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What to Pack in Your Chemo Bag, Written by Lyla Kiel

 A cancer diagnosis is often accompanied by chemotherapy. Two “C” words that are very loaded. There are different treatment options for specific cancers, but today, we are focusing on C-H-E-M-O-T-H-E-R-A-P-Y! I am not going to sugarcoat this…Chemo is not fun. Is it at times overwhelming? Absolutely. If you choose to fight and your team of doctors put you on a chemotherapy protocol, can do you do it? Absolutely. Is it going to be easy? No, BUT you are a fighter. I have not been on chemotherapy myself, but I accompanied my mom to almost all of her treatment appointments. Therefore, I am going to give you a glimpse into the caregiver’s perspective. 


Port flushes, blood counts, white blood cell injections to take home, overnight chemo bags, hydration bags, nausea pills/patches, and blood transfusions all become a norm. It sounds foreign until it becomes YOUR new norm. It at times consumes you and you find yourself wondering how life was before a cancer diagnosis took over your world. I never knew the numeric range for healthy hemoglobin levels until my mom’s was terrifyingly low. I did not understand how a power port worked until it was nestled in my mom’s chest. You get the gist. There were A LOT of unknowns. Below, you will find a guideline of “inside a chemo bag” (caregiver and patient edition) that worked for my mom and me. I wish she was here to write about the contents of her bag, but I will do my best to tell you her essentials, since on most days, I would pack her bag for her. *Anyone going through chemotherapy will understand…the chemo fatigue is SO real. I encourage you (caregivers and fighters alike) to learn what works for you and your journey!  If you're packing a bag for a child, head on over to this post for recommendations on that.


Below, you will find a guide to both – “The Caregiver Bag” and “The Patient Bag” or as we liked to refer to them, “The Lyla Bag” and the “The Deb Bag”. Feel free to take this and run with it! My mom would have loved it. She was HUGE on not being referred to as a “patient”. She would always say, “I am not my cancer, I am Deborah.” The contents of the bags are similar, but I love lists, so you get both! Warning: My mom was an over-packer and I inherited that skill. 


“Caregiver Bag” or “Insert Name Bag” 

-Tablets, Laptop, Kindle

-All chargers to go to said electronics


-Book (I was a fan of something fun, think summer on the beach type read). You deserve it. 

-Self-help book (if you can’t help yourself). 

-Snacks (I was always aware of smells since my mom was so nauseas). 

-Pen and notebook. 

-A list of questions for your doctor. (We found this to be so helpful since in the moment it can be overwhelming). 


-Hand sanitizer 

-Hand cream 


-An extra sweatshirt/sweater (if you are doing treatment in summer, remember the AC will likely be blasting). 

-Water bottle

-Dryer sheets (sounds bizarre, but sometimes the chemo take home bags have a metal smell and the dryer sheets help!) 

-Essential oils (ginger oil for the car ride home). 

-Extra of anything my mom said she wanted/needed (examples: mints, ginger chews, vomit bags, protein bars, etc.) because just incase! (Remember, I am an over packer thus the logic). 


“Patient Bag” or “Insert Name Bag” 

-Tablets, Laptop, Kindle

-All chargers to go to said electronics


-Book (my mom LOVED rereading books. So, her go to books were a rotation of her three favorites)

-Pen and notebook. 

-A list of questions for your doctor


-Hand sanitizer

-Hand cream


-An extra sweater

-A water bottle

-Snacks (her go-to’s: Apple, ginger chews, crackers, and bagels)

- Mints (sugar free)

-Gum (sugar free)

-Concealer (she loved the feeling of normalcy reapplying makeup brought/ she did not like looking sick)

-Blush (for when her counts were low and she got very pale)

-Lip gloss (If she could choose one makeup item on a desert island it would be lip-gloss, no competition)

-A crystal (for her specifically it was white quartz)

-Vomit bags

-An extra chemo cap

-Any medication that she was on


Final Thoughts

We all knew my mom had cancer. She was sick and there was no escaping it. Just like how people talk about work/life balance, think chemo/life balance. When we would walk through our oncologist’s office doors, we knew what we were there to tackle. When we were finished, we took a deep breath and walked out hand in hand, ready to go home. We tried our hardest to leave the chemo “scaries” at the office, behind those big wooden doors. It did not always work because we are human, but it did help. If you take anything away from this, let it be that you are not overpacking, but rather over prepared! Just kidding… sort of. Let it be that you are so strong and are taking control of what you can (and not in the sense that you have to have it all together, because who does?!). You are strong because you are showing up every day to fight cancer and that is really hard. Everything you are feeling is valid. You CAN do hard things. We’ve got this. 


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