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Everyday life during chemotherapy

Chemotherapy can affect you physically and emotionally. Most people have ups and downs during treatment, but support is available. 

Some people find they can lead an almost normal life during chemotherapy. But others find everyday life more difficult.

You may feel unwell during and shortly after each treatment but recover quickly between treatments. You may be able to get back to your usual activities as you begin to feel better.

As well as feeling unwell physically, it's not unusual for people to feel up and down emotionally. You may find you have good and bad days. 

Feeling tired

You might feel tired during chemotherapy. This is perfectly normal. It can be caused by:

  • the drugs themselves and your body fighting the cancer
  • lack of sleep
  • not being able to eat properly
  • a drop in your red cell count (anaemia)
  • having a lower white cell count than usual – your immune system is having to work harder

Feeling tired all the time can be difficult if you're used to having a lot of energy. But if you’re over tired, you might be more likely to feel sick and generally find it harder to cope.

So don't fight your tiredness – listen to your body and rest if you need to.

What you can do

We know it isn’t easy, but try to make a few changes so you don't get too exhausted. See if you can reduce your working hours, if you have a job. Ask your family or friends to help with chores, and have your shopping delivered if you can.

If you have to look after children, try to arrange help with childcare on chemotherapy days and for a couple of days afterwards. Your health visitor might be able to help with arranging childminding or nursery places.

If you are looking after children, try and get them to do something relatively quiet that you can join in with or encourage from the sofa. Drawing you a picture, playing a board game, watching TV together or cheering them on with their console games will keep them busy without you having to do too much.

Your GP might be able to give you some mild sleeping pills if you’re having trouble sleeping.

Eating

Cancer Research UK does not recommend any particular special diet while you are having chemotherapy. Each person has different dietary requirements. We recommend asking your doctor to refer you to a dietician for professional advice.

One of the possible side effects of chemotherapy is loss of appetite. So it may be easier to eat little and often, rather than trying to eat larger main meals.

You can try high calorie meals in a drink if you really don't feel like eating much. You can also buy protein powders and high energy powders and sprinkle these on everyday foods or add them to recipes.

Work

How people feel on chemotherapy varies a lot, so you’ll have to see how you feel. Some treatments are harder going than others and everyone is different. Your doctor or chemo nurse should be able to tell you about the likely effects of your treatment.

Time off work

Some people manage by working part time or only between treatments. You may find working helps you cope and distracts you. Or you may prefer to stop working while you have treatment.

Most people will need time off work for the type of chemo you have through a drip. But some people manage to go to the hospital, have their treatment and then go on to work. You’ll obviously need some time off work if you need to spend time in hospital to have your chemo.

You could ask your employer to let you work at home. Or you could think about changing your working hours to avoid travelling in the rush hour.

Sick pay

As an employee, you should be entitled to sick pay. You can get statutory sick pay if you earn enough to pay National Insurance and are off work for 4 days or more in a row. You receive your statutory sick pay through your employer for the first 28 weeks of sick leave.

Less than 4 days off work in a row counts as casual sick leave. Your employer should pay you for this, up to a maximum amount of time off per year.

Last reviewed: 
07 Jan 2015
  • Handbook of Cancer Chemotherapy (8th edition)
    Skeel, R.T. and Khleif, S.N.
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2011

  • The Chemotherapy Source Book (4th edition)
    Michael C Perry
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2008

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