Caring for a loved one who is undergoing chemotherapy

When caring for someone who is undergoing chemotherapy, the caregiver needs to take into account all of the potential side effects of this form of cancer treatment, such as:

·         Diarrhea.

·         Constipation.

·         Anemia.

·         Blood clots.

·         Fatigue.

·         Infections.

·         Nausea.

·         Pain.

·         Hair loss.

Managing the side effects of chemotherapy


·         Make sure your loved one drinks plenty of fluids – especially clear liquids like water, clear broth, sports drinks, or ginger ale – to replace those lost through diarrhea.

·         Feed the person small servings throughout the day as opposed to 3 large meals.

·         Feed the care receiver bananas, oranges, potatoes, and peach and apricot nectars, and other potassium-rich foods – unless indicated otherwise by a doctor.

·         Ask the doctor about the possibility of a liquid diet.

·         Provide low fiber foods like white bread, white rice or noodles, creamed cereals, ripe bananas, canned or cooked fruit without skins, cottage cheese, yogurt without seeds, eggs, mashed or baked potatoes without the skin, pureed vegetables, chicken, or turkey without the skin, and fish.

·         Avoid whole grain breads and cereals, raw vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, popcorn, and fresh and dried fruit, which can cause diarrhea and cramping.

·         Avoid hot or very cold liquids.

·         Avoid coffee, tea with caffeine, alcohol, and sweets as well as fried, greasy, or spicy foods.

·         Avoid milk and dairy products.


·         Administer plenty of fluids to loosen the bowels.

·         Ask the doctor if you can increase fiber in the person’s diet.

·         Ask the person whether the person can get some daily exercise.


·         Have the person get plenty of rest.

·         Limit his or her activities to the most essential or important.

Blood clots

Call the doctor if your loved one has one or more of these symptoms:

  • Unexpected bruising.
  • Small, red spots under the skin.
  • Reddish or pinkish urine.
  • Black or bloody bowel movements.
  • Bleeding from the gums or nose.
  • Vaginal bleeding that is new or lasts longer than a regular period.
  • Headaches or changes in vision.
  • Warm to hot feeling of an arm or leg.


  • Check with the doctor or nurse before giving the person any vitamins, herbal remedies, or over-the-counter medicines. Many of these contain aspirin, which can affect platelets.
  • Check with the doctor about the person drinking alcohol.
  • Use a very soft toothbrush to clean the person’s teeth.
  • Ask the doctor if the person should avoid sexual activity.
  • Use an electric shaver instead of a razor.


  • Plan the day so that the person has time to rest.
  • Have the person take short naps or breaks, rather than one long rest period.
  • Try easier or shorter versions of enjoyable activities.
  • Take short walks or do light exercise if possible.
  • Talk to the doctor about ways to save the person’s energy.
  • Try activities such as meditation, prayer, yoga, guided imagery, visualization, etc.
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol.
  • Report any changes in energy level to a doctor or nurse.


  • Wash the person’s hands before eating, after using the bathroom, and after touching animals.
  • Clean the rectal area gently but thoroughly after each bowel movement.
  • Check with your doctor before using enemas or suppositories.
  • Stay away from people who have illnesses such as a cold, the flu, measles, or chicken pox.
  • Try to avoid crowds.
  • Stay away from children who recently have received ‘live virus’ vaccines such as chicken pox and oral polio.
  • Do not cut or tear the cuticles of the nails.
  • Use an electric shaver instead of a razor to prevent breaks or cuts in the skin.
  • Promote proper oral care.
  • Do not squeeze or scratch pimples.
  • Give a warm (not hot) bath, shower, or sponge bath every day. Pat the skin dry using a light touch. Do not rub too hard.
  • Use lotion or oil to soften and heal the skin if it becomes dry and cracked.
  • Clean cuts and scrapes right away and daily until healed with warm water, soap, and an antiseptic.
  • Avoid contact with animal litter boxes and waste, bird cages, and fish tanks.
  • Avoid standing water, for example, bird baths, flower vases, or humidifiers.
  • Do not get any immunizations, such as flu or pneumonia shots, without checking with your doctor first.
  • Do not feed the person raw fish, seafood, meat, or eggs.

Nausea and vomiting

·         Give the person liquids at least 1 hour before or after mealtime, instead of with meals.

  • Have the person drink frequently and in small amounts.
  • Have the person eat and drink slowly.
  • Serve small meals throughout the day, instead of one, two, or three large meals.
  • Serve foods cold or at room temperature to avoid strong smells.
  • Make sure the person chews food well for easier digestion.
  • If nausea is a problem in the morning, try dry foods like cereal, toast, or crackers before getting up.
  • Distract the person by chatting, listening to music, or watching a movie or TV show.
  • Use relaxation techniques.
  • Try to avoid strong odors, such as cooking smells, smoke, or perfume.
  • Avoid sweet, fried, or fatty foods.


·         Administer pain-relieving medicine, whether over the counter or prescribed by a doctor.

·         Try relaxation techniques.

·         Administer electrotherapy with TENS unit supplies.

Hair loss

  • Use a mild shampoo.
  • Use a soft hairbrush.
  • Use low heat when drying hair.
  • Have the person get a short haircut. A shorter style makes hair look thicker and fuller, and makes hair loss easier to manage.
  • Use a sunscreen, sun block, hat, or scarf to protect the scalp from the sun.
  • Avoid brush rollers.
  • Avoid dying, perming, or relaxing the hair.


Related: How Your Diet Can Affect Cancer Recovery