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What to Say When Someone’s Family Member Has Cancer

what to say when someone's family member has cancer

You may not know the right thing to say when a friend shares that their family member has been diagnosed with cancer. It is important to choose your words carefully, as what you think may sound encouraging or helpful can end up being stressful or hurtful. How can you respond to the news you were given while supporting your friend? Here is our advice on what to say – and what not to say – when someone’s family member has cancer.

What to say when someone’s family member has cancer

If you are searching for the right words to say, consider these responses:

Express support

If your friend is too physically or emotionally exhausted to talk, keep the conversation to a minimum and simply express support. Something as simple as “I am here for you,” “I care about you,” or “I am thinking about you” can be meaningful and encouraging without putting pressure on your friend to respond.

Offer specific and practical help

Your friend or family member knows their needs best. Phrase your offers of help in a way that they can clearly say yes or no without guilt or pressure. An open-ended offer of help can be burdensome if it requires your friend to search for a task to assign. Ask questions directly, such as:

  • “Can I help you cook next week’s meals?”
  • “Does your family member need help with cleaning the house tomorrow?”
  • “Can I give your family member a ride to their next appointment?”

Make recommendations – if they are wanted

You may have good resources to share, but keep in mind that unsolicited advice is not welcome. Make your statement specific and action-oriented so your loved one knows precisely what is being offered. For example, try saying, “Do you want to borrow a yoga guide that helped my sister as she recovered from surgery?” instead of saying “I heard yoga is good for surgery recovery.”

Talk about something other than cancer

Your friend may want to take their mind off their family member’s diagnosis. Talking about topics that are not related to cancer can be a welcome reprieve. Change the conversation to something they enjoy, whether that is their favorite TV show, the world of sports, or anything else.

What not to say when someone’s family member has cancer

While you may have the right intentions, some common or instinctual responses may harm more than they help. Try to avoid these responses when your friend shares the news that their family member has cancer:

Avoid asking questions about cancer

Cancer touches every part of someone’s life. They do not want to be pestered with more questions about their family member’s diagnosis, treatment, and side effects, many of which are deeply personal. While it may seem natural to ask follow-up questions about their loved one’s health, it is best to avoid inquiring about these private matters.

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Try not to talk about yourself

Your first instinct may be to share your own experience, but this can come across as tone-deaf or possibly rude. Keep the conversation focused on your friend, and try not to talk about your own point of view unless you are asked. 

Avoid making vague offers of help

Your friend has a lot on their mind already. Something as seemingly small as an open-ended offer of help can inadvertently add to their growing list of responsibilities. Instead, make sure your offers of help are specific. 

Skip empty affirmations or toxic positivity

You may be surprised to learn that some affirmative statements can be painful to hear. For example, statements like “he is a fighter” or “he will be OK” may appear encouraging and positive, but it may seem like you are minimizing the person’s difficult experience. Your friend’s family member may not be OK, and dismissing that reality, even accidentally, can be upsetting. 

Avoid comparing experiences

Each person’s cancer diagnosis comes with its own set of treatment and lifestyle protocols. No two cases are the same, and it can seem narrow-minded to assume so. 

Skip religious sentiments

While statements that invoke faith are comforting for some, keep in mind that not everyone is religious. Common phrases like “God won’t give you more than you can handle” can be deeply uncomfortable for those who are not spiritual. Unless you are certain the person you are speaking with will appreciate these statements, stick with statements that do not mention God.

Supporting your friend beyond words

Sharing sentiments of hope, health, and strength is the first step. Through Mend Together, your friend can access free, valuable resources for keeping loved ones updated and organizing gifts. Our Gift & Donation Registry allows patients to accept cash gifts and specify precisely which items will be most helpful for healing. The integrated Community Journal makes it easy to keep everyone updated in a private forum, while our Volunteer Calendar takes the mystery out of practical, everyday support. Learn more here


Stella Morrison is an award-winning journalist who partners with mission-driven companies to share their stories. She is based in New York City

Information provided here is not a substitute for medical advice. Please consult your healthcare team for advice tailored to your personal diagnosis and treatment.

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What to Buy Someone with Cancer by Type

friend with cancer

Different types of cancer present different treatment and healing challenges. Here are our recommendations for what to buy someone with cancer, organized by diagnosis and treatment type.

What to buy someone with cancer

Consider these suggestions as you search for a gift for a friend, family member, or colleague.  

  • Go for practical over “feel good” gifts. Choose a practical gift that the patient can use versus something that will end up as extra clutter.
  • Consider their situation. Someone who had surgery has different needs than someone undergoing chemotherapy. That is why our suggestions in this blog are organized by diagnosis and treatment regimen.
  • Still stuck? Think about what would be useful to you. Could you use help around the house, assistance with meals, or a cheery note? Chances are, if something sounds helpful to you, it could be helpful to your loved one as well.

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Gifts by type of cancer 

Each cancer type presents its own challenges and needs. Consider tailoring your gift to the diagnosis your loved one is facing, Here are our gift suggestions for two of the most common cancer diagnoses:

Breast cancer

  • Lacey mastectomy bra: A lacey mastectomy bra brings femininity to an item that often feels institutional and unfeminine. The lacey mastectomy bra also features pockets to accommodate breast forms.
  • Breast pillows: Specially shaped pillows can be hugged while coughing, sneezing, or switching positions to take pressure off sensitive sites. Body pillows can also help with sleeping.
  • Post-Mastectomy Clothing: comfort is essential after a mastectomy. See our full guide on post-mastectomy clothing here.
  • Haircare products: Some days, your loved one may feel too exhausted to shower. A refreshing dry shampoo can help them feel clean and presentable after surgery, even on their most tiring days.
  • Mastectomy gift box: Mastectomy gift boxes take the guesswork out of figuring out what to buy someone with cancer. Our mastectomy gift box includes a breast pillow and pain cream to manage discomfort, a multifunctional robe that is easy to put on, a shower shirt to protect surgical sites while bathing, and temporary nipple tattoos to help your loved one reimagine what reconstructed nipples could look like.
  • Had I Known: A Memoir of Survival by Joan Lunden: In her memoir, the former Good Morning America host details her breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, as well as how the diagnosis changed her outlook on eating and beauty.

Prostate cancer

  • Comfortable briefs: Absorbent underwear made from ultra-soft bamboo provides protection from intermittent leakage.
  • Stress and breath tracker: Created by Stanford University researchers, this stress and breath tracker helps your loved one find patterns in your breathing that indicate feelings of tension. 
  • Erectile dysfunction products: This gift is great for a couple exploring intimacy after a prostate cancer diagnosis. Items like erection rings are noninvasive and effective. 

Gifts by type of treatment 

Every cancer diagnosis has a different treatment protocol. Surgery, chemo, and radiation are the most common. If you know what your friend might be facing, you can choose a gift that helps manage side effects.  

Surgery

Common challenges after surgery are pain management, wound care, scar treatment, neuropathy (numbness in extremities), and detoxification of residual anesthesia. Here are gifts that can help:

  • Surgery meditation guide: Meditation can help quell anxiety before surgery and help facilitate healing. This meditation series is a favorite of Mend Together’s Founder, Lisa Lefebvre.. The series is recorded by Belleruth Naparstek, a social worker deeply respected by the psychologist community.  
  • Seatbelt pillow: A seatbelt cushion reduces pressure on the surgical site while driving, making car rides more comfortable.
  • Surgery homeopathic gift set: Sleep disruption, soreness, and fatigue are common after surgery. Natural homeopathic formulas can help with pain, sleeplessness, and exhaustion. 

“After I complained about chronic insomnia to a former Head of Chanel Beauty, she introduced me to these sprays. The scientific literature on the effectiveness of homeopathy isn’t strong, so I was skeptical about its efficacy. However, after trying their Sleep and Stress products, I was surprised to find they were helpful.” – Lisa Lefebvre, Mend Together Founder/2x cancer “endure-er”

Radiation

Common side effects from radiation are insomnia, fatigue, and skin irritation. 

  • Burn cream: Radiation can cause painful burns or a skin condition called radiation dermatitis. A natural, chemical-free burn cream can moisturize skin and soothe discomfort.
  • Sleep meditation light: Synchronize your breath with the light this device projects onto the ceiling. This helps you relax and lulls you into a more restful state.
  • Radiation gift box: Our Radiation Gift Box includes personal care items that soothe irritated skin, including repairing body lotion, healing salve, and a burn spray. We also include a meditation guide to assist with relaxation and help manage pain.
  • Chocolate gift set: An alternative to sugary treats, antioxidant-rich dark chocolate is a thoughtful and delicious gift without compromising on healthy eating.

Chemotherapy

Common side effects from chemotherapy are hair loss, nausea, dry mouth and mouth sores, fatigue — and memory or cognitive problems sometimes referred to as “chemo brain.”

  • Anti-nausea products: Nausea and vomiting is one of the most common side effects of chemotherapy. Anti-nausea ginger gum can help naturally quell bouts of nausea.
  • Hair growth products: Hair loss induced by chemotherapy is devastating. Many hair growth products utilize harmful chemicals, though, so look for a hair growth gift set that utilizes natural stimulants that encourage hair growth.
  • Dry mouth melts: Chemotherapy can cause dry mouth. Items like dry mouth discs encourage saliva production naturally. Your loved one can leave the discs in their mouth overnight when dry mouth is often at its worst.
  • Chemo gift box: Prewrapped in a reusable package, a chemo gift box includes hats, hair regrowth products, and herbal digestive candies. Our website offers chemo gift boxes for women and chemo gift boxes for men.
  • Neuropathy cream: Tingling or burning nerves are a common side effect of chemotherapy. A fragrance-free, natural neuropathy cream can help improve blood flow and relieve discomfort.

What to buy someone with cancer who is terminally ill

Some people live with a metastatic cancer diagnosis for a long time; others may face a more foreshortened future. Here are some ideas for patients who have treatable but incurable cancer.  

  • Books and literature. Books like The Art of Dying Well by Katy Butler explore practical actions your loved one can take and is a Founder favorite. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande reframes perspectives on death to focus on a good life.

    “My father and I read this book together when it became clear he was facing declining health. We both found this book to be uplifting and surprisingly filled with helpful, practical tips.” -LL
  • Personal mementos. Your loved one may appreciate a photo album or videos of friends and family members so they can focus on positive memories.
     
  • A digital voice recorder. Your loved one may want to record their thoughts or notes for others when they are feeling up to doing so. An easy-to-use digital voice recorder with a large memory card gives them ample time and space to do so.
  • Time. Watch their favorite movie together, share stories, or simply sit with them and keep them company. Whether they are able to engage or not, having somebody in the room or in the home can be comforting to a patient.  

Finding the right gift on Mend Together

Still stuck on what to buy someone with cancer? You can explore dozens of gifts in our carefully curated shop. All products are recommended by cancer patients or our medical advisory board. The shop is organized by type of cancer, symptoms, treatments, and surgeries, making locating the right items easier. You can start a Gift & Donation Registry for a loved one and populate it with the items they will find most helpful. 


Stella Morrison is an award-winning journalist who partners with mission-driven companies to share their stories. She is based in New York City.

Information provided here is not a substitute for medical advice. Please consult your healthcare team for advice tailored to your personal diagnosis and treatment.

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What is Chemo Brain?

As a mom to two boys and a second-grade teacher, Kris Johnson, was accustomed to asking her kids to recall what they had learned. But when undergoing chemo treatment to treat breast cancer at age 42, Kris noticed that she herself was having difficulty recalling information. “It was like my head was truly in the clouds…I was more than a little forgetful, I had trouble concentrating, I couldn’t remember how to do routine tasks, and sometimes I couldn’t find the right words.” If you or a family member are plagued by similar scenarios, then you may be experiencing what is known as chemo brain. 

What is Chemo Brain?

Chemo brain is also called cancer-related cognitive impairment — or brain fog — and affects around 70% of chemotherapy patients. Though chemo brain is a common phenomenon, it is difficult to pinpoint an answer to the question “why does chemo brain happen?”  

Some studies have suggested that chemo slows the growth of brain cells that handle learning and memory. Researchers are working to further understand the cognitive related changes experienced with chemo brain and have identified the following potential contributors:

  • Inflammatory response in the brain attributed to chemo
  • Drugs given for surgery or to manage side effects of radiation
  • General fatigue and poor sleep quality
  • Inadequate nutrition
  • Depression, anxiety, worry, stress
  • Damage to brain caused by type/location of tumor

What are the Symptoms of Chemo Brain?

Patients who’ve experienced cancer-related cognitive impairment generalize that it feels like a decrease in mental “sharpness”. Commonly reported symptoms include:

  • Forgetting names, dates, common words
  • Difficulties with multitasking 
  • Taking longer to finish routine tasks
  • Reduced attention span 
  • Lack of focus/concentration
  • Inability to learn new skills
  • Misplacing objects/disorganization
  • Short-term memory lapses

Often patients refrain from reporting problems until it affects their everyday life, so it is important to let your cancer care team and your family know if any of the above symptoms occur. For most patients, chemo brain symptoms resolve within 6-12 months after chemotherapy treatment.

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How is Chemo Brain Treated?

There is no evidence-based, standard treatment for brain fog after chemo. Thomas Sult, MD, functional medicine practitioner, educator, founder, and author of Just Be Well explains, “There are many aspects of chemo brain. First is just the fatigue of the diagnosis and the treatment. Next is the effect the chemo has on your brain. Much of that effect is toxins from cancer cells die off, and the effect of the chemo on your mitochondria. A basic detox program and mitochondrial support can help with cognitive impairment after chemo.”

Chemo brain treatment options

Because of variability in and severity of symptoms, treatments are individualized and may combine behavioral, pharmacologic, and rehabilitative approaches. These are some of the more common options: 

  • Physical Exercise: As hard as it may be during treatments, keep moving. Do what your body is capable of, perhaps walking, gardening, or biking may help. 
  • Tracking: Notice which days of the week or times of day you have better cognitive function and schedule activities accordingly. 
  • Cognitive Rehab: Activities that improve brain function like taking notes to stay on track, or learning how to commit details to memory and retrieve them later, are often part of cognitive rehab therapy.
  • Relaxation Techniques: Meditation can help increase focus and awareness. Stress-relief techniques such as mindfulness practice and progressive muscle relaxation may also help chemo brain dissipate. Some find that engaging in spiritual practices can have a positive relaxing effect.

Other factors

Of course, other lifestyle interventions such as getting sufficient sleep and good nutrition are also a critical part of any cognitive treatment plan. Fueling your brain with a diet full of berries, seeds and greens can help minimize damage to brain cells, while restorative sleep improves cognitive function and reduces daytime fatigue. 

“Chemo brain feels like your brain doesn’t compute. I would often stare at a page only to wonder why I was staring at a page. For me, the only thing that really helped is if I stuck to my nutrition regimen of berries, beans, and greens,” explains Mend Together Founder and 2x cancer “edure-er” Lisa Lefebvre.

Questions to ask your doctor

Dr. Sult has treated a wide variety of individuals experiencing chemo fogginess, he advises to:

“Make it clear you are experiencing symptoms. Many factors can be at play such as depression, anxiety, anemia, sleep, and early menopausal symptom contributors. These can be addressed with reasonable medical treatments. Be open with family, friends, and your care team about chemo brain and ask for help, now is the time to build your tribe.” 

These are some questions to ask:

  • What is likely causing my symptoms? And how long do they typically last?
  • What is the best treatment for my chemo brain symptoms?
  • Are there things I can do on my own to manage my chemo brain and improve my memory problems?
  • Are there printed materials or websites that you can recommend? 
  • Should I see a specialist? 

It can be difficult to remember all the information provided during an appointment, so take a friend or family member with you to take notes. You could also record the conversation with your doctor so you can listen to it later.

Seeking Additional Support

For more ways to support yourself, a friend, or family member with cancer who might be experiencing chemo brain, consider creating a Gift & Donation Registry.  Patients can register for over 300 items recommended by doctors, dietitians, and cancer survivors that offer symptom relief. Friends and family can send a gift, offer financial assistance, or send encouraging messages


Marci Clow is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and writer of evidence-based food and nutrition communications.

Information provided here is not a substitute for medical advice. Please consult your healthcare team for advice tailored to your personal diagnosis and treatment.

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Tips for Sleeping with Tissue Expanders and Managing Discomfort

sleeping

Tissue expanders are an important step in breast reconstruction. While you can return to work and resume other everyday activities with tissue expanders, you may find that they cause discomfort, including disruptions to sleep. Here are our tips for sleeping with tissue expanders and managing discomfort in the tissue expansion phase after a mastectomy.

What are tissue expanders?

Tissue expanders are temporary implants placed above or underneath your chest muscle before placing silicone implants or undergoing flap reconstruction. These implants gently stretch the area over a multi-week or multi-month period to make room for an implant. If you are not undergoing an immediate reconstruction at the same time as your mastectomy, you may need tissue expanders to prepare your breast or breasts for implants later.

Tissue expanders come in different textures and shapes, depending on your desired outcome and your doctor’s recommendation. The tissue expander is composed of an empty implant and a small valve. Using the valve, a medical professional will fill your implant or implants with saline on a semi-regular basis, until your skin is stretched enough to accommodate the permanent silicone implant. How long you need tissue expanders depends on the size of the implant, your body, and your doctor’s recommendation. 

What do tissue expanders feel like?

Tissue expansion may feel like muscle cramping or tight muscles. These sensations are normal, especially in the hours after a saline injection. You may also experience breast tenderness or soreness if you have scar tissue. Your breast or breasts may also feel unnaturally stiff, as tissue expanders are not as flexible as implants.

If you are unsure if your discomfort is normal, your concern should be brought to the attention of a medical professional. Call your doctor if you are still experiencing pain more than 24 hours after a saline injection.

Tissue expanders vs. implants

Tissue expanders and implants are not interchangeable. Your tissue expanders will come before implants as a necessary step to prepare your body for implant placement. Before an implant is placed or flap reconstruction occurs, the tissue expanders are removed from your chest.

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Do you need to wear a bra with tissue expanders?

Choosing the right bra to wear with tissue expanders can be difficult, as your breast size is changing and the breast area is tender after surgery. While wearing a bra with tissue expanders is a personal choice, you may be more comfortable wearing one or find that a supportive bra helps relieve discomfort. If you opt to wear a bra while your tissue expanders are in, look for these qualities:

  • Choose comfort. Breathable fabrics and adjustable straps can be easily changed as your needs evolve.
  • Avoid underwire. Wire-free bras are much more forgiving for changing breast sizes. Underwires can also sit uncomfortably against sensitive skin and a tender chest as you heal.
  • Skip cup sizes. Molded cups will feel restrictive as your breast size changes. Forgiving, stretchy fabric accommodates changing breasts.
  • Consider a bra you can wear after tissue expanders. Bras like this lacey post-mastectomy bra are versatile, beautiful, and can be worn long after your reconstruction.

Tips for coping with tissue expander discomfort

Discomfort, soreness, and achiness are all normal while tissue expanders are making room for your implant or flap reconstruction. Understandably, these sensations can be distracting and unpleasant. Try these tips to help mitigate that discomfort:

  • Ice your breast. A cold compress can help reduce swelling. Ask your medical team before applying ice, as the cold may not be good for sensitive skin due to radiation.
  • Meditate. Pain management meditation guides can help you divert attention away from the pain you are experiencing. 
  • Use pillows. Breast pillows support sensitive areas as you cough, change positions, or undergo any other sudden movement. 
  • Try gentle stretches. Slowly and gently stretching your arms can help prevent stiffness and alleviate soreness in the chest area. Ask your medical team for some safe stretches and instructions on how to do them.
  • Distract yourself. Watching your favorite show or listening to good music can help take your mind off tissue expander discomfort. 
  • Speak with your surgeon about removing some saline. Your surgeon may remove some saline if the sensations are too much. However, less saline means the expansion process may be prolonged.
  • Use over-the-counter pain relief when needed. Acetaminophen or NSAIDs may be useful if other techniques do not help.

Tips for sleeping with tissue expanders

Tissue expander discomfort can keep you awake at night and affect your sleeping routine. This is especially impactful if you are a stomach sleeper and find sleeping on your back – the recommended position for the first few weeks of tissue expansion — to be unpleasant. If you are struggling sleeping with tissue expanders, try these tips:

  • Try meditation for sleep. Just like there are meditation guides for pain management, you can try a meditation guide to help you sleep. This guide can help you alleviate worry and promote calm so you can more easily fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • Use a body pillow to support your position. Body pillows can prop you up and hold you in a position that puts less pressure on your chest while sleeping. Look for a body pillow filled with kapok, a vegan fiber that feels just like down feathers. You can also place regular pillows underneath your head and knees.
  • Explore devices that can help you unwind. A sleep meditation light projects a halo of light onto the ceiling without disrupting your partner. Synchronize your breath to the light to help lull you into a more restful state.

Tips from our founder

“Prior to getting expanders put it, I had extensive pain from radiation damage. Bikram yoga was one of the reliable ways I was able to relax my chest wall for pain relief. Maintaining compression with tight-fitting sports bras also helped tremendously. As soon as I was able, I slept on my side with a moon pillow under the breast mounds with additional pillows as arm supports—I still sleep like this! After the drains came out and my incisions were healed enough, I found epsom salt baths in combination with yoga, compression, and pillow supports really helped me managed my discomfort and made sleeping with tissue expanders easier.” – Lisa Lefebvre, Mend Together Founder/2x cancer “endure-er”

As you prepare for breast surgery, tissue expansion, and reconstruction, Mend Together is here to help. Learn more about our free resources for people going through cancer and their loved ones. Our Community JournalVolunteer Calendar, and Gift & Donation Registry make it easy to give and receive support when it’s needed most.


Stella Morrison is an award-winning journalist who partners with mission-driven companies to share their stories. She is based in New York City.

Information provided here is not a substitute for medical advice. Please consult your healthcare team for advice tailored to your personal diagnosis and treatment.

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Tips & Guide on How To Shave Your Head During Chemo

shaving your head

Hair loss is one of the most visible side effects of chemotherapy or radiation therapy treatment. The timing and extent of hair loss can be unpredictable and this uncertainty can be unsettling. As a result, many patients choose to be proactive and shave their heads.  This Mend Together guide explains why some choose to shave their heads, how to shave your head, and ways to make this traumatic experience less stressful.

Should you shave your head before chemo?

You may find it easier to cope with hair loss if you skip over the stage where your hair begins to fall out in clumps.  Having a lack of control over when and where you lose hair adds to the ambiguity surrounding cancer. Shaving your head proactively allows you to take control of this process and can help reduce anxiety.  

Lisa’s experience

Mend Together’s Founder, Lisa Lefebvre, experienced hair loss both ways. She shaved her head during her first treatment and waited to see if she would experience hair loss during her second treatment. She recommends shaving your head proactively. Here’s what she had to say about the experience:

“During my first chemo protocol, it was 100% certain that I would lose my hair. My partner bought a pair of cordless clippers and took us on a weekend trip to the shore. He shaved my hair off on the beach, and the long locks blew away into the ocean. It was a kind and loving gesture that made the event less harrowing. Ironically, when he took me to dinner at a local restaurant, the waiter balked at serving us because we were an interracial couple and I looked like a ‘skinhead.’

“During another chemo protocol, it was less certain — although likely — that I would lose my hair. I took a wait-and-see approach that time — a bad decision. My hair began falling out in the middle of a meeting at Mercedes-Benz; a clump fell out when I brushed my hair out of my face. I tried to rearrange my hair, and another large clump fell out. It was hard for me and it was hard for my colleagues, even though they were incredibly understanding. I personally would always choose to be proactive and shave my head at the place and time of my choosing.”

When to shave (or not)

If you decide to shave your head during chemo, you do not need to do so before treatment begins. You can shave your head after your first chemotherapy treatment, when your scalp begins tingling (a tell-tale sign hair loss is imminent), or when you first begin to notice hair falling out.

If you do not want to shave your head, you may want to cut your long hair short. Short hair falling out may be less jarring to witness and easier to disguise.

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How to shave your head during chemo

Borrow a pair of clippers and use a #2 attachment to get a “buzz cut,” which will leave just enough length to prevent ingrown hair. Patches and uneven regrowth will not be as obvious when your hair is this short as well.  If you don’t want to do this yourself, you can ask your stylist to shave your head.  

If your hair is long, you may want to save it and donate it to an organization that creates wigs for patients, like Hair We Share. You may find it meaningful that your hair will be worn as a wig by someone in need.  You may also want to turn your own hair into a wig.

After you shave your head, you may notice uneven skin tone due to sun exposure or damage.  

“After I lost my hair, my head literally looked like a globe with patches of water and land,” says Lisa. “I had dark brown spots where my scalp had been exposed. I even had a long stripe on the top of my head where I normally parted my hair.  Where it hadn’t been exposed, it was stark white — and I mean really white. I had to use tanning lotion to even things out. It actually worked out pretty well.”

Ideas for shaving your head during chemo

Some find it empowering to take control over some aspects of their bodies after receiving a cancer diagnosis. Turning shaving your head into a meaningful event is one way to do that.  Here are four ideas you can consider:

  • Involve friends and family. Ask friends and family to participate in the head-shaving process by helping you prepare to shave your head. Each person can take a turn cutting off a section of hair. This may be especially meaningful to children, creating a positive memory for them during a difficult occasion.
  • Hold a fundraiser. Use the moment to shine a light on your cancer diagnosis or showcase an organization dedicated to research or assisting others with cancer. Ask for donations as you count down to the day you plan to shave your head.
  • Throw a party. A head-shaving party can turn a comber event into a memorable one. This also gives loved ones who have expressed a desire to shave their heads in solidarity a chance to do so right alongside you. This can be done at home, or you can ask a salon to reserve its space, especially for you and your guests. 

How do you take care of a bald head during chemo?

“I never found a stylish hat I liked when I was bald,” says Lisa. “Instead, I walked around in a ski hat, which wasn’t my first choice, especially when I was at work. I wish I had known about these hats when I was in recovery.”

  • Moisturize your scalp. Cancer treatment can cause dry skin, which can feel uncomfortable, and your scalp is no exception. Apply moisturizer to your head just like you would apply it to your hands or arms. We recommend this ultra-hydrating moisturizer, which helps your skin stay hydrated and uses natural ingredients to introduce more moisture to your skin.

Seeking extra support

As you prepare for changes to your body during cancer treatment, Mend Together is there. Our Gift & Donation Registry allows you to customize the list of items you find most helpful during treatment, including warm beanies to protect your newly-bare scalp and hair regrowth products to try once chemotherapy ends. Our Community Journal lets you update friends and family in one place and is a great way to share your head-shaving experience with inquiring loved ones, while our Volunteer Calendar enables friends and family to step in and offer support when it’s needed most. Visit Mend Together to explore our resources and create an account for free. 


Stella Morrison is an award-winning journalist who partners with mission-driven companies to share their stories. She is based in New York City.

Information provided here is not a substitute for medical advice. Please consult your healthcare team for advice tailored to your personal diagnosis and treatment.

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I Have Cancer, Now What?

cancer diagnosis

Lisa Lefebvre, the founder of Mend Together, first thought “I have cancer, now what?” when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 38. Lisa’s own fifteen-year cancer journey gave her first-hand experience of the overwhelming feeling of a cancer diagnosis.  

According to the National Cancer Institute, nearly 40% of all men and women will receive a cancer diagnosis at some point during their lifetime. Here are some ideas on the first steps to take after receiving the news that you have cancer. 

What should you do after a cancer diagnosis?

Once a  doctor says cancer, most of us hear nothing after that word. “The first time I was diagnosed I had an unexplained overwhelming impulse to go shopping for a frivolous item. I ended up at Barney’s buying some wine glasses. Something I didn’t need or want. I was in a daze and trying to pretend everything was normal,” says Lefebvre. 

Fifty-six-year-old prostate cancer patient Louis Giottonini recalls a numb hazy feeling, followed by the immediate desire to put together an action plan for “how do I get rid of this quickly?” According to Integrative Care Physician Thomas Sult, MD, a methodical approach is needed. His first words of advice are to slow down and remember this is a marathon and not a sprint. “You need to sit with the words and the diagnosis, breathe, and prepare yourself for a potentially long treatment process,” says Dr. Sult. 

I have cancer: questions to ask

The first of the basic steps is to learn as much as you can about your diagnosis and make a list of questions to ask your oncologist. Some questions to consider:

  • Can you explain the characteristics of my diagnosis? Is there a tumor? Where is it? How large is it?  How slowly or quickly is it growing? Has it spread to other areas of the body? What is the data on the survival rates of my type of cancer? Is my cancer curable or just treatable? 
  • What are my treatment options? What is the expected impact of the treatments on my survival rate? Find out the benefits offered by each treatment such as quality of life and impact on survivorship. You can also ask if the goal is to cure my cancer or extend my life. 
  • What side effects can I expect? You can expect side effects with any medication. Ask your doctor what are typical and atypical side effects. 
  • What is the likelihood of recurrence? Most cancers carry some risk of metastasization.  

Tips to Consider After a Cancer Diagnosis 

  • Be Wary of Information Sources Although Dr. Google can help provide information, it is important to be aware of the plethora of misinformation that exists so be cautious about believing everything you read.  Visit unbiased, trustworthy websites such as the American Cancer Society. Cancer is a very individual disease and only your care team can help you know and advise you on your specific circumstances. 
  • Explore all Treatment Options Cancer treatments are continually evolving and the approach to treatments vary considerably. Dr. Sult recommends that you, “Resist the temptation to be fatalistic. Cancer treatment is not your grandparents’ treatment anymore. There are many good options for most cancers.” 
  • Don’t Go At It Alone When Louis’s wife, Mary Ann, was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 68 she was besieged with anxiety and knew it was too much to take in on her own.  “I was having a personal crisis and my ability to retain any meaningful information was practically nil”, she said. Mary Ann recommends bringing along a trusted, reliable partner, family member or friend to appointments to take notes.
  • Always Get a Second Opinion In order to feel confident about your treatment plan, Mend Together’s founder, Lisa strongly suggests getting a second opinion preferably from a teaching/research hospital to be sure you have access to the latest research and treatment protocols. Many institutions offer remote consultations.  

Create an Account

Create a free page on Mend Together to get emotional, physical, and financial support during your cancer journey

Now what? Coping with a cancer diagnosis

Just as each case of cancer is individual, so is the way that a person copes with the diagnosis. A few coping strategies include: 

Take some time

Give yourself time to process the news you just received. You may want to share your diagnosis with just a few people at first until you orient yourself to your new reality. 

Consider your needs

Once you share your news with a broader social circle, including extended family, friends, and colleagues, expect to get many offers of help.

Start a page

You may want to consider starting a profile page on Mend Together to keep everyone updated at the same time on your cancer journey. It can be overwhelming to have to respond to each individual phone call, text and email. Mend Together offers a Community Journal that enables information to be shared in a private setting and gives friends and family a place to share encouraging words of support. 

Stay involved

Remain involved with work and leisure activities as much as you can so you have a life outside of cancer. 

Accept support

Cancer is expensive. The average cancer patient is hit with $16,400 in unexpected out-of-pocket expenses. Friends and family are going to ask how they can help. Mend Together also offers a way for friends and family to help alleviate the financial stress of cancer. 

It is normal to feel shy about accepting or asking for help during this time. Please resist this temptation. In this video Lisa explains that friends and family want to help, and how she learned that by accepting their support she was not only helping herself but for them as well. Lisa also learned that there is a scientific explanation behind hesitancy about asking for help. In this video, she explains why we are more comfortable with giving than receiving help.

Practice self-care

Take care of your mental health as well as your physical health. Keeping up social connections at this time is the number one thing you can do to improve your treatment outcomes. You can shop or even register for healing gifts that can help minimize symptoms or provide cheer on Mend Together.

Thoughts from our founder

Lisa’s own experience with cancer-related surgeries, chemotherapy treatments, radiation protocols, and hormone suppression therapy taught her many things but most notably, “people who’ve been there, can help get you there.” She learned that friends, family, colleagues, etc. want to help you cope but knowing how to help can be challenging. Lisa’s mission was to change that. She has been there, so she started Mend Together as a means for patients and their loved ones to get advice and support on making sense of one’s cancer journey. 

Getting extra cancer support

If you or someone you know is part of the 40% of people who have spoken the words, “I have cancer, now what?” know this: According to the American Cancer Society and other health groups, people who receive a cancer diagnosis are living longer. This fact is attributed to improvements in routine screenings, which often catch cancer before symptoms occur, and advancements in treatment protocols.

Don’t lose hope, choose optimism and support. Learn more about how our free resources like our Community JournalVolunteer Calendar, and Gift & Donation Registry make it easy to give and receive support when it’s needed most.


Marci Clow is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and writer of evidence-based food and nutrition communications.

Information provided here is not a substitute for medical advice. Please consult your healthcare team for advice tailored to your personal diagnosis and treatment.

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Healing Scriptures and Spiritual Books For Cancer Patients

prayer

These healing scriptures for cancer patients from Christian, Jewish, and Muslim texts, as well as books of spiritual messages and guidance, can offer encouragement and strength during difficult times.

The best healing scriptures for cancer

Here are some of our favorite healing scriptures for cancer to inspire strength, comfort, and resilience.

  • “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Psalms 46:1)
  • “Fear not, for I am with you, Be not frightened, for I am your God; I strengthen you and I help you, I uphold you with My victorious right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
  • “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)
  • “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29)
  • “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, ‘Rejoyce.’ Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)
  • “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
  • “And He alone cures me when I am sick.” (Quran 26:80)
  • “And God shall heal the best of the believers.” (Quran 9:14)

Create an Account

Join our Daily Praise Support Community to share your story and connect with others

Faith-based and spiritual books for someone diagnosed with cancer

Here are five Mend Together picks for healing reads to support your spiritual journey and relationship with God.

1. Jesus Calling® by Sarah Young

Jesus Calling® is a daily devotional which provides space to spend a few minutes reflecting on religious thought and perspective each day. Each devotion is followed by journaling space, which can be therapeutic. Jesus Calling®: Young Readers Edition  is also available for children and teens.

“This book was recommended to me by one of my dearest friends, Darcy Piché. Sarah Young has a wonderful way of interpreting scripture that makes you feel like God is talking to you personally.”  – Lisa Lefebvre, Mend Together Founder and 2x cancer “endure-er”

2. Comfortable with Uncertainty by Pema Chodron

Comfortable with Uncertainty draws inspiration from Buddhist tradition and wisdom in this collection of short daily readings for compassion and awareness. Not just for Buddhists, Comfortable with Uncertainty helps us face an uncertain future and explores love, kindness, meditation, letting go, working with fear, and other related topics.

3. The Gift of Change by Marianne Williamson

The Gift of Change is deeply rooted in spiritual connection and an approach that centers God as a way to live life without fear or worry. This book outlines 10 basic changes each person can make as they learn to view the world through a different lens.

4. Why Buddhism Is True by Robert Wright

Why Buddhism Is True, is really a book about meditation and how meditation can help us reorient and center ourselves in uncertain times. is book advocates for meditation as a way to build a spiritual practice and lifestyle. 

5. The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren

The Purpose Driven Life offers guidelines that will focus your energy, simplify your decisions and give your life meaning. 

Seeking support from your community

Mend Together’s resources are available at no cost and make it easy to rally around someone going through cancer all on one, private platform.  Friends and family can step in and coordinate offers of help through our Volunteer Calendar

  • Home or hospital visitations
  • Gifts of time like rides to appointments
  • Meal delivery signup
  • Meals in the hospital that adhere to dietary needs, like kosher or halal
  • Prayer chains or recitation of prayers on someone’s behalf
  • Lending spiritual or religious books
  • Childcare and homework help
  • Sending encouraging or spiritual messages 
  • Sending a healing gift or offering financial assistance


“After each of my diagnoses, cancer caused me to think a lot more about a foreshortened future. I found that to be very disconcerting in the short term, but in the long term, I found it very helpful because it caused me to live my life now instead of constantly planning to do things in the future. Also, I found it helpful to re-evaluate who I was and what I wanted out of life and I turned to many sources of inspiration to help guide me in my thinking. I hope you find some of these resources helpful as well.” – LL

Incorporating spirituality into healing

Prayer, study, and reflection rooted in religious tradition can provide strength and meaning when grappling with illness. Whether reflecting on healing scripture for cancer brings strength or a helpful book provides guidance, seeking out faith or spirituality can be a valuable tool while navigating cancer. You can share these inspirations widely with anyone whose life has been touched by cancer. To find more inspiration and resources click here to learn more about the Mend Together Community for people living with cancer. 


Stella Morrison is an award-winning journalist who partners with mission-driven companies to share their stories. She is based in New York City

Information provided here is not a substitute for medical advice. Please consult your healthcare team for advice tailored to your personal diagnosis and treatment.

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Guide to Wearing Breast Forms After a Mastectomy

mastectomy bra

If you chose not to go through reconstruction after your mastectomy, you may want to consider wearing breast forms to create the appearance of breasts. There are many to choose from and the variety can be overwhelming. This Mend Together guide will explain your options, how to get fitted for a breast form, and tips for wearing breast forms.

Types of breast forms

Breast forms vary in material, style, and purpose. Some of the options you will find include:

  • Silicone. Among the most popular designs, breast forms made from medical-grade silicone mimic the breast’s natural shape and weight. Some are filled with silicone, and some are filled with fiberfill.
  • Foam. More lightweight than silicone, foam breast forms are a good option for casual wear like lounging at home or while exercising.
  • Molded forms. Options like F(oo)Bs by Ana Ono provide shape without adding weight. “F(oo)Bs are a lightweight and affordable alternative to traditional prosthesis… add them to any pocketed bra when you want a little something extra,” says Ana Ono Founder & CEO Dana Donofree.
  • Breast forms for swimming. While other breast forms can get wet, it is not recommended to swim with them. Breast forms for swimming can be submerged without getting waterlogged and are lighter than silicone breast forms.
  • Partial breast forms. These are designed for use after a partial mastectomy, lumpectomy, or other breast surgery that removed some, but not all, breast tissue.
  • Knitted. Made by volunteers, these handmade breast prostheses are for women who have undergone a mastectomy, but not reconstruction. They are soft, comfortable, and beautiful and when placed in a regular bra they take the shape and feel of a real breast. 

How to wear breast forms

There are two main ways to wear breast forms: inserted into your bra or as attachable forms that stick to your chest. 

When wearing breast forms in your bra, you can do so with a mastectomy bra. These garments have special compartments for holding breast forms in place. Most models are designed with comfort in mind, such as front closures and adjustable straps, and many are wire-free to better accommodate breast forms. There are several styles available, including lacey and feminine mastectomy bras, bras designed to help reduce pain, and everyday bras built for comfort and easy wear

Attachable breast forms use an adhesive to hold the form directly against your chest. Typically made of silicone, attachable breast forms can be worn with any bra and in most situations without worrying about them slipping. You may also find them to be more comfortable, as silicone can be heavy and adhering them to your chest can help distribute their weight more evenly.

How to get fitted for breast forms

  • Step 1: Determine your band size. Measure under your bust with a flexible tape measure to determine your band size.
  • Step 2: Determine your cup size. If you underwent a single mastectomy, you may want to choose a matching cup size. You have more flexibility regarding your desired size if you underwent a double mastectomy but consider how the cup size will look in proportion to the rest of your body.
  • Step 3: Select your breast form or forms. As discussed above, you have many options when it comes to material, shape, and purpose. It is totally fine to choose more than one to wear on different occasions.

Create an Account

Create an account on Mend Together to get access to free support tools during Breast Cancer

Tips for feeling confident

  • Play around with placement. This is your body, and what is most comfortable for you is what matters most. Experiment with different positions in your bra or on your chest to see which placement supports the look you want.
  • Take your lifestyle into account. While you can certainly buy multiple breast forms for different occasions, you want to select the options that work best for your everyday life. If you are very active, for example, foam inserts may be a more lightweight alternative to silicone.
  • Get fitted by a professional. Someone with experience working with mastectomy bras and breast inserts can best help you select the right size, shape, and material for your body. Do not hesitate to ask questions about positioning and care, too. 
  • Remember to consider shape. Breast forms are available in several shapes, including triangle, oval, round, and teardrop. Select the style that is closest to the look you want, or if you only had one breast removed, one that is closest to your other breast.

Aftercare

Washing your breast forms every day ensures that they will stay good as new for years to come. Silicone breast forms can be washed by hand with mild soap and water; dry thoroughly before use. Foam breast forms can also be washed by hand with mild soap and water; or in the washing machine on a delicate cycle and in a special bag. Check the cleaning instructions that came with your breast forms for specific care instructions.

Whether you are building a registry for yourself or shopping for a loved one, Mend Together offers many practical gifts for anyone who has undergone breast surgery, including reconstruction after a mastectomy. Our website offers dozens of options, including mastectomy bras that hold breast forms, which have been carefully evaluated for quality. Visit the Mend Together website to browse registries and gifts, or start a registry of your own.


Stella Morrison is an award-winning journalist who partners with mission-driven companies to share their stories. She is based in New York City.

Information provided here is not a substitute for medical advice. Please consult your healthcare team for advice tailored to your personal diagnosis and treatment.

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8 Inspiring Mastectomy Tattoos & Ideas

After breast cancer surgery, you may opt for a mastectomy tattoo to cover up or even showcase your scars. Mastectomy tattoos come in all sorts of styles and sizes, tailored for personal taste and meaning. This Mend Together guide includes information, tips, and inspiration if you are considering a mastectomy tattoo.

What is a mastectomy tattoo?

A mastectomy tattoo is a tattoo applied to your chest after breast cancer surgery. Women who have undergone lumpectomies, a single mastectomy, or a double mastectomy can all get mastectomy tattoos once their surgical sites have fully healed. They come in many designs and can hold deep meaning for the person who gets them. Mastectomy tattoos can be a powerful way to feel in control of your body after cancer treatment.

How long after a mastectomy can you get a tattoo?

Your surgical site or sites need to be fully healed before getting a mastectomy tattoo. How long you need to wait depends on your healing process, your treatment plan, and the advice of your medical team. Many oncologists and plastic surgeons seek to minimize the risk of infection after surgery by limiting additional procedures. Some patients need to wait a few months, while others should hold out for longer than one year. Speak with your doctor to determine the timeline that is best for you.

Does insurance cover mastectomy tattoos?

The answer depends on the type of tattoo you are getting. Mastectomy tattoos are considered a cosmetic procedure by most insurance companies, so it is safe to assume that your tattoo will be an out-of-pocket cost.

However, if you are getting a 3D nipple tattoo, this may be covered by your insurance plan. The Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act of 1998 requires insurers to cover the cost of 3D nipple tattoos for those who underwent breast cancer surgery. This coverage can vary by state and your insurance plan, so speak with your insurance company for specific information.

Create an Account

Create a free page on Mend Together to get emotional, physical, and financial support during breast cancer

8 inspiring mastectomy tattoo designs

These inspiring mastectomy tattoo examples can help you decide which look is best for you.

1. Floral designs

Symbolic of life and rebirth, a beautiful bouquet can hold deep meaning while effectively covering mastectomy scars. This tattoo type looks good on all breast surgery types, including

2. Lingerie design

This cheeky wink to femininity and sexuality can hold power if you are carrying a sense of loss related to your mastectomy. Tattooing a bra can be a way to “reclaim” what is missing.

3. Phoenix & winged design

This deeply symbolic mastectomy tattoo hearkens rebirth and rising from the ashes, a powerful message for someone who has undergone breast cancer treatment or surgery.

4. 3D nipple tattoo

While technically different from mastectomy tattoos, 3D nipple tattoos are a good option if you want the lifelike appearance of a nipple. If you are considering a 3D nipple tattoo, you can try temporary tattoos to test different styles and shades before you make a commitment.

The work of Marnie Rustemeyer, owner of Billow Global, is celebrated for its lifelike results. The Mend Together shop also carries Billow Global breast surgery heart pillows and mastectomy body pillows

“In 2013 I was diagnosed with the BRCA gene mutation and elected to have a double mastectomy to reduce my risk of having breast cancer. Through my own experience, I became passionate about helping patients feel beautiful, confident and complete again after such an emotional and demanding journey and started my company, Medi Ink, LLC. Services that I offer through Medi Ink include 3D areola restorative tattooing, scalp micro-pigmentation scar camouflage and cosmetic tattooing. This work is incredibly important as it restores something that was lost as a result of having breast cancer, instilling hope and confidence in my clients.  I absolutely love seeing them shine again following their procedures!” -Marnie Rustemeyer, Founder/Owner Medi Ink, LLC

5. Decorative areola tattoo

If you want something in between a mastectomy tattoo and a 3D nipple tattoo, get creative with areola reconstruction. You can transform this area of your breast into a flower, heart, star, or another fun shape.

6. Design that incorporates scars

Not all mastectomy tattoos are for hiding scars. You may choose to embrace and celebrate your scars by getting a tattoo that incorporates the scar or scars as part of the design. When it comes to this design, your imagination is the limit: You can get a clever tattoo, an elegant tattoo, or even something humorous.

7. Butterfly design

Butterflies are symbolic of transformation. You may find this fitting metaphor to be a meaningful and moving symbol for life after a mastectomy and cancer treatment.

8. Lace design

Like the lingerie design, the feminine touch of lace may be especially meaningful if you feel like you lost a part of womanhood after your mastectomy. This beautiful example from Sue Cook illustrates what this elaborate design can reclaim. Cook told People.com that she wanted to “almost re-create the feeling I used to get when I wore beautiful lace underwear,” adding that cancer “does not always need to leave the last mark.”

Tips for finding a mastectomy tattoo artist

  • Look for someone with mastectomy tattoo experience. Consider working with an artist who has previously worked with clients who have been through the trauma of cancer. This experience informs their approach and can help you develop your desired result.
  • Collaborate with your tattoo artist. During the tattoo design process, you will work closely with your tattooer to sketch and refine your design. Do not be shy: Sharing your opinion and feedback is the only way to ensure your tattooer knows what you want.
  • Bring ideas. If you are struggling to articulate what you want, you can bring pictures of other tattoos that you like for inspiration to your appointment with the artist. You can use Pinterest to organize some ideas, or check out programs like P.ink that offer resources for those considering a mastectomy tattoo.
  • Reach out to others. Through Mend Together, you can share inspiration and collect ideas from others using our Journal feature. Create a post that collects your favorite examples, and you can ask others for their opinions and ask for recommendations for mastectomy tattoo artists.

Moving forward with Mend Together

As you explore your options after breast cancer surgery, you may find deep meaning in the beauty and power behind a mastectomy tattoo may call to you. Whether that takes form as a bold floral that covers up your scars, the lifelike appearance of a nipple, or something in between, your mastectomy tattoo can hold transformative power. The decision is up to you.

Mend Together’s free resources can help guide you and your loved ones during and after a breast cancer diagnosis. Whether you find comfort in sharing updates through the Community Journal, want to build a Gift & Donation Registry with helpful items after surgery, or you want to create a Volunteer Calendar to organize practical support, these tools help you and your loved ones navigate the challenges that lie ahead. Start your free account today.


Stella Morrison is an award-winning journalist who partners with mission-driven companies to share their stories. She is based in New York City.

Information provided here is not a substitute for medical advice. Please consult your healthcare team for advice tailored to your personal diagnosis and treatment.

Cover photo by Gigi Stoll, tattoo by Miranda Lorberer

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7 Chemo Bag Essentials to Pack

Chemo bag essentials

A chemo bag is a tote or backpack filled with items that you or your loved one can use during a chemotherapy appointment.

What do you put in a chemo bag?

Generally, the contents of a chemo bag fall into three categories:

  • Appointment essentials: Important documents, a bottle of water, and a snack.
  • Comfort items: A shawl or pillow.
  • Ways to pass the time: A good book, a tablet loaded with streaming apps, and a charger for your device can be packed alongside the essentials and comfort items.

7 Appointment essentials to pack in your chemo bag

What you pack depends on your personal needs and how long your appointment is supposed to last. Consider these chemo bag essentials as you pack.

1. Important documents

Consider bringing your insurance card, vaccination card, and credit card for any co-payment to each chemotherapy appointment. To help keep these items organized, you can store them in an organizer or case, which has multiple zippered pockets to place insurance cards, documents, medication, or even a small snack.

2. Personal protection equipment 

Your treatment center may have protocol in place to protect patients against COVID-19, such as wearing face coverings during your appointment.

We recommend:

3. Healthy food and drink

Stay hydrated and nourished during your appointment. Bring a banana, grapes, or other hydrating fruit, along with a green juice or your favorite protein shake. Consider bringing more than one option especially if it is your first appointment — given you do not know how you will be feeling. 

We recommend:

4. Something to pass the time

Your appointment could last for several hours, depending on your treatment protocol. Come prepared to entertain yourself with your favorite TV show, movie, book, or magazine. Consider packing an extra long charging cable in your chemo bag too. 

We also recommend:

A chemo bag is a tote or backpack filled with items that you or your loved one can use during a chemotherapy appointment.

What do you put in a chemo bag?

Generally, the contents of a chemo bag fall into three categories:

  • Appointment essentials: Important documents, a bottle of water, and a snack.
  • Comfort items: A shawl or pillow.
  • Ways to pass the time: A good book, a tablet loaded with streaming apps, and a charger for your device can be packed alongside the essentials and comfort items.

Create an Account

Create a Gift & Donation Registry on Mend Together to receive healing gifts and financial support during cancer treatment

7 Appointment essentials to pack in your chemo bag

What you pack depends on your personal needs and how long your appointment is supposed to last. Consider these chemo bag essentials as you pack.

1. Important documents

Consider bringing your insurance card, vaccination card, and credit card for any co-payment to each chemotherapy appointment. To help keep these items organized, you can store them in an organizer or case, which has multiple zippered pockets to place insurance cards, documents, medication, or even a small snack.

2. Personal protection equipment 

Your treatment center may have a protocol in place to protect patients against COVID-19, such as wearing face coverings during your appointment.

We recommend:

3. Healthy food and drink

Stay hydrated and nourished during your appointment. Bring a banana, grapes, or other hydrating fruit, along with a green juice or your favorite protein shake. Consider bringing more than one option especially if it is your first appointment — given you do not know how you will be feeling. 

We recommend:

4. Something to pass the time

Your appointment could last for several hours, depending on your treatment protocol. Come prepared to entertain yourself with your favorite TV show, movie, book, or magazine. Consider packing an extra long charging cable in your chemo bag too. 

We also recommend:

5. Relaxation tools

Practicing healthy relaxation habits can help minimize anxiety and stress during the appointment. We recommend:

6. Journal or notepad

Journaling can help keep you or the person you are accompanying occupied while providing a healthy therapeutic outlet  

We recommend:

7. Items to keep you comfortable

Add items to your chemo bag that will help you or your loved one stay comfortable during the duration of your treatment.

We recommend:

Got your chemo bag packed? We have additional resources for you

As you or your loved one figure out needs, Mend Together can help you access the items and resources to help. Our shop offers dozens of items that you can pack in your chemo bag, from nutritious snacks to meditation guides. You can build your Gift & Donation Registry, help a loved one create and manage their own, or make a purchase of any item without a registry.

For help with packing a chemo bag, keeping company at the appointment, or getting to and from the doctor: our Volunteer Calendar feature manages helpers, allowing them to sign up for tasks and times as you or your loved one need them. Finally, keep your loved ones updated through our Community Journal, which gives you or your loved one a platform to share medical updates from one place. This helps you keep friends and family updated without fielding calls or telling the same story time and again. Learn more here.


Stella Morrison is an award-winning journalist who partners with mission-driven companies to share their stories. She is based in New York City.

Information provided here is not a substitute for medical advice. Please consult your healthcare team for advice tailored to your personal diagnosis and treatment.