Monday, January 21, 2013

Chemo Care Package Ideas and Chemo Tips

I can’t even begin to tell you how important it is to have a support system while going through chemo. When I look back on the days that I spent in the chemo room while my mom received her treatments, while I received mine, and when we were both getting chemo at the same time, I actually feel happy. We made these times fun for each other because we had long conversations, remained lighthearted, and did things to cheer each other up when the other person was feeling sick. We laughed and enjoyed each other’s company. (The nurses would joke with us and say “it looks like you two are having too much fun for chemo!”)

If one of your friends or family members is going through chemotherapy, how wonderful would it be if you could lift their spirits and make them feel special by putting together a Chemo Care Package

Sometimes thoughtful little gifts make all the difference in the world when trying to get through a bad chemo day. Here are some ideas of things that would most likely be appreciated by chemo patients:   

   Lemon Drops

Chemo can leave a bad taste in your mouth. Literally. You actually experience a weird, metallic taste in your mouth and lemon drops (or any other tart candy) seem to miraculously take it away.

Antibacterial Hand Sanitizer

When your white blood cell counts are low and your immune system is weak, avoiding germs becomes one of your top priorities. Since you are probably either completely exhausted from chemo or still hooked up to your IV line, taking a million trips to the sink to wash your hands is probably the last thing that you feel like doing. Antibacterial hand sanitizer is the next best alternative.

Hand Lotion

During chemo, your hands often become dry and chapped. Make sure to choose a hand lotion that doesn't have a overpowering smell, because those can be especially harsh for chemo patients who are already feeling nauseous.

Fuzzy Socks

Your poor feet may experience numbness, neuropathy (a sensation of needles poking, numbness, and burning), sensitivity to coldness, and become very chapped. And… who doesn’t love fuzzy socks?

Head Scarf or Hats

Depending on the type of chemo that you have, you may or may not experience partial or complete hair loss. Either way, a hat could be used to keep warm in the freezing cold doctors' offices and hospitals.


Chemo can do strange things to a person’s appetite, but every once in a while, in a moment when the nausea has passed, you just might be in the mood for something sweet.

(If the person going through chemo doesn’t like chocolate, then pick out a treat that you know that they will like.)

One of my favorite surprises was when my some of my best friends came to visit me in the hospital and brought chocolate covered strawberries!

Other Ideas: a soft blanket, a journal, a magazine, a book, a travel pillow, a smartphone (I spent countless of hours on Pinterest during chemo!) a water bottle (although chemo can sometimes make water taste yucky), a big tote bag 

Chemo care packages ready to be taken to my oncologist's
office for patients who are currently undergoing chemo.
I am also donating a bunch of hats and head scarves.

Chemo Tips

Everyone’s experience with chemo is different. A lot of it depends on your chemo cocktail, dosage, the number of rounds that you need, and your body’s natural physical strength or sensitivity to the drugs. You will probably receive pamphlets and descriptions about what to expect from your doctor, but there is no one-size-fit all set of tips that applies to everyone. Instead of attempting to write one, I would like to share some of the tips that helped me personally; just the kinds of things that I learned from my experience.

1.  Keep a list of all of your medications.

More than likely, you will be taking a bunch of different meds and you will be asked to fill out a lengthy health questionnaire multiple times a day. It helped me to write it all out ahead of time: the name of the med, the dosage, and the time of the day that I took it. I kept it in my wallet. I then simply gave the card to my nurses and they made a xerox copy of it onto all of the forms. It was just one less thing to worry about and it saved the time and hassle of hand writing it all out a million times.

2. Chart your side effects.

For me, the chemo side effects were progressive and got worse after each round. However, there was a definite pattern to the timing and the types of side effects that I experienced after each round. By writing down a list of side effects (including the intensity) for each of the 14 days following each chemo treatment, I knew what to expect in the upcoming rounds and which medicines to take on which days, in preparation of lessening the worst symptoms.

In my experience, the nausea medicine Kytril worked the best, Emend was fine, and I absolutely hated Phenergan, Reglan, and Zofron. I learned that I usually needed Neupogen or Neulasta shots to help to boost my blood cell counts during the week following chemo. I always received the steroid Decadron to take the day before chemo, and it gave me so much energy that the day before chemo always became my happiest day of the whole month (weirdly enough).

The delayed side effects were much more painful and difficult than the actual receiving of the chemo. I could socialize on the day of chemo, but a week or two later, after I was sent home, I was stuck spending time laying on the bathroom floor. (Imagine the worst hangover that you ever had and multiply it by 1,000). 

Also, my brain became very fuzzy and I had severe short term memory loss for about 6 days following each chemo. There were days when my legs were so weak that I couldn’t stand up, but as the side effects wore off, they eventually regained strength. I had to plan ahead for the days that I could only eat soup or liquid because, right on schedule, those were the days that my mouth sores would hurt too badly to eat.

Thankfully, all of the side effects eventually disappeared once chemo had stopped, with the exception of neuropathy and fatigue. So, although these were not the most intense side effects during that time (6 rounds of chemo), I would consider them the worst because they last for months and even years.

3.  Bring someone with you.

If at all possible, bring someone with you to your chemo treatments and doctor appointments; it makes a huge difference to have them there supporting you. My husband and my mom were right by my side for every single one and I definitely relied on them for the emotional strength to make it through. 

Even if you are not able to bring a friend or family member with you, know that chemo nurses are some of the sweetest and most pleasant people in the world and many of the other patients are friendly too. It really does help to talk to other people and to try to make the experience as positive as possible. (I was never the kind of person that enjoyed talking to strangers before, but even I found this to be true).

4.  Wear the right clothes.

Wear comfortable, layered clothing that can easily be rolled up for injections and IV medicines. Even on days that I wasn’t expecting it, the nurses would often decide to give me fluids, saline or heparin, so it helped to be prepared with loose sleeves. It is always a good idea to dress as comfy as possible.

5. Be extremely careful with ports and picc lines

Some people’s bodies, like mine, have a natural resistance to anything foreign put into the body and want to reject it. Many of you already know that my port gave me a staph infection, sepsis, and pulmonary embolisms. My picc line also got infected several times, which required me to be on IV antibiotics even while at home, and my husband had to help me clean out the picc line every night. 

Thank goodness the doctors removed the picc line immediately after my last round of chemo, because I don’t think it would have lasted another day in there without giving me another serious infection. My best advice would be to avoid ports and picc lines. If you need to have them, make sure that anyone who accesses them is very careful to flush them and clean them out an extra number of times!

I am so thankful to be finished with chemo, and I continue to pray for all of those who are still going through it.  It is a rough, unpredictable road, and remember that you are so strong for fighting for your lives!  It is worth it!!


  1. Thank You for your blog! Greatly appreciated!

  2. Thank you so much for sharing the most painful memories with us. I know some of us have no idea what patients go through and this blog was very insightful for me. I was very touched and felt very appreciative of you and your strength to write this out. THANK YOU.

  3. @Norma and @Anonymous- I'm SO glad that you found the information useful. Chemo was one of the worst experiences that I ever had to go through, but I really enjoy sharing my story with others if it will somehow help them!

  4. Thank you for sharing, getting a care package together for a bestie. Hope you're well!

  5. @Anonymous- Thanks! It is sweet of you to put one together for your friend!

  6. Thank you for sharing this. - Shanelle

  7. @Shanelle Alexander- You are most welcome!

  8. I'm going through this now with my mom. She has non hodgkins lymphoma. ... made it through four of seven chemo treatments then got a perforation in her Colon. Major surgery to remove a foot of infected colon. .. She's out of hospital Now but in a skilled nursing facility to build up strength. Fifth chemo starts again end of September. .. only three more to go. Thank you for this very informative information! God bless you!

  9. I would also suggest some other items that were very helpful to me (3+ year Breast Cancer Survivor):

    * A lint roller - to get all of the prickly hairs off after your hair falls out - especially if you shaved it
    * Aquaphor lotion - great for the dry skin
    * Biotene anything - the mouth spray, toothpaste, mouthwash, or gum - I used them all
    * High-Protein snacks - like meat sticks - I especially liked pepperoni sticks as I couldn't taste stuff and the spiciness helped
    * Single-serve (or multi) drink powder - I could not drink plain water as it tasted like pure metals. So I went through a lot of Gatorade. The individual packs are nice to have on hand and the larger containers for at home.
    * Herbal tea - Celestial Seasonings' fruit teas are wonderful as hot or iced tea (and you can cold-brew them)
    * A thin blanket - such as a microfleece one to take to chemo sessions. Bulky ones are hard to carry. One with a carrying strap is really nice

  10. @Anonymous- I am so sorry to hear about your mom. My heart goes out to you. She will be in my thoughts and prayers as she finishes up her final chemo treatments. Hugs

    @Julie Crooks- Great input! Thank you so much for sharing!!

  11. Thank you for this information.. my mom will be starting chemo next week and I am searching for tips/products to help alleviate side affects of chemo for her. THank you for sharing.

  12. @Anonymous- I will keep your mom in my prayers. I hope that you were able to find some of the tips about chemotherapy useful. I'm sure that just knowing that you are there for her will help tremendously.

  13. Thanks for posting. My aunt just started chemo a couple of weeks ago. She is a Type 2 diabetic. could she still have lemon drops n such?

  14. @Anonymous- I will keep your aunt in my prayers. I am not familiar with Type 2 diabetes, so I would definitely check with her doctor first!

  15. My stepmother starts chemo in a couple of weeks, for ovarian cancer. I wanted to come up with a care package that my girls and I could put together for her - that would make us all feel like we were doing something to help get her through her 4 months of treatments. Thank you for some inspiring ideas! I also want to put together a small homemade photo album for her, with pictures of her family... so she will know that we all have her in our thoughts, as she goes through this journey. Again, thank you.

  16. maggie.danhakl@healthline.comAugust 18, 2014 at 6:01 PM

    Hi Dana,

    Healthline just designed a virtual guide of the effects of chemotherapy on the body. You can see the infographic here:

    This is valuable med-reviewed information that can help a person understand the side effects they are experiencing from their chemo treatment. I thought this would be of interest to your audience, and I’m writing to see if you would include this as a resource on your page:

    If you do not believe this would be a good fit for a resource on your site, even sharing this on your social communities would be a great alternative to help get the word out.

    Thanks so much for taking the time to review. Please let me know your thoughts and if I can answer any questions for you.

    All the best,
    Maggie Danhakl • Assistant Marketing Manager
    p: 415-281-3124 f: 415-281-3199

    Healthline • The Power of Intelligent Health
    660 Third Street, San Francisco, CA 94107 | @Healthline | @HealthlineCorp

    About Us:

  17. I am having my 40 player soccer team put together chemo survivor kits to give to our area center. I am so glad I found your site! I wish nothing but continued love and support to you. Both my grandma's passed from breast cancer and it is something I hold lose to my heart. Thanks for all your useful knowledge.

  18. My MOPS group did this for one of our members and I know she appreciated it. It was a switch from our usual effort of bringing meals to sick members - chemo is a totally different and unique situation. We really didn't know how we could help at first. We got the idea to bring a tote bag full of gifts like these from people online who had been through it. Thanks for sharing.

  19. I can't even imagine how hard it must be to go through this. My mums recently been diagnosed with breast cancer stage 2-3. She had her first chemo treatment 2 days ago and is already feeling sick, lethargic, suffering with headaches and has a burning sensation in her chest / throat. Is this likely to get worse as time goes on and do you have any tips / suggestions to help with the sickness? I tried to make her warm lemon and ginger as i read ginger is great for sickness but it made her choke so much she was nearly sick :( x

  20. What an emotional journey I'm sure you both have been thru. To have each others support and love. I was pregnant with Cancerous tumors the size of grapefruits and dealt with such horrible exhausting symptoms and no one would or tried to diagnose me regardless of the many ER visits I made. I gave birth and lost all my precious time with baby as I spent a month in the hospital recovering from a huge surgery. I had chemo, lost all my hair was dealing with post partum baby blues then has 4 more surgeries and went into chemo induced menaupause shortly after dealing with baby blues. What a journey and so much it has taught me I have had to raise my newborn and two other children with little to no help as both my parents and the only two family members I have are both disabled as well with Cancer and blindess. It has been very hard but it has taught me so much and given me a patience love and understanding for those who have been thru the same. I am faced with a challenging situation nor as my husband was just laid off work and I need treatment again. There is little help for Large B cell Lymphoma and I'm hoping that maybe some one in this lively group and my apologies for piggy backing off you post will offer us a loving hand or some resources. I need to pay my petscan copay my 4 doctors visits a surgeon I must see and a GI doctor all within the next 4 weeks before I loose my insurance coverage from my Hus bands employer. Be well stay strong and hope to hear from someone . With all my Love Diana

  21. Thank you for this information my sister in law is due to start chemo the first week in November. I go with her to her doctor appointments and plan on being there for every chemo and anything else she needs. Been looking for ideas on what patients really could use so we don't have to invent the wheel so to speak love the idea of tracking side effect. She is going to have 4-5 months so that will be very helpful. I have Ms and I know when is have to get steroids what to expect and being prepared definitely helps. Bless you and your family

  22. Wow! Thank you all so much for sharing your individual and very personal stories about yourselves and your loved ones. For those of you (and groups of you) who are putting together special packages and gifts for those who are going through chemo, I just know that they will appreciate all of the hard work and thoughtfulness that you are putting into this. They are blessed to have you in their lives. I will continue to pray for smooth treatments and complete healing for each and every one of you and your loved ones. Thank you for reading my tips and ideas. Hugs

  23. Thank u so much 4 writing the "Chemo and Care pkg" part of ur blog! My Nana is in her 70s, and recently got diagnosed w/ IDC breast cancer. She's currently undergoing intense chemo 2 shrink the tumor (along w/ the 2 effected lymph nodes) so they can hopefully just go in and remove them when they get small enough. I've never had anyone this close 2 me get diagnosed w/ cancer, so I had no idea how 2 help her other than the obvious (be w/ her and pray 4 healing). This blog gave me some great ideas to help cheer her up, and show her how very much I care! May the Lord bless u 4 helping others in this way!

  24. Wow, that was very helpful information about what to do to prepare for chemo therapy. I will keep that in mind for the future. I was recently diagnosed in February with stage one breast cancer. I just found out yesterday that I will be a getting radiation therapy and a hormone pill that I will have to take for five years or so..... and other than that I am ready and I will continue to grow from this experience of having cancer. I guess I was one of those people who thought that it would never happen to me, but it did and I will always keep an open mind.

  25. Am just about to start the first of three rounds of chemo - many thanks for the tips.

  26. Thank you for sharing these ideas. My sons god mother is going threw chemo for breast cancer started this week and her husband just passed away having a heart attack 16 days ago So it breaks my heart for her going threw these and i just want to give her all i can so thank you again for these ideas..

  27. I'm so glad that many of you have found these ideas helpful. Praying for you and your loved ones who are going through treatments. Continued blessings. xo


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