Chemotherapy and radiation therapy both can have severe side effects. These are not walk-in-the-park treatments. Radiotherapy can lead to sunburn like symptoms, or even bleeding. Chemotherapy can make skin sensitive and make it difficult for wounds to heal and make it difficult for patients to eat and swallow solid food. It has also been known to give patents a burning sensation inside their bodies, and may cause patients to seek out air-conditioned rooms in summer. Chemotherapy has also been known to give patients memory loss and make them loose their concentration, making them short tempered and unable to carry out asks like cooking and cleaning. Some people also experience numbness in their hands and feet, making them prone to losing their balance on staircases and uneven ground.
In short, undergoing any of these treatments may require patients and their caregivers to significantly modify their lifestyle. Here are some things that may need to be done:
(1) coming up with recipes for foods that are easy to swallow, such as smoothies
(2) replacing regular soap and shampoos with milder soaps and shampoos (e.g. baby soap)
(3) keeping creams for cuts and mouth ulcers handy
(4) preparing an air-conditioned room during summer for patient comfort
(5) making arrangement for someone to drive the patient to and from the doctors office during treatment days
(6) making arrangements for food to be prepared or delivered during treatment days. Treatments can take many hours and not give enough time for regular meal preparation
Chemotherapy also lowers a person's immunity because it destroys the cells that make up the immune system. This typically happens in a cyclical fashion, and the timing of the cycle depends on the medication being taken. This means that during certain days of the 2 or 3 week chemotherapy cycle, the patient will have low immunity. This means that the patient should avoid crowds or other places where bacteria and viruses may be caught during those times. Patients should also avoid eating uncooked food and contact with soil, as both may have high levels of bacteria.
This lowered immunity also means that caregivers need to monitor the patient for any signs of fever. Fever usually happens when the body has detected an infection and has begun to fight it. Because of the body's lowered immunity, such infections can become fatal without medical treatment (usually antibiotics). If a fever develops, caregivers may need to bring patients to a hospital immediately (your oncologist will advise you beforehand what to do).
Book recommendation: I highly recommend the book "Chemotherapy and Radiation Therapy Survival Guide" for anyone who has to undergo chemotherapy or radiation therapy. It explains the effects on patients from a nursing perspective. I found it extremely useful to know beforehand what the treatment entailed. Nothing beats being prepared - it is a exhausting and potentially painful treatment, and being prepared helps a lot. The link to the book is on the right hand side bar of this page.