Cancer: A Caregiver’s Daily Checklist

Medically Reviewed by Carmelita Swiner, MD on August 02, 2022
3 min read

When you're caring for someone who’s having treatment for cancer, you want to let them know you're there to help. You’ll also want to let them decide when they need your help. Use this checklist to make daily care easier.

  • Women with cancer might feel more confident and in control when they take care of how they look. If they want, help them put on makeup and fix their hair, even if they're in bed all day. Keep their favorite lotions and grooming supplies handy.
  • For safety, use an electric shaver. Men should avoid aftershaves that have alcohol, which might irritate their skin.
  • For someone getting chemotherapy, remind them to brush their teeth after they eat to avoid infection. Offer waxed dental floss, a soft-bristle toothbrush, and fluoride toothpaste without whitening or tartar control. Talk to their doctor about flossing if their gums bleed and they have low levels of platelets in their blood.
  • Make a mouth rinse by mixing 1/2 teaspoon baking soda with 1 cup of water for them to use after each brush. Don't use store-bought mouthwash. It can have alcohol or chemicals that may irritate their mouth.
  • Keep the water temperature comfortable if you help them bathe. Be gentle when you wash and pat dry. Dry skin can be a side effect of treatment, so smooth on a water-based cream after a bath or shower and at other times during the day. Let them do it themselves if they want, but help with hard-to-reach areas.
  • Their scalp may be sensitive if treatment is making their hair fall out. Make sure they have a mild shampoo and soft hairbrush.
  • If they have lost weight, have their clothes altered to fit better, or think about buying a few new clothes while they're having treatment. If their skin is dry or sore, offer clothing in soft fabrics like cotton. Skip uncomfortable, tight-fitting clothes.
  • Make sure they wear sunscreen and hats outside.
  • It's normal for someone to not feel hungry during treatment. If that’s the case, serve them a bigger meal when their appetite is good. For most people, that’s in the morning. Or serve five or six smaller meals instead of three big ones.
  • Keep liquid meal replacements handy for when they don't want to eat. Soft and cold foods like protein milkshakes and Popsicles are tasty options.
  • Offer lots of liquids, especially on days they don't eat. Clear soups and juices, sports drinks, and weak tea without caffeine are good. Keep a water bottle close.
  • Keep food nearby, so they can eat when they want. Try keeping a snack pack of applesauce or pudding and a spoon next to their bed.
  • Find ways to add protein to meals: Sprinkle cheese on vegetables and eggs. Use milk instead of water in hot cereals and soups. Add nonfat instant dry milk to drinks.
  • Take a walk together when you can to help ease their sleep problems, mood, fatigue, and other side effects. If they need to stay in bed, help them do exercises that their health team suggests.
  • Show them deep-breathing exercises and other ways to relax that can help them deal with the stress and anxiety of cancer. Listening to music and spending time with loved ones are other stress busters.
  • Help them set up a daily routine that can balance rest and activity. Plan activities for the times when they have the most energy. Try to weed out the less important things so they can do what they enjoy the most. They may not be able to do everything they want during treatment, but they can still have a social life. Help with the planning, so if they ask, they can go out and visit with friends when they can.