BY CATHERINE NGUYEN
Side effects caused by cancer treatments vary from person to person. While doctors and nurses can provide medical advice for how to manage them, there are some things that can be implemented around the house by carers to help minimise the impacts of side effects. Below are some practical tips based on my personal experience, as well as work-arounds shared by patients and their carers.
Neuropathy is a set of symptoms caused by nerve damage, and is experienced by about 30 to 40 percent of patients treated with chemo. Symptoms range from mild to severe, and is most difficult to manage in severe cases.
My husband unfortunately had a severe case as a result of the chemo called Oxaliplatin. He was oversensitive to touch, and could not stand on bathroom tiles nor touch anything that was hot or cold. Many work-arounds were implemented in our house, including:
- Covering our fridge door handles in red tape to visually remind him to put on the gloves that are attached to the door before opening the fridge
- Laying a long thick bath mat from the door to the toilet so that his feet would not be affected if he forgets to put on his shoes in the middle of the night
- Leaving a pair of plastic slip-on shoes next to the shower for him to wear since he could not stand on the tiled floor
- Having double-wall insulated cups that can hold hot or cold drink without affecting his fingers, as well as a supply of plastic straws
- Having good quality reusable plastic knives, forks and spoons for him to use instead of the normal stainless steel utensils.
Tips from others include:
- Stocking up on warm socks and sturdy shoes
- Using pliers to open water bottles if your hands couldn’t grip, and asking your pharmacists for non-childproof bottles for prescription medication.
If diarrhea is a severe problem, a bidet can be a great tool to have in the house. There are many choices available at different prices, ranging from simple sprayer attachments to proper bidet toilet seats. It was my husband’s favourite device during his battle with cancer, a sentiment shared by many of his fellow cancer sufferers.
The Summon Tool
When Andrew Taylor’s wife, a cancer patient, became bedridden, they bought a battery-powered wireless doorbell system for her to summon her caregivers when they were elsewhere in the house. The bell push is mounted on a stick so she could reach it easily in bed, and her caregivers carried the speaker part with them elsewhere in the house.
A cheaper alternative is a child’s bicycle horn which could be heard from nearly everywhere in a small house, something which was used by my father when he suffered from cancer 25 years ago.
Lip balms, moisturisers such as Dermaveen and Cetaphil, nail strengthening serum and cuticle remover are all handy to have in the house to combat some of the side effects.
Loose fitting and comfortable clothes are essential (avoid small buttons if neuropathy is an issue), and extra soft bath towels and bath robes are also helpful.
Epsom salt baths and heat packs can help with achy joints and bones.
Sick bags and anti-nauseas should also become staple items in your handbag in case they are needed. If extreme vomiting is an issue (which was the case for my husband), consider keeping a plastic measuring jug next to the bed for easy access.
Finally, it is extremely useful to keep hand sanitisers, face masks and disposable gloves in every room of the house and in the car. Cancer patients struggle to fight even the smallest of infections and so you can never be too careful.
If you are new to caring or would like assistance, Solaris Cancer Care encourages you to register for its free Carer’s Course on November 28 from 9.45am-4pm in its Sir Charles Gairdner centre.
Catherine has been volunteering with Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre since 2017, and joined Solaris Cancer Care as a blog writer in early August 2020. She lost both her father and her husband to cancer, and the experiences changed her life. Catherine developed a passion for researching all matters relating to cancer during her husband’s fight, and is keen to continue building on her knowledge and using it to help others.