Your chemo bag is essential for chemotherapy

Chemotherapy (chemo) is a cancer treatment that uses extremely strong medicines to attack cancer cells. Chemo treatment has been used for many years and is one of the most common treatments for cancer. In most cases, chemo damages the cancer cell’s ability to grow and spread.

Because the medicines can be so strong, a single chemotherapy session can take anywhere from two to six-plus hours while the medicine slowly enters by an infusion port.

During that time, you are seated in a comfortable chair in an infusion bay. So how do you pass the time besides staring at the ceiling?

Kelly Desmarais, an oncology nurse navigator with OSF HealthCare, recommends packing what is commonly referred to as a “chemo bag.”

How to make a chemo bag

You can have a chemo tote bag, backpack or plastic grocery bag – whatever can fit the things you want to bring.

If you don’t know how big of a bag you will need, it may be helpful to first make a chemo bag checklist to identify your chemo bag must-haves. Once you have gathered all the supplies you’ll need, then you can find a bag that is the correct size.

Things to pack in your chemo bag

Don’t forget your chemo supplies

Download our chemo bag checklist.

  • Books and magazines
  • Cellphone
  • Coloring book and markers, crayons or colored pencils
  • Electronic chargers
  • Hard candy
  • Headphones
  • Favorite blanket or pillow
  • Lap table
  • Lip balm
  • Puzzles
  • Sleep mask
  • Socks or slippers with anti-slip grippers on them
  • Tablet or electronic book
  • Water bottle or mug


“Unless there is an issue, Wi-Fi is available. I do recommend headphones. Our patients like to listen to a variety of things, at a variety of levels,” Kelly said. “It’s important for you to bring your chargers. We do not stock all the different chargers.

“There is a TV in each area. However, there could be times in which the TVs might not work, so we encourage you to bring other activities.”

Snacks for chemo patients

“As long as you don’t have any dietary restrictions, we recommend even packing a lunch if you will be there for a while,” Kelly said. “I would also encourage something such as peppermints or ginger chews that can help with any potential feelings of nausea and can be calming.

“Be sure to check with your nurse about restrictions on hot or cold substances,” she added. “It can cause complications for certain types of treatments.”

Nausea is a common side effect of chemo, so you probably should avoid any acidic foods. Staying hydrated is important, too.


“You may have a visitor with you, however in the times of COVID-19, this policy fluctuates due to different protocols in place, as cancer patients are generally more at risk for infections,” Kelly said. “Check with your care team. They will let you know what the current guidelines are.”

Reading materials

“Bring your favorite novels, magazines, puzzles and crosswords. Bring anything you enjoy doing at home to relax,” Kelly said. “Also, a lap table is great for doing puzzles and coloring.”

Make yourself comfortable

“Dress comfortably. Wear something you can relax and nap in. Wear your favorite slippers but try to have a pair with a good amount of tread on them,” Kelly said. “If you have a favorite pillow or blanket, bring that with you. There will be enough time for you to nap. If you have a sleep mask, bring that with you, too.

“If you have other questions, always ask. The staff is more than happy to help and want to make this a pleasant experience,” Kelly said. “The feeling of being comfortable with those caring for you and in your surroundings is important.

“Our team understands that going through chemotherapy treatment is not what you want to be doing, so we want you to be comfortable and feel as if you are at home.”

Last Updated: February 15, 2023

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About Author: David Pruitt

David Pruitt is a writer for the Marketing & Communications division of OSF HealthCare. He has a bachelor’s of journalism from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and worked as a reporter before joining OSF HealthCare in 2014.

An avid golfer and fisherman, David was born and raised Alton, Illinois, which is where he currently resides with his son, James.

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Categories: Cancer