What's In Your Chemo Tote?


What is in your chemo tote? What should you give somebody who is getting ready to use one? Make a list, and check it twice.

What is in your chemo tote? What should you give somebody who is getting ready to use one? Most importantly, is the tote big or small enough? There is no right answer. When planning a chemo tote, you need whatever you think you need, which may be very little. My mother managed with a minuscule fanny pack.

Let me tell you about my car. When I go hiking with friends, I am the one who is able to share extra jackets if it is colder than anticipated. There is always a spare woolen cap or sun hat. If somebody needs sunglasses, I can share. There is water, and there are snacks, two kinds of insecticide, a first aid kit, a spare journal and more.

If I broke down on an icy road in the middle of winter, temperature dropping, I would be fine for hours-- even overnight if there were no cell service or if a nice person driving a reliable all-wheel drive vehicle did not offer to maneuver me out of a snowdrift. This was a true story. Considering the car, I bet you can envision my chemo tote. Yes, I packed carefully.

Did I pack too much? Well, the only thing that could stop a person from carrying too much, in my opinion, would be fatigue. I carried what I could carry. Fortunately, a volunteer at the cancer center tucked warm blankets around my feet, and there was a magazine rack. Blankets and magazines would have weighed me down.

I did not begin with such grand plans for a chemo tote. Preparing for weekly chemo for six months to be followed by tri-weekly chemo for six more months, however, led me to brainstorm what I would need other than hot tea, rice crackers, novels, iPod, headphones, lip gloss, etc. Hand lotion? Crystalized ginger, to be sure.

I like to nest. I did mention my car. You should see my house, or my office at work or my pocketbook. I also do not mind the occasional cuteness in my life, which is why I bought a fancy floral tote, somewhat out of character, on sale half price when I was planning chemo. It had three external pockets, three internal pockets (one of these zipped), and an expansive (though not cavernous) body to hold many things. Fuzzy socks?

The morning a friend was to pick me up to transport me to the first chemo treatment, my cute tote was propped next to the front door, filled with everything I might need. I should mention here that the cancer center was within ten minutes of my home and a phone call away from friends and family members who would have rushed over to bring me whatever I might have left behind (cell phone charger, chewing gum, a warmer sweater).

Even so, in the last minutes before leaving for the first chemo treatment, I emptied my cute tote and rooted in the closet to find a larger tote, a nondescript, no-name tote, huge enough for everything I would need or not need and then some. (I have used it for trips.) By the time I finished packing stuff I might need, not just stuff I would surely need, it contained everything but blankets, magazines, my 23-pound cat and the kitchen sink.

I carried it all year, this security blanket of a chemo tote, that helped feather my nest during chemo. That is not to say that I utilized all of what it held on any given day, or ever. That was never the point. The point was being prepared and being close to familiar things. Now this chemo tote hangs on a hook in my closet, next to the cute tote, and I hope I never have to employ it again, although I have no qualms about using my mother’s fanny pack on a quick hike that requires nothing more than keys, a cell phone and a sense of adventure.

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