For cancer patients, undergoing chemotherapy can be a difficult time—physically and mentally. To show love and support to loved ones going through treatment, creating a chemo care package can do just the trick.
It’s a thoughtful way to show you care while also providing comforting snacks, activities or other necessities needed to help them through their chemo journey.
If you’re looking to build the perfect chemo care package for a friend or loved one going through chemo, here are some great gift ideas you can choose from that are sure to make an impact:
This blog does not substitute as medical advice. You can use this Table of Contents to jump to a section
Include a personal tote bag or backpack in your care package so they have a designated chemo bag to carry all of their essentials to bring to each treatment appointment. Get a tote that’s their favorite color or personalize it with a fun print or their name. Make sure the bag is large enough to carry all of their items such as a blanket, snacks and magazines. Bonus if it’s washable – you don’t want to be transported germs from the hospital to the home.
2. Cozy Blanket
Those going through chemo are more likely to feel cold, even in normal temperatures—a common side effect with chemo patients and especially if they are doing any of the cyrotherapies (keep reading).
To help your loved one stay warm during and after their treatments, pack a heavy and soft blanket that will help keep them warm. Weighted blankets or even heated blankets are great options to help keep the chill away.
3. Gloves and Socks to Freeze
Some chemotherapies, especially the taxanes (see below for a full list) can result in nerve damage (neuropathy) in the hands and feet. There is some evidence that cryotherapy can help reduce this risk.
A 2021 review of 11 studies found that frozen socks, gloves or bags of ice placed on the hands and feet 15 minutes before until 15 minutes after the chemo infusion helped to reduce neuropathy (Bailey, 2021).
To do this, first wet a pair of gloves and socks, wring out the excess water then flatten out, if you can place some newspaper or other stuffing inside and place in the freezer and freeze for 4 hours or overnight. Transport your frozen socks and gloves to the infusion center in your cooler bag with ice packs.
Since they will thaw out while worn, you can bring a towel to wrap them in and a plastic bag to transport the wet items. A less messy alternative would be the cyro gel packs or sealed ice packs.
Ask your oncologist beforehand and if your chemo does not cause neuropathy, then cozy up with some warm socks to keep the feet warm and cozy. Opt for fuzzy, well-insulated socks and slippers that will help keep their feet at a comfortable temperature.
Some cancer patients also suffer from foot pain or lymphedema, so depending on the symptoms compression socks may also be a good option.
4. Cooling Cap, Cyro Gel Packs or Beanie
Like the frozen socks and gloves to prevent neuropathy, chilling the head can help prevent hair loss (alopecia) caused by some chemotherapies (see below for a full list) (de Barros Silva, 2020). Cooling can begin thirty minutes before infusion with a target temperature of 22ºC (72º F) (de Barros Silva, 2020).
If the chemo will not cause hair loss, or your loved one is already bald, then go ahead and cozy up with a headscarf or warm beanie and stay warm. Not only are these great for keeping the head warm, but they’re also provde extra protection from sun exposure. Because treatment often causes the skin to become more sensitive to sun damage, having this extra layer of protection is essential.
5. Small Cooler Plus Thermos
Similar to the cryotherapy for hands, feet and head, holding ice chips in the mouth during chemo can help prevent mouth sores (mucositis) that can develop with some chemotherapies (Worthington, 2011).
You can use a cooler to transport the frozen socks, gloves and hat along with frozen ice packs to keep everything cold. In addition pack a thermos for ice chips While many chemo units have ice chips, some may not, and since ice-making machines need regular cleaning to be safe, you may feel better bringing yours from home.
6. Fragrance-Free Lotion
Cancer treatment also makes your skin more susceptible to dryness and sensitivity, so a gentle moisturizing lotion is another great item to include in your cancer care package. Make sure to pack one that’s non-irritating by looking for an option that’s hypoallergenic and fragrance-free.
Ointments and creams like vaseline or Aquaphor also work great for dry and irritated skin. If lymphedema is present, use an acidic moisturizer.
7. Lip Balm
In addition to lotion, throw a few lip balm options in the bag as well. Lips can also become extremely dry, causing them to become chapped and cracked. Some lip balms can cause irritation so select a few different brands with a focus on hydration so they can find one that works for them.
8. Magazines, Books and Puzzle Books
Whether going to doctor’s appointments or the actual chemotherapy treatments, there can be a lot of time spent sitting and waiting. Waiting for the treatment to be done, waiting for a prescription refill or just waiting to see your doctor—passing the time can often feel impossible. But, a good book to get lost in or a fun magazine or puzzle book can help your loved one pass the time
9. Earbuds or Headphones
If your loved one is not familiar with podcasts then help them set that up on their smartphone. Listening to meditation, visualization, comedy, or storytelling can help set the mood for an enjoyable time while the infusion is taking place.
These options can be discussed with the cancer care team. If your loved one is opting for fasting or fasting mimicking diet, then eating on the day of chemo will be limited.
If not following either of these fasting strategies, then packing some snacks is a good idea. Keep in mind, sometimes, chemo can cause aversions to the food eaten the day of, so choose something they like, but not food they will miss eating again.
Although chemo can sometimes cause nausea, having something in your stomach can sometimes help, especially dry foods like crackers.
Packing some snacks that are high in fluid like a thermos of old-fashioned chicken noodle soup would be a good option for nutrition and hydration in one.
11. Water Bottle
Hydration is key, especially during chemotherapy. Those going through chemo often experience dry mouth as a side effect, which can bring on constant thirst.
Include a reusable water bottle, preferably one that’s properly insulated, so they can stay hydrated at any time when they’re on the go-to treatment or any other doctor appointments.
Herbal teas are just another great option to include in the chemo care package as they can be great to help curb chemo side effects. Peppermint and ginger teas may help to settle nausea and other stomach discomforts. Fennel tea is a good option if they are feeling bloated. In addition, the teas will provide hydration and warmth.
13. Essential Oils
Essential oils are another great option to a chemo care package as they have many benefits. Smelling oils like peppermint may help ease nausea during chemo, while lavender and jasmine may help calm the body and stay relaxed.
Some essential oils can also be used on the skin while others can be taken orally, be sure to research before you buy and if ingesting these should be discussed with the oncologist or oncology pharmacist first.
14. Hand Sanitizer
In 2021, hand sanitizer should be an essential everyone carries around in their bag—especially cancer patients. Since those going through chemo have weaker immune systems, it’s always important for them to stay sanitized and minimize exposure to germs.
15. Face Mask
A face mask is just another essential that we should all be carrying, even post-pandemic. As mentioned, chemotherapy can weaken the immune system, so keeping a mask handy is always necessary.
There are so many different face mask options available to choose from, but make sure it’s comfortable, breathable and doesn’t cause any additional irritation. If your loved one wears glasses aim for a style with a good seal so that glasses don’t steam up.
Journaling is a great way for to improve emotional health. It’s a mindful way to release any negative emotions and help one come to terms with a cancer diagnosis. Consider enclosing thoughtful cards to your friend or loved one on the first page of the journal so they always have some words of encouragement and love to look back on. You can include your contact information if they want to talk.
Supporting a friend or loved one who’s been diagnosed with cancer is needed to help lift their spirits and provide some comfort. Thoughtful gifts, like this chemo care package, are just one of the many ways you can show how much you care.
17. Extra Long Cell Phone Charger or Portable Charger
Having an extra long cell phone charger can be helpful when you aren’t sure of the room set-up and where the electrical outlet will be. To avoid cords altogether a portable battery charger can can take out the guesswork. This way, your loved one can be sure they can stay in touch when needed.
Chemotherapies That Can Cause Nerve Damage in Hands and Feet (Neuropathy)
Approximately 30-40% of people that receive neurotoxic chemotherapy will develop chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (Staff, 2017). The effects are reduced sensations, and pain and can be short or long-term.
If the neuropathy is bad, it can affect the amount of chemotherapy that a person can receive. Individuals taking these chemotherapies should consider using cryotherapy on their hands and feet.
- Brentuximab vedotin
There is a low likelihood of neuropathy with cyclophosphamide or methotrexate. Typically chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy begins within the first two months of treatment, progresses as chemo continues but will usually stabilize after treatment is finished.
In rarer cases, immune check-point inhibitors Ipilimumab, tremelimumab, Pembrolizumab and Nivolumab can cause an immune-system mediated type of neuropathy in about 3% of patients (Staff, 2017).
You and your loved one should discuss the side effects of treatment beforehand and if neuropathy is a potential risk then consider using one of the cooling methods described above to help reduce the severity.
Chemotherapies That Can Cause Hair Loss (Alopecia)
According to Cancer.Net the following chemotherapies are likely to cause hair loss. People taking these chemotherapies can consider if they want to use an ice cap;
- Altretamine (Hexalen)
- Carboplatin (Paraplatin)
- Cyclophosphamide (Neosar)
- Docetaxel (Taxotere)
- Doxorubicin (Adriamycin, Doxil)
- Epirubicin (ellence)
- Fluorouracil (5-FU)
- Gemcitabine (Bemzar)
- Idarubicin (Idamycin)
- Ifosfamide (Ifex)
- Paclitaxel (this has several brand names)
- Vincristine (Marqibo, Vincasar)
- Vinorelbine (Alocreast, Navelbine)
You can discuss this with your oncologist before treatment and decide if a cooling cap is something you will try. Also, keep in mind that a gentle hairbrush and mild shampoo can help prevent hair loss too.
References for 17 Chemo Care Package Ideas
Bailey AG, Brown JN, Hammond JM. Cryotherapy for the prevention of chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy: A systematic review. J Oncol Pharm Pract. 2021 Jan;27(1):156-164. doi: 10.1177/1078155220959431. Epub 2020 Sep 21. PMID: 32955997.
Cancer.Net Hair Loss and Alopecia. Last updated Jan 2020. Accessed Mar 21, 2021.
Silva GB, Ciccolini K, Donati A, Hurk CVD. Scalp cooling to prevent chemotherapy-induced alopecia. An Bras Dermatol. 2020 Sep-Oct;95(5):631-637. doi: 10.1016/j.abd.2020.03.005. Epub 2020 Jun 16. PMID: 32622629; PMCID: PMC7563013.
Staff NP, Grisold A, Grisold W, Windebank AJ. Chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy: A current review. Ann Neurol. 2017 Jun;81(6):772-781. doi: 10.1002/ana.24951. Epub 2017 Jun 5. PMID: 28486769; PMCID: PMC5656281.
Worthington HV, Clarkson JE, Bryan G, et al. Interventions for preventing oral mucositis for patients with cancer receiving treatment. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011;2011(4):CD000978. Published 2011 Apr 13. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD000978.pub5