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Caregiving During Treatment

Preparing the Home

During and after cancer treatment, your loved one may find life at home becomes increasingly challenging. If  your loved one is experiencing mobility issues, peripheral neuropathy, pain or weakness after treatment, the following changes to the home may make life easier and safer for your loved one:

  • Put items in easy-to-reach places. For example, put clothing in baskets or drawers instead of on high shelves or in closets.
  • Lower the patient’s bed or get a step stool to make getting into and out of bed easier.
  • Keep stairs and hallways well lit.
  • Get rid of slippery rugs that can slide or bunch up causing a tripping hazard.
  • Add a shower seat and hand-held shower head to make bathing easier.
  • Use nonslip bath mats, both in and outside the tub/shower. Add a safety bar or hand grips to reduce the risk of falls.
  • Find a raised toilet seat or commode.
  • Use nonbreakable dishes and cups for food.
  • Stock the pantry, fridge, and freezer with healthy food choices.
  • Move comfortable, easy-to-wear clothing to the front of the closet.
  • Keep throw blankets and extra quilts in an accessible location. Cancer patients can be more susceptible to cold.
  • Talk to the healthcare team about any pets in the patient’s home. Being around animals, including pets, may increase the risk of infection for your loved one. You may need to take special precautions to reduce this risk

Depending on your loved one’s diagnosis, treatment, and health, you may need professional help to make larger or structural changes to his or her home. For example, if your loved one is wheelchair bound, you will need to add a ramp to the entrance of the home.

 See Worksheet 10: Grocery List 

Protecting a Weakened Immune System

Cancer patients, especially those undergoing chemotherapy or a stem cell transplant, are at higher risk for infection because the immune system is weak. If a patient with a weakened immune system does catch a cold or an infection, his or her body will have a more difficult time fighting it compared to a healthy person.

The following tips can help you and your loved one avoid infections:

  • Avoid crowds and friends or family members who are sick.
  • Wear a mask in crowds or in an emergency room waiting area.
  • Make sure to alert the emergency room staff that this person is a cancer patient with a compromised immune system.
  • Clean cuts and scrapes immediately with warm water, soap, and an antiseptic. If the patient is at risk for bleeding issues due to a low platelet count, ask the healthcare team how to care for cuts the correct way.
  • Avoid activities that put the patient at risk for cuts or injury.
  • Practice good hygiene and personal care.
  • Practice good food safety.
  • Ask the healthcare team which vaccines or boosters the patient needs.
    • The caregiver and other people living in the home with the patient should get a flu shot and updated vaccines, if needed, too.
    • When they get the flu vaccine, cancer patients, caregivers and the other people living in the home who have contact with the patient should receive the flu shot, not the nasal spray vaccine because the spray contains the live flu virus. Flu shots are made of the dead virus. The live virus can be dangerous for immunosuppressed patients.
    • If you do receive a live vaccine, you should not be near the patient for a period of time.
  • Properly care for and clean the patient’s catheter or port.

Contact the healthcare team immediately if you notice any of the following signs of infection:

  • A temperature of 101°F or higher or 100.4°F for longer than an hour
  • Chills
  • Persistent coughing
  • Tenderness at a site prone to infection, such as the area around the anus or the nasal sinuses
  • A sore throat
  • Pain when urinating
  • Frequent diarrhea or loose bowel movements.

 See Worksheet 9: Immunization Record 

Cleaning the Home Safely

You may need to help to keep the house clean. A clean home lowers the risk of infection for the patient.

Many household cleaners contain toxic ingredients. Always follow the directions on the product’s bottle or box. Cleaners that are not properly wiped or washed away could irritate the skin or be accidentally ingested. Strong fumes can irritate eyes and make breathing difficult. Patients undergoing chemotherapy may also be sensitive to the strong smells of cleaning products. 

You don’t have to spend a lot of money for safe cleaning supplies. Vinegar and baking soda are nontoxic items that most of us already have in our homes, and they make effective and affordable cleaners.

  • Mix baking soda and water into a paste to clean the oven and tackle toilet stains.
  • Mix vinegar and water to clean mirrors, windows and floors. 
  • Mix ½ cup vinegar, ¼ cup baking soda, and ½ gallon of water for a safe cleaner.

The following cleaning tips will help to keep you and your loved one safe:

  • Avoid products with chlorine, ammonia, synthetic solvents and artificial fragrances and dyes.
  • Use fragrance-free laundry detergent.
  • Avoid aerosol cans.
  • Wear gloves when cleaning.
  • Open windows and doors while cleaning or run a fan to let out strong fumes from cleaning products.
  • Do not mix bleach with ammonia or vinegar. This can produce deadly gases.
  • Instead of aerosol air fresheners use oils or wax warmers instead. If the patient is sensitive to smells or if strong odors trigger nausea, it may be best not to use any type of air freshener.

 See Worksheet 11: Chore Chart

Hygiene and Personal Care

Good hygiene and personal care helps to lower the risk of infection in immunosuppressed patients.

As a caregiver, wash your hands with soap and warm water frequently, especially before handling food or assisting your loved one with any tasks. Encourage visitors to the home or people interacting with the patient to do the same. You can also use liquid or gel hand sanitizer to keep hands clean.

Your loved one may also need to modify his or her hygiene habits.

 Read the PDF, Caregiving During Treatment, for guidelines for proper skin, nail, dental, and hair care for a patient in treatment.

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