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Everyday life during chemotherapy

Nurse and patients talking about cancer

This page has brief information about how chemotherapy may affect you. It includes

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Some people find that they can lead an almost normal life during chemotherapy. You may feel unwell during or immediately after treatment, but recover quickly. Others find everyday life more difficult. If you are working you may be able to carry on. But not everyone is able to and some have to stop while they are having treatment. Some treatments are harder going than others, and everyone is different. So it is best to do whatever you feel is right for you.

As well as feeling unwell physically, it is not unusual for people to have ups and downs emotionally. You may find you have good and bad days. Remember that there isn't a right and a wrong way to be.

Feeling tired during chemotherapy is common. It is not easy to cope with. If possible, try to do less. Get your shopping delivered or ask someone else to shop for you. Ask friends and family to help with chores. And try not to fight the tiredness - rest when you are tired. If you have children, ask family and friends to help look after them when you are feeling most tired.

There is information about financial help in our section on coping practically with cancer.  This includes information about sick pay and other benefits you may be entitled to.

PDF Download symbol You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the Living with Chemotherapy section.

 

Ups and downs

Some people find that they can lead an almost normal life during chemotherapy. You may feel unwell during your treatment but recover quickly between treatments. You may find you can get back to your usual activities as you begin to feel better.

If you are taking chemotherapy tablets at home, you may notice very little change to your everyday life. You may be able to work and carry on your usual social life. Some people manage by working part time or only between treatments. You may find that working helps you to cope with your cancer and distracts you. You may prefer to stop working while you are having your treatment. Everyone is different and it is best to do whatever you feel is right for you.

As well as feeling unwell physically, it is not unusual for people to have ups and downs emotionally. It can be difficult coping with a diagnosis of cancer and having treatment. So you may find you have good and bad days. Remember that there isn't a right and a wrong way to be. For more information about the different feelings you may have and suggestions on how to manage them have a look in our coping with cancer section.

 

Feeling tired

You may feel tired during chemotherapy. This is perfectly normal. It may 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

If you normally have a lot of energy, feeling tired all the time can be difficult. We know it isn't easy, but it is worth trying to make a few changes to your daily life so that you don't get too exhausted. If you are over tired, you may be more likely to feel sick and you will probably generally find it more difficult to cope. Listen to your body and rest if you need to.

Try and restrict your activities. Ask your family or friends to help with chores if possible. Have your shopping delivered if you can. Arrange help with looking after the children on chemotherapy days and for a couple of days afterwards. Your health visitor may be able to help with arranging childminding or nursery places.

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If you have to look 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 card game or board game, watching films or TV together or cheering them on with their console games will all keep them busy without you having to do too much.

Don't fight your tiredness. Take time to rest. If you have a job, see if you can reduce your hours during your treatment. If you are having trouble sleeping, your GP may be able to give some mild sleeping pills.

 

Time off work

How people feel on chemotherapy varies such a lot that you will have to see how you feel. Your doctor or chemotherapy nurse may be able to advise you about the likely effects of the chemo you are having. Most people would need time off work for the type of chemo you have through a drip (intravenous chemotherapy). But some people manage to go to the hospital, have their chemotherapy treatment and then go on to work. If you need to spend time in hospital to have your chemotherapy, you will obviously need some time off work. If possible, you could ask your employer to let you work at home. Or you could think about changing your working hours so you can avoid travelling in the rush hour.

As an employee, you should be entitled to sick pay. Statutory sick pay is only payable if you are off for 4 days or more in a row and earn enough to pay National Insurance. Less than that counts as casual sick leave. Your employer should pay you for this, up to a maximum amount of time off per year.

You get statutory sick pay through your employer for the first 28 weeks of sick leave. This is paid to you in the same way as your wages. There is detailed information in our coping with cancer section about statutory sick pay and other government benefits you may be able to claim. There may be a social worker at the hospital you can talk to about benefits for you and your family if they are looking after you.

 

If you are unemployed, retired or a carer

There is a whole page of benefits information in our financial support section. Have a look there to get an idea of what you may be entitled to claim. There may be a social worker at the hospital who can help with benefit claims and advice. Our section about who can help explains how social workers and your local Citizens' Advice Bureau can advise you about benefits and social services. 

There is also a benefits and finance advice line run by Macmillan Cancer Support. You can find details about the advice line and other helpful organisations on our cancer information organisations list. If you would like more information about anything to do with chemotherapy, they will be happy to help. They often have free factsheets and booklets which they can send to you.

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Updated: 17 April 2013