places. Before your next session check to see if we have the items you need. and if not, make sure to add them to your list.

Choosing a bag to pack your items in can be fun. Make sure to find a bag that allows you to express yourself. What are your interests? If you are short on cash, the Lydia Project offers free totes for women going through cancer treatment, complete with some extra goodies.

2

A Journal

Journaling during chemotherapy
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Many people begin journaling during cancer treatment, even those who hate writing and never believed they would be a writer. Not only does writing pass the time and take your mind off of what is flowing through the IV tubing, but it records feelings that you can reflect on later on in your journey.

Studies tell us that many people with cancer experience posttraumatic growth, that is, positive changes in their lives when they face cancer. It may be hard to think of the cancer experience being positive – and certainly, nobody would go through cancer to change in positive ways –but journaling can help you see and record the silver linings in cancer treatment.

Other ways in which journaling is useful include:

  • Stress relief
  • To chronicle your journey
  • To clarify your thoughts and feelings
  • To leave a legacy
  • Who knows, you may want to write a book

And one extra benefit is that journaling has been found to help with chemobrain, those annoying cognitive changes that result in losing your car keys more easily than before.

3

A Friend

Invite a friend to go with you to chemotherapy
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This item you can't pack in your tote, but inviting a friend or loved one to join you for your chemotherapy infusion is the most important item on your list. Nobody should face cancer alone.

Some people hesitate to ask friends to join them, not wanting to interrupt their friend's schedule or burden them. Keep in mind that friends often feel helpless not knowing what to do to help you, and most will welcome the opportunity.

Think creatively. Some people have chosen to bring a different friend with them to each of their chemotherapy sessions. This is one way of connecting with several friends at a deeper level. In the infusion center, there are no distractions (other than the infusion, that is) and the infusion can leave a good chunk of time to talk about things that ordinarily you would not have time to talk about. Friendships often deepen in a setting such as this, when you are vulnerable and let down your proverbial walls more than in your precancer days.

If you still hesitate to bother your friends, don't. Your friends may actually thank you for allowing them to join you!

4

A Pillow and Blanket

Bring a soft pillow and throw with to chemo
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It seems everyone we talk to says the same thing: "Cancer broke my thermostat." Dressing in layers can help, but dressing in lightweight and comfortable clothing, and then wrapping up in a soft new blanket brings a touch of home to a place that feels very far from home. Not only does that plush throw provide physical warmth, but it can fill you with a cozy emotional warmth as well.

Have you ever slept on a clinic or hospital pillow? If so, you probably understand why this is added to the list.

5

Your Insurance Information

Bring your insurance card with to each chemotherapy appointment
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It may seem obvious to bring your medical insurance information with you to chemotherapy, but often, this doesn't happen. Since many people receive chemotherapy at the cancer clinic or treatment center where they see their oncologist and other providers, they often assume that their insurance information is "in the system."

That's not always the case, and some infusion centers bill separately from other visits. Make sure you have your insurance card with you, or at least the name of your insurance company and group and identification numbers. This can help to avoid delays that may occur if the infusion center has to track down this information. Many clinics now pre-register patients by phone before their first visit, but often still want to see a copy your card when you present in person. In fact, it's not uncommon for clinics to request your insurance card at each and every visit.

Before chemotherapy, check to make sure in the infusion center where you will receive chemo is covered under your plan. Also, ​learn ​how to avoid errors in your explanation of benefits.

Don't assume that, if clinics are under the same roof, they will all be covered under your plan. Some people go to one hospital for surgery, another for chemotherapy, and yet a third for radiation therapy. Aside from this being an issue with regard to continuity of care, your out-of-pocket costs could escalate rapidly if a provider, clinic, or hospital is not covered under your plan or is out-of-network. We can't emphasize this step enough. It doesn't always make sense. but, for now, it is what it is.

6

A Few Good Books

Bring a couple of good books with to chemo
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Bring a few good books with you for chemotherapy (a few for yourself and a few for your friend). You may want to ask your friend to bring a few as well, perhaps asking her to bring two of her favorites from the past few years. If you have a Kindle or tablet, all the better since you can have instant access to books you wish to read.

You won't necessarily read your books, but it's nice to have them should you want the time to relax. Chemotherapy is a good time to develop friendships, but you will likely feel tired and want a chance to relax. Don't worry about entertaining your friend—she is there to support you in whatever way helps you the most.

As far as suggestions, consider skipping the cancer books and instead bring an inspirational book and a good novel. Many of us long for a chance to read a good book, and this is a good time to start. Novels can take you out of your current situation and allow you to be someone else for a short while, someone who is not going through chemotherapy.

You may wish to avoid books that are good but deal with cancer, such as Randy Pausch's The Last Lecture, Will Schwalbe's The End of Your Life Book Club, or John Green's The Fault in Our Stars.

7

Your Address Book

Bring your phone and address book with to chemotherapy
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It seems we all have important numbers programmed in our phones these days, but bringing your directory helps to make sure you have the numbers you need. Cancer changes our social network, and you may wish to call friends who aren't on speed dial but play a special role in your life. Some of these people may have experienced cancer themselves or in a loved one, and you may feel a special draw to them at this time.

It's good to have addresses (and stamps) in case you choose to write any cards. Sitting still in chemo might be a good time to write out a few of those thank you notes you know you should write.
Being prepared to address the card (and add the stamp) right way raises the likelihood that it will actually be sent.

Another good reason to bring your directory is to write down the names of numbers of other people with cancer or support people that you meet. Unlike a phone, you can write a little description about the person to stimulate your memory when you look back later.

8

Note Cards and Stamps

Pack some note cards that you can write on during chemotherapy
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Now that you have your address book packed, add some note cards and stamps. If you forget to pack these, many hospital gift shops carry them. You may wish to seek out some of the cards sold by cancer advocates to raise money for cancer research.

You won't necessarily wish to write any cards or letters during chemotherapy, but they will be there just the same. Sometimes writing just one thank you note can help lessen the stress of feeling overwhelmed with the need to write thank you notes to all of the people who have been helping you. Keep in mind that you don't need to be prolific or write in beautiful prose. A sentence or two alone will carry the message that you are grateful. Even a few words will tell that person that you are grateful for their role in your life and your cancer journey.

9

Your Medical Records

Carry a copy of your medical records and health summary to chemotherapy
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While most oncologists and cancer clinics keep electronic medical records, it's still a good idea to keep a copy of your medical records for yourself. This is especially important if you will be having medical care for your cancer at different locations, for example, some people see an oncologist at a cancer center in one location and then return home to have chemotherapy at their local clinic or hospital. You do not need to carry a copy of every consult and study you have had done, but it may be helpful to have a summary of your diagnosis and treatment plan, as well as copies of any recent lab or imaging studies.

If you don't have copies of your visits and imaging and lab studies, learn how to get copies of your medical records.

10

Comfortable Accessible Clothes

Choose clothing that is accessible and comfortable for chemo
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As noted earlier, many people with cancer find they are often cold, though hormonal therapies can cause hot flashes at the same time. Dress in layers. Though medications have worked wonders in reducing nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy, having a change of clothes just in case is a good idea.

Think of the IV when you choose your clothing. If you have a chemotherapy port or a pic line, is it easily accessible? If you will have an IV in your arm, think of how that will work with the sleeve on that arm.

11

A Good Pen

Make sure to pack a pen in your chemo bag
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It may seem silly to post a reminder to bring a pen to chemotherapy, but we've know more than one person who couldn't write or take notes about what their oncologist said because they didn't have a pen. (Of course, they could have simply asked, but didn't want to bother the doctor.)

You will want to be able to write down any instructions for after chemotherapy, such as symptoms to watch for, and when to call. You may want to write out cards or letters. You may also want to work on your cancer journal. Or, you may be able to loan you pen to another patient who forgot to bring one! Having a pen you enjoy writing with is one easy step towards writing more letters and recording your journey.

12

Laptop, Ipad, ipod, or Portable DVD Player

Surfing the Web during chemotherapy
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Many of us experience withdrawal symptoms if we are away from our electronic devices too long. These devices allow us to communicate via our social networks, whether that is via Facebook, Instagram, one of the cancer communities, or more.

We need no longer wait until we get home or can get to a library to research medical topics we want to know more about. Keep in mind that while the social support from online cancer communities can be a tremendous comfort (not to speak of what you can learn) there are ways to protect your privacy when you share your personal cancer journey online.

Sometimes the best escape is lying back and watching a silly movie.

And when you are stressed, music can bring you to another state. Remember to bring headphones to respect other patients.

13

Games

Playing cards during chemo can help pass the time
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Bringing a few games can pass the time and generate some laughs during chemo. A deck of cards or your favorite board game. There may even be time for Monopoly. One survivor's favorite was the game Authors, which is essentially Go Fish using authors and great books.

Or if you prefer solitary games, a book of crossword puzzles or Sudoku can be entertaining, and may even be helpful in warding off chemobrain. Your neighborhood bookstore likely has many options, some of which may be just the right fit for your friend.

14

Personal Items

Don't forget to bring your personal items to chemo
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The personal items you wish to pack in your tote will be different for everybody, but a few things to consider include:

  • Your toothbrush (especially if you are using a soft toothbrush due to chemotherapy)
  • A scarf or hat when you have no hair (it gets cold)
  • Lip balm
  • Your medications (make sure to bring along any vitamins, as well as herbal or nutritional supplements you have been using)
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Soft, fluffy socks
  • Lotion
15

Phone Camera

You may want a photo of yourself and your chemo nurse
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Not everyone wants a photo to remember chemotherapy by, but many people enjoy having a picture during chemo with one of the chemotherapy nurses. It may also be a good time to get a good selfie of yourself and the friend who came with you for chemo. If you have children or grandchildren, taking a picture and sharing it with them may remove some of the mystery and fear that chemotherapy can invoke in children. Due to privacy issues, make sure that other patients aren't included in your photos.

Thinking of pictures, some people like to add a photo album to their chemo tote bag. Looking at pictures of children and grandchildren being active may help you feel like life is a bit more normal. Maybe.

16

Snacks

Pack your favorite snacks to bring to chemo
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Most infusion centers provide snacks and beverages, but if there is a snack you particularly like, pack it. Some people bring ginger ale or other forms of ginger since ginger may be of some help with chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. Many people find that sucking on hard candies helps as well.

With some chemotherapy medications, patients are encouraged to suck on ice chips or Popsicles to reduce the risk of mouth sores. The infusion center will usually provide these since they can be hard to transport.

17

A Bucket or Plastic Bag

Be prepared in the car just in case...
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Unlike the horror stories of the past, many people have little or no nausea or vomiting due to present day chemotherapy. That said, it's best to be prepared. Pack a bucket or a plastic bag in your car just in case.

Bottom Line on Packing for Chemotherapy

Whether it's you or your loved one who will be having chemotherapy, going through this list will help ensure that you have the documents you need to help the session go smoothly and that you will be entertained through your session without having to cope with ​boredom.

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