What to include in a chemo-recovery kit

Is someone you care about going through chemotherapy? Sometimes it's hard to know how to help. Here's one idea: Get together with others in your loved one's family or circle and put together a chemo-recovery kit.

We asked some of our patients which gifts were most helpful and appreciated when they were going through chemotherapy, and they shared plenty of ideas, from practical to personal to pampering. Choose whatever feels right to show your love and support.

On the practical side

Unscented lotions: To soothe the dry skin caused by some chemotherapy drugs, a high-quality, deep-moisturizing lotion can be very helpful. Stay away from anything scented – many scents that might normally be pleasant could be unpleasant when a person doesn't feel well.

Ginger sodas and chews: Ginger is a well-known natural treatment for relieving nausea. Look for ginger chews and ginger beers (they're nonalcoholic) or ales made with real ginger.

Foods that are easy on the stomach: Saltine crackers are easy. All-natural applesauce usually works well. Home-baked muffins were appreciated by many of our patients – keep the ingredients on the healthy side (bananas, ground flaxseeds, whole-grain flours) and avoid strong spices or flavors. A selection of different protein bars to try is another good idea – it's hard to eat enough protein when you're on chemo.

Dried prunes and coconut macaroons: Pharmacies offer shelves full of remedies for the digestive troubles that are common side effects of chemotherapy, but most people going through chemo are taking plenty of pills already. Consider including a couple of natural remedies in your chemo kit. Dried prunes may be gentler and just as effective as stool softeners for relieving constipation. For problems in the other direction, many people swear by coconut macaroons to relieve diarrhea.

A good water bottle: Hydration is extremely important during chemotherapy. Look for a good, BPA-free water bottle that's easy to open (fingertip numbness can be an issue with some types of chemo).

Soft tissues: Little-known fact: When chemo makes you lose the hair on your head, you also lose the hairs in your nose. Consequently, your nose runs – a lot. Include in a supply of super soft tissues in your chemo kit.

A soft toothbrush: Some types of chemotherapy cause mouth sores and sensitivity. A soft-bristled toothbrush is both thoughtful and practical.

On the pampering side

Pajama pants: Think loose, soft and cozy. Bonus points for pockets.

Fuzzy socks: For relaxing on the sofa, nothing's more comforting than a nice, soft, warm pair of socks.

A cozy blanket: OK, maybe a super cozy blanket is even better than socks for sofa time…maybe.

A warm hat and scarf: Not everyone loses hair during chemo, but many do, and it's surprising how much heat can be lost from a newly hairless head and neck. Look for a light but warm – and again, soft is the key – hat and scarf to keep your loved one warm and comfy.

On the personal side

Anything you made yourself: Some of the most appreciated gifts our patients mentioned were gifts that their friends and family members made especially for them: home-canned soups and applesauce; hand-knitted hats and scarves; personally sewn handkerchiefs and head scarves; quilted blankets; a monthly chemo calendar filled with family photos and inspirational quotes; a string bookmark tied with beautiful beads and lucky charms.

Something fun to watch: Energy is in pretty low supply during chemotherapy – especially for the first few days after a treatment. A great TV series on DVD or a few good movies can be pleasant, relaxing distractions.

Something good to read: What's the best book you've read in the last few years? Share it, along with a note about what it meant to you or what you loved about it (but no spoilers) and why you want to share it.

Something relaxing to listen to: Create a mix CD of your favorite music to relax to, and tuck it into the kit.

Personalized gift certificates: Have each person in your group create a gift certificate offering something specific he or she can do: two hours of yard work; transportation to and keeping company through a chemo session; home-delivered smoothies the day after chemo; a day out to shop for the perfect hat.

A great big jar o' love: Just before her first chemo session, one patient was presented with a large vase filled with more than 150 cards, notes, comics, photos, jokes, stories, haikus and inspirational messages gathered from all of her friends and family members – enough to read one or more every day from the beginning to the end of her chemotherapy. Now that's a keeper.

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