Caring For a Loved One During Chemotherapy

close up of senior woman's hand as she is being helped out of a car by a caregiver

Taking care of a loved one as they undergo chemotherapy might seem like a daunting task. After all, they may experience hair loss, nausea, and other unpleasant side effects, and they will need your help to get through. But caring for someone during chemotherapy is a bit less stressful if you know what to do. The information below will guide you through some of the basics, so you can help give the best possible care to the person you love.

The side effect that most people think of when they think of chemo is hair loss, which can be traumatic for the person in treatment. However, it’s just as important for you to help manage some of the other common side effects of chemo, such as nausea and vomiting, an increased risk of bleeding and bruising, and an increased risk of infection.

  • If your loved one has nausea and vomiting, offer them smaller meals throughout the day or have some simple snacks on hand so they can eat when they feel hungry. Encourage them to stay hydrated by offering them small sips of water, apple juice, or other cool, clear fluids. If their nausea is bothering them, ask the doctor if there are drugs available to help control it. If they’re already taking medicines for nausea but it’s still a problem, ask if something more can be used.
  • If they bleed or bruise easily, help keep them from getting nicks and cuts and remind them to avoid physical activities that might cause them to bruise. Buy a soft bristled toothbrush to avoid bleeding gums, and, if possible, buy an electric razor that will reduce the chances of cuts while shaving. Thoroughly clean any cuts and scrapes that you see and apply an antibacterial ointment and a clean bandage. If you notice that a cut or scrape is bleeding excessively or will not stop, call your doctor.
  • If they are at high risk for infection, it’s a good idea to keep things as clean and germ-free as possible so they don’t get sick. Wash your hands often, and keep shared surfaces clean and sanitized. Ask friends and family who have recently been sick to visit only by phone. Pay attention to food safety, too; cook food thoroughly and serve hot foods hot and cold foods cold to keep harmful food-borne bacteria at bay. Offer to clean the litter box or the aquarium.

Managing these side effects is definitely important, but there’s another thing you should be aware of as a caregiver: you may need to practice some safety precautions so the chemo medicine in your loved one’s body doesn’t affect you. For a few days after treatment, avoid coming in contact with your loved one’s bodily fluids whenever possible. If you have to help clean up vomit or other fluids, it’s a good idea to wear two pairs of disposable gloves and wash your hands well, too. Be sure to wash any soiled bed sheets or clothes separately from other clothes, and dispose of any sanitary items, such as pads or adult diapers, in a tightly tied double garbage bag. If you think you might have been exposed to chemo drugs as you’re helping a loved one, let the doctor know. They can help make sure you and the person in treatment stay safe as the treatment continues.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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