Checklist: Prepare to Go Home Before You Go In

Medically Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on November 07, 2022
3 min read

A chemotherapy session may take only a few hours, but you might have side effects for days or weeks afterward. To make your life easier and more comfortable as you recover, think about how you’ll take care of yourself at home before you go in for treatment.

1. Ask someone to drive you to and from treatments. You might feel fine after a session, or you could feel tired and unsafe behind the wheel. It also helps to have a friend or family member with you for emotional support.

2. Talk with your employer. Some people schedule chemotherapy around their work hours, Many others find that they need time off both for the treatment appointments and in the days or weeks after. Know your options and your rights. The law requires many companies to give their employees time off for chemotherapy. See if your boss will be flexible with you until you know how you'll feel.

3. Clear your schedule. Don't plan to go to any events or do activities in the hours after chemo. You might just want to go home and take a nap or relax. You may feel very tired the day after a session as well.

4. Arrange for help with meals and child care. It might be tough to cook dinner or take care of the kids if you're dealing with side effects like fatigue or nausea. Loved ones can help by cooking and freezing meals for your family ahead of time, volunteering to baby-sit, running errands, or just lending a hand around the house.

5. Learn how to handle waste. In the 48 hours after treatment, small amounts of chemotherapy drugs will leave your body through urine, vomit, and other body fluids. It's important to keep these chemicals away from yourself and others in your home. Ask your doctor ahead of time how you should handle laundry or other items that might get dirty. Also ask what precautions you should take when you use the toilet or if you get sick.

6. Visit the dentist. Mouth sores are a common side effect, so it's smart to get dental work or cleanings before you start your sessions. You should also ask about good oral care during chemo, like brushing with a soft toothbrush and using an alcohol-free mouth rinse.

7. Stock up on healthy groceries. Staying hydrated can ease some side effects. So have plenty of low-calorie drinks on hand. You might also want to buy frozen meals or sign up for a meal delivery service for the days you don't feel like cooking. Also, keep a mix of fruits, vegetables, and high-protein snacks like yogurt on hand.

8. Consider buying a wig. You might lose your hair, so think about whether you'll want to wear a wig, a hat, or a scarf until it grows back. If you shop for a wig before you start treatments, you'll have more energy. Plus you'll be able to better match your hair's natural color and texture. You can also cut your hair short before chemo starts. It might be less of a shock to lose short hair, and these styles will grow back quicker.

9. Plan for pet care. Some drugs raise your chance of having infections, so you should avoid picking up dog waste or cleaning litter boxes, bird cages, and fish tanks. Ask your doctor how you can stay safe around your pets, and wash your hands after touching any animals.

10. Plan for safe sex. You or your partner should not get pregnant while you're having treatment, since chemotherapy drugs can damage sperm and cause birth defects. The drugs can also stay in semen and vaginal fluids, so even if you take birth control pills, you should use condoms. Talk to your doctor about how long you should take precautions.