CHEMOTHERAPY ESSENTIALS

 Now that I have gone through chemotherapy and come out the other side, I am ready to share with you the list of things that I felt were essential in my chemo journey.  (I recognize that everyone’s treatment is different, so what you need for chemo might be different than what I needed.)

chemotherapy-drip

I was so nervous about chemo that I found myself drowning my nerves in Google searches about what to pack in a chemo bag.  The lists were all pretty similar, but I found that there were a few things that I needed that I never found on a list. 

My goal with sharing cancer-related articles on this blog is to help fill in the practical blanks that I experienced when I was going through cancer treatment. I hope this list helps to give you an idea of what you need for chemo.

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I’m going to organize this post into three parts: 

  • BEFORE chemo (meaning what you need at home to prepare for any chemo treatment, whether it is the first round or the fifteenth),
  • DURING chemo (what you will need at the time of infusion), and
  • AFTER chemo (what you will need at home following treatment).

BEFORE CHEMO – How do I prepare for chemotherapy at home?

Medication Organization 

I feel pretty safe in saying that, no matter what chemo regimen your oncologist has chosen, it will involve a significant amount of pills.  And you will access those pills regularly. 

I kept my pills in a small basket, so that I could bring them upstairs with me in the morning, to take my pills throughout the day, and then back downstairs in the evening so that I had them handy for any medication needs through the night. 

Believe me, when you’re horribly nauseous in the middle of the night, the last thing you want is to be digging through all of the medication in your family’s medicine cabinet to find the pills you need.  Keeping your chemo-related pills separate and in one place will save your sanity. 

You might also want a way to keep track of when you take your meds, because they will often ask about this at your appointments…”When did you last take a Zofran?” 

If I had to do it all over again, I would probably experiment with one of these pill organizers that allows you to separate the pills by day AND by time of day. 

Chemo Clothes 

Until you get a feel for the temperature of your treatment center, it is best to dress in layers that are easy to shed.  (Cardigans instead of pull-overs.) 

Just make sure that the clothing you choose to wear will keep your port easily accessible.  V-necks and button-ups are your friend! 

You will also want to make sure that you are wearing clothing that will be comfortable for sitting around. (As my pants grew tighter the further I got into treatment, I stopped wearing jeans and started opting for leggings.)

As I mentioned in my post about mastectomy preparation, don’t go overboard buying a bunch of new clothing to access your port and be comfy at chemo. One or two chemo outfits will be plenty, and you can probably find what you need in your closet already.

Mush and Push 

So we’re going to talk poop for a second.  Sorry, but if you’re facing chemo you need to get used to talking about your….business. 

Many chemotherapy drugs can cause diarrhea, but most of the anti-nausea medication that you’ll have pumped into your system at chemo (and the pills that you might take at home) can cause constipation. 

In a perfect world, the two would cancel each other out and you would be left with beautifully regular bowels.  Not so much.  The anti-nausea meds will gain control of your bowels and STOP. YOU. UP.

So what’s the solution?

My recommendation is going into the chemo appointment with at least a half dose of stool softener AND laxative in your system (obviously, you’ll want to run this past your doctor…this is just what worked for me). 

Why both a stool softener and laxative? 

My nurse explained to me that treating constipation effectively requires dealing with both the “mush” (stool softener) and the “push” (laxative). 

But don’t you fret…as soon as you feel like you have your bowels balanced, (PLUS you’re not feeling so nauseous anymore so you cut back on the nausea meds) then the diarrhea will start.  I tell you, it’s a delicate dance but you’ll soon figure out your own rhythm. 

Okay…poop talk done.

Plastic Wrap and Tape 

If you have a port, you will probably be given some cream to help numb your port area in preparation for chemo.  So about one hour before the appointment, you will apply the cream to your port area and then cover it. 

You don’t want to use a regular band-aid, because it will soak up the cream.  I chose to use a little square of Saran wrap and then covered it over with medical tape (or a Band-aid).


DURING CHEMO – What do I need for chemotherapy?

Some Sort of Pastime 

When you enter the doors of a chemo infusion center, you are basically entering a time warp.  Everything moves at a slower pace, and you’ll definitely get used to it. 

I actually found that I enjoyed the few hours that I was able to spend in this quiet, laid-back environment (as long as I didn’t think too much about the poison being injected into my body). 

The most important thing is to take something with you that will help you pass the time.  Whether it’s a book, crochet, your work laptop, or a buddy to chat with, it is important to have something

To put it in perspective, I started a book series shortly before chemo that had THOUSANDS upon THOUSANDS of pages, and finished it before I was even done with all of my rounds of chemo. 

Keep in mind that you might not feel up for a particular activity one day, so have a few choices in your bag.

Snacks/Drinks 

You will definitely want to pack snacks for your very first chemo treatment, until you are familiar with what food is offered at your treatment center. 

The nurses and volunteers at my treatment center frequently brought around a snack tray for us to choose from, so I quickly discovered that I didn’t need to pack as many snacks as I did the first time. 

However, as I become more and more sick as the rounds went on, I had to bring my own food and drink that I knew I could tolerate.

warm quilt at chemo

Blanket 

This is another area that you will want to over-prepare for the first treatment. 

Chemo can be pretty miserable if you are cold, so I would suggest bringing a blanket if you aren’t sure your treatment center will have them. 

I took a small fleece blanket that had been given to me, but found out that the cancer center had handmade quilts that they kept in a blanket warmer (basically a little piece of heaven on earth).  So that was one less item that I had to bring with me.

But definitely have a blanket packed in your bag for your first chemo treatment!

Lotion/Chap Stick 

It is highly likely that your skin is going to do some crazy stuff while you go through chemo treatments, so keeping lotion and chap stick handy is a must.


AFTER CHEMO – What do I need after chemotherapy?

Netflix/Hulu/Prime Video Subscription 

Even if TV is not your thing…you will probably have some sleepless nights and watching TV makes the nights a little less lonely. 

OR…

You might sleep like a baby at night but hate how slowly the day passes when you feel so sick and are looking for a distraction. 

Either way, I highly recommend a streaming service like Netflix instead of regular TV.  Just find a TV series you like and let it fly on auto-play.  No fast forwarding through commercials on the DVR….no channel surfing through late night TV….(You just have to deal with the occasional, slightly-judgmental, question of “Are you still watching?”)

head covering for chemo

Head Coverings 

If you are receiving chemo drugs that cause hair loss, you will want to have head coverings on hand.  Even if you want to rock a bald head (Go for it!  Bald is beautiful!), nights can be a little chilly…especially when your hair first starts falling out. 

I wore a soft beanie (like the one above) to bed every night when I first started going bald.  Here is a link to some beanies on Amazon that look very similar to what I used. It kept my head warm and helped keep my pillow clean (losing your hair is a messy endeavor…even if you buzz your head). 

When I say soft beanie, I mean REALLY soft. 

What feels soft to your hand will not necessarily feel soft on your newly-bare scalp. I found that soft jersey knit was the easiest on my tender skin. Another thing to keep in mind – your hair will get caught in the beanie and make a big mess. 

I had two beanies that I used for the week that I was REALLY losing my hair and then switched them out for clean ones.  Because, even after washing, the little whisker hairs were still stuck in the hats.  Jersey knit might be soft, but it definitely likes to hold onto the little hairs!

One Year of Cancer, One Photo at a Time - Mommy Standard Time

If you are curious about the timeline of my hair loss, check out this post and video that takes you through the first year of my breast cancer journey, one photo at a time.

Snacks 

So many snacks.  Nibbling through my day like a pregnant woman was my best method for dealing with the nausea.  (You can also try the anti-nausea candies and lollipops. I was just sensitive to the ingredients in them.)

I would suggest having a few snacks of each type on hand (salty, sweet, chewy, sour, etc.) because chemo nausea can make your appetite pretty fickle.

Water Alternative

I hate to say it, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, but you might not be able to stomach drinking water while on chemo. 

I had trouble with water and it made me so stinkin’ sad. 

Lemon-infused water (using an entire sliced lemon in one glass) was the closest I could get to water and even then it was only a few ounces at a time.  But when you’re a huge water drinker like me, that’s enough to take the edge off the withdrawal. 

An infusion pitcher or water bottle would be great to keep on hand in case you have similar trouble. 

I also found that lemonade came the closest to quenching my thirst for water.  My mom told me that my uncle craved lemonade during chemo also…so maybe it’s a thing?

Oral Care 

Chemo can really mess up your mouth. 

I was so nervous about mouth sores, but I lucked out.  I didn’t get full-blown sores but my mouth was extremely tender.  Regular toothpaste felt like molten lava in my mouth…it BURNED! 

I found that Biotene (the dry mouth toothpaste) was mild enough for my tender mouth.  Biotene can be spendy, so another option is to use child toothpaste. I used my kids’ “Sparkle Fun” toothpaste at first, but missed the minty taste and switched to Biotene.

As your cancer center has probably told you, gargling with a salt and baking soda rinse can help prevent and soothe mouth sores. So you want to make sure you have that on hand, as well.

hiking during chemo

Connection to the World 

Everyone’s home life is different, but it is really important to have something (or someone) that can get you out of bed and into the world. 

For me, it was my kids (especially young Ladybug) who kept me from crawling into bed and staying there. 

For you, it might be some sort of light-duty volunteer work (being careful of your immune system), date night with your significant other, writing thank-you notes for all of the nice things people are doing for you during this horrible time, daily exercise with a walking buddy, or a weekly lunch date with a colleague. 

Fighting cancer can be very lonely, even when you are surrounded by people, so getting up and out of the house is really important. 

All of you awesome warriors who still get up and go to work while going through chemo are absolutely amazing.


So that’s my list! What you need at home for chemotherapy, what to pack in your chemo bag, and what you need at home to be comfortable after chemo. I hope that you find this list useful!

If any of you have been through chemo (whether receiving treatment yourself or supporting a loved one through it), what else would you add to my list of essentials?  Leave me a comment below.

A survivor's guide to what you need for chemo before, during, and after each treatment.

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28 thoughts on “CHEMOTHERAPY ESSENTIALS”

  1. Hello my name is magguie, my daughter was diagnosed with peritoneal cancer, and I been researching on how and wat to eat during treatment, but it’s been difficult cuz my daughter doesn’t want to eat or drink is hard for her , also she’s been suffering from anxiety attacks and don’t know how to deal wit , is there anything that anybody will recommend , ?

    1. I am so sorry that your daughter has to go through chemo treatment. I would suggest talking with her oncologist for some recommendations about both the diet and anxiety. Some people have luck with essential oils. I know that in my case, it was nice to have MANY different food options around the house because my appetite changed so frequently. What sounded good one minute made me nauseous the next minute. I actually had a really hard time with my favorite foods because I was expecting them to taste the way I liked and the chemo made things taste totally different. My best suggestion would be to talk with her doctor, because they will know more about her specific case. Good luck and best wishes!

  2. I juiced for my mom every single day. I wanted to make sure she was getting good nutrition. she had lung cancer stage 2b and had part of her lung removed then went through 4 months of chemo aka hell! I did a mixture of green apple with celery, carrot, cucumber, lemon and sometimes added orange or grapefruit too. She loved it and looked forward to it everyday. She called it her “sweet nectar”. She was cancer free for 4 years. We’re going in today to meet her surgeon for a tiny dot in her other lung. Stage 1.. The only thing I can say right now is “℉u©₭ Cancer!”

  3. Thank you! I start chemo in a few days and this is the most helpful article I have read. Can’t thank you enough!

  4. Thank you for your article, I came across it while going through chemo, I just completed 16 rounds of chemo, I start radiation next week. Best wishes to you and anyone else that is going through this; its heartbreaking, a battle I wish no one would ever have to go through:(

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment, Liz. I’m so sorry that you have to go through this. Best wishes as you continue to go through treatment! You’ve made it through the worst of it…I found radiation to be much easier than chemo. Hugs!!

  5. Thank you so much for your recommendations. I’m starting chemotherapy in to days. And I really needed this knowledge.

  6. I just completed my chemo infusions, and you are sooooo right! I am an avid water drinker but couldn’t stomach it during treatment. I am slowly getting back to drinking water. I found hot tea was best for me because the type of chemo I was getting made my nerves all tingle when something cold was touching them (mouth, hands, feet, lips, etc.) I am on “surveillance” right now. So far so good, but I am only a couple weeks out so who knows? I do have a friend getting started with her oncologist. She has asked me for advice, and I will be sure to list those things in this article. Very nice! Thank you so much!

    1. Thank you so much for your comment, Terri. Congratulations on finishing your chemo treatment! That’s a great tip about hot tea…thank you for sharing! Hugs to you as your body heals from chemo. It takes time, but you’ll feel a little bit better every day.

  7. Thank You so much for sharing your experience with all of us. My name is Deborah I have been diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer and I have never smoke. I have had 2 bad experiences with the frist 2 chemo trments. And going for my 3rd . This has to be the most scared i have ever been.

    1. I am so sorry, Deborah! The emotional build-up to each chemo treatment is hard even without complications at previous treatments, so I can only imagine what you must be feeling as you approach your third treatment. Take it one day at a time and be sure to tell your doctor about your emotions going into treatment. You are not alone! Hugs and best wishes to you!

  8. Thanks for sharing your list I will start chemo in the next few days. I like to research things to be better informed. I have found your list very helpful. Very real but also positive. Thanks

  9. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge. I have pancreatic cancer. Underwent a major surgery called “The Whipple” in order to access the tumor. I have had one round of chemo so far. I have been incredibly sick already. My Doctor is having me wait a few weeks before resuming,and he is going to adjust the dosage as well. My body is still recovering from surgery which is making things even worse. I too am having trouble getting my water in. Love the infuser idea. My treatment causes the cold sensitivity as well so I’m definitely going to try the hot tea. Thanks again for sharing.

    1. I’m so sorry to hear that you have to go through all of this, Melissa! I hope that you will be able to find what works for you as you deal with the chemo side effects. I am so happy to hear that this post provided some ideas for you. Hugs and best wishes!!

  10. Thank you for these tips. My daughter (34) was recently diagnosed with stage 3 uterine and ovarian cancer and begins her chemo next week. I’m trying to help make her journey as tolerable as possible. She is recovering from a radical hysterectomy and the depression is setting in. I’m interested to know of any teas and essential oils we can try for her.

    1. I am so sorry to hear about your daughter, Renea! Most oncologists are open to discussing holistic treatment options for side effects, so be sure to ask your daughter’s doctor about teas and essential oils for her particular situation and symptoms. Hugs and best wishes to you and your daughter!

  11. Hi My name is Reda. I have a cancerous tumor in my urethra. I will be going through chemo next week. Thank you for posting your experience with chemotherapy and your suggestions.

  12. Hi, Stephanie & everyone else!! So sorry you’ve had to go on this particular journey – but thanks for making the way a little easier for those who follow! My mom is underdoing chemo for ovarian cancer, so I’ve been reading everything that seems useful. Someone had a questions about nutrition/books – and there’s a great write up here:
    https://www.verywellhealth.com/great-cookbooks-for-cancer-patients-514045

    I purchased the 1st & 5th books on the list, and bother are great — the “Cancer Fighting Kitchen” we found really empowering and constructive… it’s nice to feel like you’re doing everything you can in the face of what you can’t control – so that one’s especially helpful that way. Very best wishes for good health/healing to all of you!

  13. Having ice pops in the freezer Was something I did , also when I had the energy made them from jello instant chocolate pudding fo fudge cicles(sp) using molds I had from when my daughter was little.

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