Key Items to Pack in Your Chemo Bag

A list of things to buy and pack for chemotherapy

If you are scheduled for chemotherapy infusions, consider packing what many call a chemo bag. Most of the time, the treatments take several hours to all day long. Having a tote filled with items that can provide you comfort and entertainment can go a long way in making these sessions easier.

Chemotherapy appointments can be fatiguing, so be sure you can comfortably carry your bag. Occasionally, you may be told that you will need to stay overnight at the hospital or go to the emergency department, so you may want to plan for that when packing too. 

This article offers ideas for different items you may want to pack in your chemo bag for your infusion therapy.

Packing a Go Bag for Chemo - Illustration by Ellen Lindner

Verywell / Ellen Lindner

Essentials to Pack in Your Chemo Bag

Until you have visited your chemo center for the first time, it can be hard to know what to expect. Typically there are comfortable recliner chairs and a small table. The amount of privacy varies depending on the design of the facility.

You may have access to a TV or some light snacks and drinks. It will likely be a comfortable setup, but you still may want to bring things to help you pass the time or make you feel even more comfortable.

You will want to be sure to bring the essentials for chemotherapy including:

  • Insurance card
  • Recent lab results and medical records
  • Cell phone and charger
  • Address book or contact information
  • A bucket or bag for the ride home (just in case you develop chemotherapy-induced nausea)

There are many nonessential items that can make your cancer experience more pleasant or comfortable. Consider which, if any, of these might be helpful for you during your chemotherapy.

Numbing Cream

Some people find the repeated lab draws and IV placements uncomfortable or disturbing. If this is the case for you, talk with your treatment team about using a numbing cream.

Over-the-counter skin-numbing creams, ointments, and patches are available to provide local pain relief for minor procedures. These often contain lidocaine. Some numbing medications are available in combination with other medications.

Numbing medications can be dangerous for some people, so be sure to talk with your provider before using them, and let the treatment staff know you have applied a numbing agent.

Plan to apply the numbing cream or patch about 30 to 45 minutes before the needle is inserted. You may want to cover the cream with plastic wrap, medical tape, or a bandage to prevent staining your clothes.

Healthy Snacks and Drinks

Most infusion centers carry a variety of beverages and snacks to help you stay well hydrated and nourished during your chemotherapy session. You may choose to bring your favorites from home instead. 

The American Cancer Society recommends choosing small snacks and focusing on eating protein when you can. Some ideas for snacks include:

There is some evidence that using ginger for chemotherapy-induced nausea may be beneficial, though store-bought ginger ale often contains little if any real ginger. Bringing your own homemade crystallized ginger, ginger ale, or ginger tea may help reduce nausea in addition to being a pleasant reminder of home.

  • Cereal
  • Cheese
  • Crackers
  • Fruit
  • Muffins
  • Soups
  • Sports drinks
  • Yogurt

It's also a good idea to pack a water bottle so that you will always have a drink readily accessible. It's important to stay hydrated throughout chemo to help prevent or reduce dehydration.

Reading Materials

Reading can be a way to pass the time during your chemo treatment. There is growing evidence that chemotherapy can affect mental function, awareness, and attention. This is often called “chemo brain” or brain fog. 

These brain changes may make it harder to focus on a complicated story. Some people find that less-challenging books like thrillers or romance novels are easier to read. Other times, magazines with shorter articles pass the time without being frustrating to focus on. 

Even if you bring a friend along to chemo, it is a good idea to bring things you can read alone. Sometimes silence is what people with cancer most desire. Having a companion there may be all you need for support.

No matter what entertainment you bring to your chemo treatment, you may still feel bored or restless. You may also have plans to use your time productively and fall asleep instead. Trust that your body will help you determine what you need most on the day of the infusion.

Laptop or Tablet

Watching movies or TV shows while you are getting your infusion can be very distracting and give you a break from focusing on the needles, tubes, and bags of chemo drugs. Depending on the wifi at the facility, you may prefer to download episodes ahead of time. 

Be sure to pack:

  • Tablet
  • Charger
  • Headphones
  • Reading glasses (if needed)

In addition, music can be soothing and you may want to organize a playlist of favorite songs on your devices ahead of time.

A 2020 study reported that women who watched Disney movies during chemo felt less worried and depressed than those who did not watch the movies. While this needs more research, this may be one way to improve your cancer treatment experience.

Games and Crafts

Games and crafts can be a great solution to pass the time during your chemo. They are a great distraction, may help you engage with a companion, and can be helpful in combating chemo brain fog.

Card games, sudoku, crossword puzzles, and even games on your laptop or tablet can help to exercise your brain. Follow your energy to see what might be entertaining and feel free to abandon anything that might be too frustrating. Depending on your other side effects, what is perfect one day might be too much on another day. 

If you are a craft person, bringing small projects to your chemo infusions can be a great use of your time. Small knitting or other needlework projects are easy to pack, unpack, and load up again when the infusion is done.

Some people prefer to just talk with a friend during the infusion. You may be surprised at the depth and intimacy of your conversations. Many survivors find that one of the "benefits" or areas of growth due to cancer lies in the ability to cut through the superficial and have truly meaningful conversations.

Pen and Paper

Bringing a pen and paper can be beneficial in many ways. Some people use the time to write letters to friends and family. Others use the paper to take notes on what they are reading. You may also want to use the time for journaling.

Even if you are not a writer, journaling or "expressive writing" can be used to chronicle your journey, clarify your thoughts, or look for the silver linings along the way. After all, reflecting on the way that cancer changes people in positive ways (something that has been termed post-traumatic growth) can be beneficial.

Skin Care

Hospitals are often very dry. Your skin and lips can become dry just from being in the building. Some chemotherapy medications can make this worse. Packing your favorite lotion and lip balm in your chemo bag can help keep your skin soft and moisturized. It may be useful to think of other personal care products you may want to pack in your bag.

Hand sanitizer can also be helpful as a quick way to keep your hands clean.

With cancer treatment, there is much that is out of our control. Small measures to improve your comfort can give you a greater sense of control of your body at this time.

Warm Clothes and Blankets

Oncology units are often cold. In addition, hair loss, weight loss, and low appetite may add to the feeling of being cold. When preparing for your chemo treatment, dress in layers and plan ahead so that providers can easily access either your port site or PICC line, or place an IV. 

You may also want to bring a small blanket in your chemo bag.

Chemo can increase skin sensitivity, so you may want to choose soft, natural fabrics. Warm items like socks, a hat, gloves, an or an extra sweater will help you stay warm and comfortable.

Neck Pillow

You may also want to bring a neck pillow or other small support that you can place along your neck or prop underneath your legs during the treatments.

Comfort Items

Additionally, you may also want to bring a personal item such as a favorite photo or small keepsake item that gives you comfort and helps you to feel supported.

Summary

Chemotherapy treatments can be disruptive to your normal routines. Some people experience side effects like nausea or hair loss. Packing a small chemo bag with items to keep yourself distracted and comfortable can help to make the experience more tolerable. You may also ask a friend to join you to help pass the time. 

A Word From Verywell

A well-packed chemo bag may help to reduce anxiety and boredom during your infusion. However, do not put pressure on yourself to use this time productively. It is ok to nap, daydream, or even read a frivolous magazine. If friends or family members ask what they can do to help you during treatment, you may want to ask them for some small gifts to restock your chemo bag.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What's the best bag for chemo?

    Choose a chemo bag made of light material, so it's not too heavy. You might also select one that has wheels, this way you can drag it if you're too tired to carry it.

  • What helps patients feel better during chemo?

    This varies depending on the person. Books, warm clothes, music, and staying hydrated are good suggestions.

  • What are good snacks to bring during chemo?

    Pack some protein-rich snacks that are easy to prepare, such as cheese and crackers or soup.

Originally written by
Pam Stephan
Pam Stephan is a breast cancer survivor.
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6 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.
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  2. American Cancer Society. Eating well during treatment.

  3. Arslan M, Ozdemir L. Oral intake of ginger for chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting among women with breast cancer. Clin J Oncol Nurs. 2015;19(5):E92-7. doi:10.1188/15.CJON.E92-E97

  4. Kovalchuk A, Kolb B. Chemo brain: From discerning mechanisms to lifting the brain fog—An aging connectionCell Cycle. 2017;16(14):1345-1349. doi:10.1080/15384101.2017.1334022

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