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What To Pack In Your Chemo Tote Bag

Prepare For Comfort, Entertainment, And Occupation

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Updated January 10, 2011

My chemo nurses were great - they were positive, helpful, and sympathetic people. That was a good thing, because when I was on weekly chemo, we saw lots of each other. But they had other patients to tend to, so they didn't have time to entertain me during an infusion. I would always pack a chemo tote bag full of items to keep me busy. This list might give you some ideas for what to pack for a chemo infusion, or you might like to tell me what's in your chemo tote bag!

A Peek Into My Chemo Tote Bag

The chemo parlor where I took my treatments had cushy recliners, tables for medicines and magazines, small TVs with movie players and a mini-refrigerator full of drinks. Sometimes patients would bring plates full of snacks to share, and the nurses always had crackers and cookies on hand. Despite all these wonders and comforts, I would pack things that helped me pass the time or made me more comfortable.

  • Scream Cream - Emla cream to apply at least 45 minutes before an infusion, because this prevented me from wailing when the needle went in.
  • Saran Wrap and Tape - Something to keep the scream cream from getting on my clothing. I kept the plastic wrap in place with medical adhesive tape. You could also use occlusive bandages.
  • Water or Juice - I was determined to stay hydrated, and I needed to take my L-Glutamine powder before the infusion to prevent neuropathy. Flavored water or healthy juices were my favorites.
  • Small Snacks - Chewy, moist cookies were good, but so were those little packages of peanut butter and crackers. Peppermint candies were nice for a dry mouth, and ginger candies were helpful for nausea. A whole-wheat bagel worked well as a substitute for lunch.
  • Movies - Please don't laugh, but I had just discovered Jackie Chan when I was diagnosed, so I went through every subtitled movie as well as his English-language productions. Humor was very distracting, so I didn't have to focus on the needles, tubes, and bags of chemo drugs.
  • Mystery Novels - Hands down, the books of choice for me that year were by Robert B. Parker and featured a private eye named Spenser. Who could resist a hero that had the same work ethics and enjoyment of life as Sam Spade? When I could not find Spenser books, I read Kinky Friedman's crime novels.
  • Handcrafts - Small knitting projects like caps and scarves were easy to tuck in for the ride and kept my hands busy. Afterwards, I actually had something to show for the time I spent in that cushy recliner! I did see other patients doing needlework projects.
  • Notebook and Pen - Sometimes I would bring some reading material from the office with me, and take notes while I was reading. In the relative peace of the infusion room, I could even plan projects or try to solve problems.

If I were going to stay for a long infusion, I might bring additional items, like a light throw or soft blanket, perhaps even a little pillow. On days that I thought nausea might become a problem, I did pack an emesis bowl - commonly referred to as a barf bowl. And if I were going through treatment these days, I'd pack my laptop, tablet computer, music player, and smart phone. But I would never, ever forget my scream cream!

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