9 Things to Pack in Your Chemo Bag

Be Comfortable, Entertained, and Occupied

female receiving chemotherapy and smiling because she packed her chemo tote bag
Caiaimage/Sam Edwards/OJO+/Getty Images

Packing your tote bag for your chemotherapy infusions shouldn't take long, but it's very worth putting some thought and effort into the items you include. The fact is that chemotherapy takes time, and without a little planning ahead you may find yourself either bored, or focusing a bit too much on the toxic drugs entering your bloodstream. You will likely get to know your chemotherapy nurses quite well, but said nurses also have other patients to tend to and don't usually have time to entertain you during infusions. Taking the time to pack your chemo tote bag full of things to keep yourself both busy and comfortable is sure to make your infusions more pleasant.

What to Pack in Your Chemo Bag

Your chemo center may have comfortable recliners, tables for medicines and magazines, small TVs, and a mini-refrigerator full of drinks. Sometimes patients may bring plates full of snacks to share, and the nurses may have crackers and cookies on hand. 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.

There are also some essentials to bring for chemotherapy that shouldn't be forgotten, such as your insurance card, recent lab results and medical records, your phone and address book, a bucket or bag for the ride home (just in case you develop chemotherapy-induced nausea), and most importantly, a friend. Just in case you're thinking of doing chemotherapy alone, the importance of bringing a friend can't be overstated. The reason, however, is not that you'll need assistance. The real reason is that many women look back on their chemotherapy infusions fondly; remembering them as times where they could spend (mostly) quality time interacting and catching up with friends.

Yet there are many nonessential but often priceless items to include. We will look at some of the more important things to pack, and the reasons why.

Scream Cream

If you don't have a chemotherapy port or PICC line and will be having an IV inserted for each infusion, the repeated pokes can be uncomfortable. Many people think that the discomfort of having an IV inserted is minor relative to everything else a person goes through during cancer treatment, but there are a few reason to take notice of these more minor discomforts. One is that things add up, and just as the saying goes about breaking the camel's back, the sting of a needle poke may just be the last straw in your daily coping with cancer.

Talk to your oncologist first, but some people apply lidocaine cream or a lidocaine patch (now available over-the-counter as well as by prescription) to the area where the IV will be inserted. The cream or patch must usually be applied 30 minutes to 45 minutes before the needle insertion to result in significant anesthesia so that you don't feel the needle. That said, the patches can often be left in place for up to 8 hours, so if you talk to your doctor ahead of time, you may even be able to apply them before you leave home.

Applying plastic wrap, medical adhesive tape, or an occlusive bandage to prevent the numbing cream from getting on your clothes may be wise. While these products are available at most infusion centers, it may take busy nurses some time to gather them for you in time, and bringing them with you from home can help you make sure all flows as smoothly as possible.

Beverages and Snacks

As noted, most infusion centers carry a variety of beverages and snacks to help you stay well hydrated and nourished during your chemotherapy session. That said, if you have strong preferences it may pay to bring your favorites from home. For those who cringe at the amount of plastic consumption seen in the hospital, bringing your own fluids in a metal water bottle may help you reduce waste, while avoiding the endocrine disrupting chemicals present in many plastic beverage containers.

This may also be a good idea for those who are using a supplement such a glutamine in an attempt to reduce chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy. (Hint: there is a lot of research in progress looking at ways to reduce neuropathy due to chemotherapy. Make sure to talk to your oncologist about any new research before you begin chemotherapy.)

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.

Movies, Novels, and/or Magazines

Watching movies or TV shows while you're getting your infusion can be very distracting and give you a break from focusing on the needles, tubes, and bags of chemo drugs. Download them ahead of time from Netflix, Amazon, or Google. You also want to remember to bring a set (and two if your friend will be watching) of ear plugs or headphones, so that your videos don't disturb others in the infusion room.

If you've been dying to delve into that new novel by your favorite author, now is a great time. Some people purchase two copies of a book, one for themselves and one for their friend who is joining them, and begin reading the books during the infusion. This has the advantage of launching the two of you on what may include several follow-up discussions after your infusion is done. Or you may wish to bring along those magazines you've been collecting for some quick, easy reading.

Even if you bring a friend along to chemo, it's a good idea to bring things you can read alone. Sometimes silence is what people with cancer most desire, and even if you and your friend spend the time reading different novels, the time together can be very special.

Games to Play With Your Friend

If you are bringing a friend with you (which again, we strongly encourage), consider packing a game or two that you can play together. Whether you pack cards, a portable game of scrabble, or something such as Boggle, these games can help the time fly by with a touch of humor as well. Board games and card games can be especially good to pack for longer infusions, such as if you will be receiving Taxol (paclitaxel).

Some people prefer to just talk with their friend during the infusion. One of the "benefits" of chemotherapy infusions is that it can give you and your friend time to talk without the demands of daily life. There is no laundry to fold or dishwashers to empty in the infusion center. Some people like to bring up their own topics, but others enjoy using a book such as "The Complete Book of Questions: 1001 Conversation Starters for Any Occasion" or other similar books to generate ideas. Or, you could always simply google "conversation starter topics" to get ideas. 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 having truly meaningful conversations.

Crafts

If you're a craft person, bringing small projects to your chemo infusions can be a great use of your time. Small knitting projects such as hats and scarves or other needlework projects are easy to pack, unpack, and load up again when the infusion is done. Not only can these projects keep nervous hands busy, but they give you something to show for the time you've spent in the chemotherapy chair.

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. Still others use the time for journaling the cancer journey.

Even if you're 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, research is telling us that silver linings, or the way that cancer changes people in positive ways (something that has been termed posttraumatic growth) are common.

There may even be physical benefits related to journaling, especially journaling that focuses on the positive aspects of the cancer experience. A few studies now suggest that expressive writing can help to counteract chemobrain; the annoying cognitive changes that may occur following chemotherapy.

If you are at a loss for what to write, consider listing three positive things that have happened since, and only because you have cancer. For example, have you met anyone you would not otherwise have met? Think of how you now look at other people. Going through adversity ourselves often makes us sensitive to the adversity (often hidden) in the lives of others.

Lotions and Lip Balm

Hospitals are often very dry and your skin and lips can become dry even without chemotherapy added to the mix. Packing your favorite lotion and lip balm can help keep your skin soft and moisturized. It may be useful to think of other personal care products in this category when packing your bag. With cancer treatment there's much that's out of our control, but these small measures can not only improve your comfort, but give you a greater sense of control of your body at this time.

A Word From Verywell

Taking a little time to thoughtfully pack your chemotherapy tote bag can not only reduce anxiety and boredom, but make the time of your infusions something that you will remember nostalgically. There are few times in our adults lives that allow us to do whatever we wish (aside from having to sit in a chair with an IV in place) without interruptions. Brainstorm ways that you can not only help the time pass, but make the time count in a special way.

Was this page helpful?
Article 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. Rogel Cancer Center Michigan Medicine. How to apply lidocaine cream. Updated September 2014.

  2. Amara S. Oral glutamine for the prevention of chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy. Ann Pharmacother. 2008;42(10):1481-5. doi:10.1345/aph.1L179

  3. Hu LY, Mi WL, Wu GC, Wang YQ, Mao-ying QL. Prevention and Treatment for Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy: Therapies Based on CIPN Mechanisms. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2019;17(2):184-196. doi:10.2174/1570159X15666170915143217

  4. 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

Additional Reading