How to Get Ready for Your First Chemotherapy

Medically reviewed by Clare Sullivan, BSN, MPH, CRRN

If you have your first chemotherapy appointment coming up, you’re likely thinking about a hundred things. If you’re also wondering about the logistics of it all, here are some practical tips for your first chemotherapy session, gathered from patients who have been there.

A breast cancer patient talks about preparing for her first chemotherapy.
A breast cancer patient talks about preparing for her first chemotherapy.

Wear comfy clothes.  Comfortable clothes are key. So, too, is a short sleeve shirt – or one that you easily can roll up your arm – to allow access for the IV.

 Bring things to read. The duration of chemotherapy infusion varies, but even in the shortest ones, you’ll be in a comfy chair, waiting. At Dana-Farber, there are magazines, televisions, and a volunteer who comes by with a book and magazine cart, but it’s good have your own stash of reading materials.

Dana-Farber offers iPads for patients to use. You can sign them out in the Shapiro Center for Patients and Families. If you do bring your own iPad or other tablet – or any electronic device such as a laptop or cell phone – remember the chargers! There are plugs available to keep the power flowing.

WiFi is available. At Dana-Farber, there’s a guest WiFi hotspot that you can log into, to check your email, Facebook, or whatever else you need to check.

Headphones help. Sometimes to listen to music, sometimes to tune out other noises and rest. The infusion rooms also have TVs with individual speakers, so you can relax and watch what you want.

Bring someone. All the infusion areas – both semi-private and private areas – have room for friends and family. It’s a good idea for someone to come along to offer support and a ride home, particularly on that first appointment.

Eating is okay. Check with your care team, but generally speaking if you’re not fasting for CT exams or other specific reasons, and you are feeling well, it’s okay to eat before you come in for that first infusion. Although there are snacks available in the infusion areas, you might want to bring snacks, lunch, or drinks that you like.

Lucky charms. A few patients said they brought either good luck charms, or mementos that friends or family had given them. It made them comfortable, and reminded them that their friends and family were with them in spirit.

16 thoughts on “How to Get Ready for Your First Chemotherapy”

  1. Bring a deck of cards or games. Books or magazines are also a terrific way to pass the time. Friends and/or family for a short period or the whole time is a bonus.

  2. If possible, try to bring an upbeat friend or family member. It’s so much more pleasant to have someone there to laugh with and take your mind off what’s going on.

  3. Now is the time to buy yourself a giant handbag! Lots of compartments (think diaper bag). Something you can keep ready to go to your treatments, have water, snacks, your notebook with all your doctor info and medical history (so you’ll be ready for all those forms)doses of your medications, pockets for phones, gum or candy, ipod’s, magazines etc. Bring a sweatshirt or blanket, you never know when the chills might hit you, and most important…drink LOTS of water the day before your treatment, it can make getting the IV so much easier and I found my nausea was reduced if I was well hydrated (maybe that was all in my head). Prepare to be patient, try to schedule your day so that you don’t have to do anything after your treatment (if possible), it will reduce your stress greatly if you get delayed, and I agree with the comment above…bring someone that is POSITIVE, don’t bring someone that is going to cry during your treatment, no one needs that (especially you!).

  4. When I first produced Block Island Beverages Sparkling Juices (Bibbs), I decided to only make the finest beverages using all natural real ingredients with as little sugar as possible to still taste great. When I received the following email, I was very proud and wanted to share it here:


    I was just in the Whole Foods at Legacy Place in Dedham and they did not have your product. Do any of the other Whole Foods carry it? Derby Street? I have to tell you, i am undergoing chemo therapy and one of the side effects is lousy taste; I have a horrible salty taste and nothing tastes good for fluids. I had bought a 4 pack of the blackberry lime a while ago and decided this weekend to try one and it was so good, I went to get more. Your seltzer is so refreshing! You don’t have any idea what it’s like to enjoy a beverage after weeks of not being able to. I live in the Canton area and would drive anywhere to stock up on some of your seltzer. I have 4 more treatments to go. Please let me know where I can purchase this. Thank for reading this and I look forward to hearing from you.

    Sent from my iPad

  5. I found this website by chance. Thank you all for your input. I will be taking my first chemo on Tuesday, so I have been so fortunate to have received some very wonderful things to bring with me on my first day. I hope all of you are doing well. I look forward to sharing my experiences with someone else as well.

  6. Big water bottles that you can keep refillingCozy socks/slippersHeadphones and something calming to listen toChargersElectric blanket (it feels cold- even in the summer months from the AC)Notebook for all of your questions/answers at doctor appt Gratitude

  7. I cannot believe the timeliness of this message! Today I will be accompanying my very very close lifelong friend for her first chemo treatment. This is all very helpful and naturally we have no idea what to expect since it is the first time. Thank you for the tips, I will maintain the most positive attitude I can to help her! Good luck to all of you out there as well! Warmly, Chris

  8. I found these two lists to be helpful: prepared as much in advance as I could. I stocked my pantry with soft, bland foods and also with ginger tea (wonderful nausea remedy) and prune juice (for constipation). I bought Colace in case the prune juice didn’t work and Immodium-AD in case of diarrhea, since there was no way to tell in advance which I might need. Hydration is key — I drink at least 10 glasses/day and drank 12 glasses the day before my first chemo. My water bottle travels everywhere with me.In my case (since I received Neulasta shots after my Adriamycin/Cytoxan infusions), I was told to take Claritin (10 mg) and Tylenol (2 tabs, 350 or 500 mg, doesn’t matter) on the day of infusion (including first chemo) and for 4-5 days thereafter to combat side effects, but check with your team.While on A/C I also took Emend (anti-nausea). Merck has a patient assistance program to cover the cost for those who qualify. If you are up against prohibitive costs, ask your center’s chemo nurses or financial office for guidance.I found this guide to be very helpful: to starting chemo, I made sure I had disposable gloves (for any clean-up; bodily fluids are toxic for 48 hours after chemo) and face masks in the house, just in case. I haven’t had to use the gloves, but I am now using the masks, mainly to hydrate my nasal passages because I’ve had nosebleeds while under Taxol. I am also courting neutropenia, so I wear a mask when I’m in a place with more risk of infection (e.g., medical facilities).I also stocked up on protein powder, which came in handy after my first chemo when my appetite was low. I am now using the powder again because Taxol has knocked my total protein into the low range.To combat metallic ”chemo mouth,” I mix lemon juice with my water. When I go to chemo I carry a small bottle of the juice for when I refill my water bottle.

  9. Next to my fabulous team I took advantage of the Zakim Center. After chemo or the next day I scheduled acupuncture. And during the next two weeks I would go for massage and reiki. That was the schedule for the duration of chemo. And a good naturopath and good, healthy foods. You couldn’t be in better hands. And a visit to the chapel each time.

  10. Beginning the day before chemo, I have learned not to eat any foods that would contribute to constipation. The anti-nausea meds will cause constipation. One of the pre-med infusions (prior to receiving chemo drugs) that I get is Zofran so even if I don’t take any anti-nausea pills on days following chemo treatments, this can still cause a problem. Better to be proactive! All in all, chemo really isn’t so bad. I live in central Mass. so I go to the Dana-Farber satellite facility in Milford, Mass. It’s an awesome facility—smaller and more “homier” than Boston—and you don’t have to deal with the traffic and commute into Boston. My doctor in Milford corroborates totally with my main oncologist and doctors in Boston so no worries about continuity of treatmemt and care. I wish you all the best! I was diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer in April. I had 8 chemo treatments prior to surgery on Aug. 13. Had one post-surgery chemo on Sept. 11 and I have two more to go! Coming down the home stretch now and the prognosis is good having had an excellent response to chemotherapy. Dana-Farber rocks! You are in good hands!

    • Hello firstly congratulation to you all your an inspiration. So I lost my father to stage 4 bladder cancer April 10 only to relive this horrible experience when my youngest sister was diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer 1 May. I’m her nutrition support. You’re info on pre and pair Chemo eating are extremely helpful as we begin her 2 round of chemo. She’s scheduled fir three before heading to Bringhams for surgery. I would. appreciate receiving any additional tips. She experienced both diarrhea and constipation along with nausea. Our challenge is that she doesn’t want to take a lot of medication so natural is her choice.
      Looking forward to hearing from you. Keep well until!

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