The Essentials List of What to Pack for Chemotherapy

List of What to Bring to Chemotherapy

Tote and list of what to bring to chemo. Photo©Devonyu

What should you bring with you when you go the infusion center for chemotherapy? Checking out this list of ideas will help 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 you have the items you need. Make sure to add items I haven't included, but that you have found helpful. If you think others could benefit from an idea you have, email me on Facebook.

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.

A Journal

Journaling during chemotherapy. Photo©ginew

Many people begin journaling during cancer treatment--even those who never believe they would be a writer. Not only does it 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. 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 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

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.

A Friend

Invite a friend to go with you to chemotherapy. Photo©KatarzynaBialasiewicz

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.

I chose to bring a different friend with me to each of my chemotherapy sessions. It was a way of connecting at a deeper level. There are no distractions (other than the infusion, that is) and the infusion can be 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 pre-cancer days.

If you still hesitate to bother your friends, don't. Two of my friends actually thanked me for allowing them to join me!

A Pillow and Blanket

Bring a soft pillow and throw with to chemo. Photo©KatarzynaBialasiewicz

It seems everyone I talk to says the same thing I did: "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.

Your Insurance Information

Bring your insurance card with to each chemotherapy appointment. Photo©matt_benoit

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, to avoid delays that could 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 they still want to see and copy your card when you present in person.  It's not uncommon for clinics to request your insurance card at each and every visit--I'm not certain why but know it happens.

Before chemotherapy, check to make sure in the infusion center where you will receive chemo is covered under your plan. This article discusses 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. I recently spoke with a lung cancer survivor who had to go to one hospital for surgery, another hospital for chemotherapy, and yet a third hospital 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 you plan or is out-of-network. I can't emphasize enough how important this is. It doesn't always make sense--I recently talked with a breast cancer survivor who could not have reconstruction at the time of her mastectomy because her insurance did not cover a breast surgeon and plastic surgeon at the same hospital--but, for now, it is what it is.

A Few Good Books

Bring a couple of good books with to chemo. Photo©KatarzynaBialasiewicz

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 2 of her favorites from the past few years. If you have a kindle or e-reader all the better, since you can have instant access to books you wish to read.

You won't necessarily read your books or ebooks, but it is 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--he 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.

Your Address Book

Bring your phone and address book with to chemotherapy. Photo©thumb

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 may want. 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 having experienced cancer themselves or in a loved one.

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. If you're like me, addressing the card (and adding 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.

Note Cards and Stamps

Pack some note cards that you can write on during chemotherapy. Photo©Filmwork

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. I especially like 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 needing to thank 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 to that person for their role in your life and your cancer journey.

Your Medical Records

Carry a copy of your medical records and health summary to chemotherapy. Photo©aydinmutlu

While most oncologist 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, check out this article on how to get copies of your medical records.

Comfortable Accessible Clothes

Choose clothing that is accessible and comfortable for chemo. Photo©KatarzymaBialasiewicz

 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.

A Good Pen

Make sure to pack a pen in your chemo bag. Photo©rbouwman

It may seem silly to post a reminder to bring a pen to chemotherapy, but I have had more than one person tell me they 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, as during my chemotherapy, you may be able to loan you pen to another patient who forgot to bring one. I believe having a pen you enjoy writing with is one easy step towards writing more letters and recording your journey.

Laptop, Ipad, ipod, or Portable DVD Player

Surfing the Web during chemotherapy. Photo©KatarzynaBialasiewicz

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


Playing cards during chemo can help pass the time. Photo©KatarzynaBialasiewicz

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. My 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.

Personal Items

Don't forget to bring your personal items to chemo. Photo©vnlit

The personal items you wish to pack in your tote will be different for everybody, but a few things to consider:

  • 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 socks
  • Lotion

Phone Camera

You may want a photo of yourself and you chemo nurse. Photo©monkeybusinessimages

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.


Pack your favorite snacks to bring to chemo. Photo©margouillatphotos

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 sore. The infusion center will usually provide these since they can be hard to transport.

A Bucket or Plastic Bag

Be prepared in the car just in case.... Photo©innovatedcaptures

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.


American Society of Clinical Oncology. What to Expect When Having Chemotherapy.

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. How to Get Ready for Your First Chemotherapy. 04/16/13.

MD Anderson Cancer Center. Advice from other patients on preparing for chemotherapy. 02/04/14.

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