Preparing for chemotherapy

Chemotherapy affects everyone differently, so it can be hard to know exactly how to prepare. However, a number of general issues are worth considering in advance.

Ask about fertility

Some types of chemotherapy can affect your fertility. If you think you may want to have children in future, talk to your oncologist about your options before chemotherapy begins.

Pack a chemo bag

A bag for your chemo sessions could include: warm clothing in case you get cold; healthy snacks; lip balm; and something to pass the time, such as books, magazines, crossword puzzles, music with headphones, or a laptop computer or tablet.

Look after yourself

Try to stay as healthy as you can before and during treatment. Eat a nourishing food, drink lots of water, get enough sleep, and balance rest and physical activity. Good nutrition and regular exercise can help reduce some of the side effects of chemotherapy.

Organise help at home

If you have young children, you may need to arrange for someone to look after them during the treatment sessions and possibly afterwards if you become unwell from side effects. Older children may need lifts to and from school and activities. Some support with housework and errands can also ease the load. Ask one friend or family member to coordinate offers of help, or use an online tool such as or

Discuss your concerns

If you are feeling anxious about the diagnosis and having chemotherapy, talk to a family member or friend, your GP or a member of your health care team, or call 13 11 20 for support. You could also learn relaxation or meditation strategies to cope with anxiety.

Freeze some meals

You may not feel like cooking during the weeks of your chemotherapy treatment. Consider making some meals ahead and freezing them. Sometimes, family and friends will arrange a meal roster.

Talk to your employer

If you are working, talk to your employer about how much time you are likely to need off. It is hard to predict how chemotherapy will affect you, so you could discuss the option of flexible hours or taking some leave.

Check your teeth

It is often a good idea to visit your dentist for a checkup before chemotherapy begins. The dentist can check for any current mouth infections that may cause issues if chemotherapy affects your immune system.

Prepare for side effects

Talk to your treatment team about the likely side effects of the chemotherapy drugs you are having. Ask whether you can take medicine to prevent nausea and vomiting. If you may lose your hair, think about whether you want to cut your hair before treatment starts.

Check other medicines

Make sure your oncologist knows about any other medicines or therapies you are using. Some over-the-counter medicines, home remedies, herbs and vitamins can interfere with the chemotherapy.

Expert content reviewers:

Dr Prunella Blinman, Medical Oncologist, Concord Cancer Centre, Concord Repatriation General Hospital, and Clinical Senior Lecturer, Sydney Medical School, The University of Sydney, NSW; Gillian Blanchard, Oncology Nurse Practitioner, Calvary Mater Newcastle, and Conjoint Lecturer, School of Nursing and Midwifery, The University of Newcastle, NSW; Julie Bolton, Consumer; Keely Gordon-King, Psychologist, Cancer Council Queensland, QLD; John Jameson, Consumer; Dr Zarnie Lwin, Medical Oncologist, Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital, and Senior Lecturer, School of Medicine, The University of Queensland, QLD; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Dr Felicia Roncolato, Medical Oncology Staff Specialist, Macarthur Cancer Therapy Centre, NSW..

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