Many people ask me what they can do to help out when I am receiving chemotherapy treatments. All that they do or offer is appreciated. Bringing meals, gift cards, scarves, hats or shawls. Offering to shovel snow or clean my apartment. Everything is appreciated, even if not accepted. This post is not about what friends can do for me. This post is about how I feel when I am receiving chemotherapy, and why I might not want you in my apartment or even to interact with you very much.


Infusion BottleThe first time, when it started: “Here we go. Doesn’t feel different yet. Will it work? Will I know when it kicks in? How will I know?”

“I’m tired. I need to get up and walk around. But I’m tired. Maybe just a few minutes — two times up the block — then I’ll come back and take a nap … okay, I made it one time. I’ll do the second one later.”

“Does that tingling mean it’s working? They said probably not, but I hope it does.”

“Nausea again. It never seems to go away completely. I have some crackers … can’t stand them, but they seem to help … When can I take another anti-nausea pill?”

“This fuzzy-headedness is the pits. It was fun in college at parties, but not now. My head feels like it’s moving slower than the rest of me.”

(Sending a message on social media) “Ugh. I can’t type. I’m a good typist. Why is this taking so long? Neither my fingers nor my brain seem to be working properly.”

“I can’t stand this heartburn [from the anti-nausea steroid]; just swallowing air hurts.”

“I am so tired. I just had a nap, but I can’t keep my eyes open.”

“Carbs. I want carbs.”

“I want more carbs.”

“Did I take my Miralax today? I DO NOT want to forget that.”

“My nasal passages feel dry. I had a bloody nose last time. The doctor said it probably wasn’t related, but I haven’t had many bloody noses in my life. I don’t want to drip blood on this shirt.”

“My muscles are so weak today. Let me check the list of side effects again … it says it could happen, but it’s not an emergency. But then they say to let them know about things right away … Should I call [the cancer center]? Should I wait?”

“I should call.”

“What’s my temperature? If it gets above 100.5 F, I need to call them and go in. Please don’t let it be getting higher. I don’t want to go to the hospital. Only point-3 degrees higher than usual; that’s not bad, right?”

“2:50? How did that happen? It was just 2:00! I only closed my eyes for 5 minutes.”

“My temperature is up another point-2 degrees. I’d better keep an eye on it.”

“Why does my head hurt? Is that a sign of something else? Is this chemo having the opposite effect and instead of attacking the cancer, it’s causing new stuff already?”

“Oh, good. My favorite scented soap. Yuck — that smell hurts my nose today. I hope I don’t dislike it permanently.”

“Water tastes bad? How can water taste bad? It’s filtered.”

“Why do these people around me keep talking? My head is fuzzy. I just want to sleep.”

“My friends want to help. I want to let them. I don’t want them to worry about me, but I don’t want to have to worry about them here. I know they won’t judge, and they are here to help. But I don’t want to give up and not be able to do my own chores. I want them to stop worrying about doing the right thing to help. I don’t want to have to explain why something helps or not. This isn’t about them.”


Share Your Thoughts

Have you felt this way during chemotherapy? How did you let family and friends know how you felt? Share your comments below.

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About the Author

Amy Koch grew up in southeastern Wisconsin and, after a fair amount of traveling, living and working in other places in the United States and abroad, she has been living in Milwaukee since 2005. She has a B.A. in international studies, an M.S. in curriculum and instruction and various teaching licenses. She speaks fluent Spanish and functional Japanese. After working as a bilingual elementary school teacher in Milwaukee for eight years, she is now an instructional coach specializing in reading instruction. A lump in her left thigh in late summer/early fall of 2014 turned out to not be a "nerve or muscle problem" that just needed time and rest. She was diagnosed with liposarcoma in October 2014 and started chemotherapy in November. After chemo, neutropenia, radiation, surgery, more tumors and subsequent treatments, she thinks she is cancer free as of November 2015.

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Amy Koch
on June 7, 2018 - 12:24 pm

Karla and Peg, thank you for commenting. I am glad you understand a bit better. Karla, it's great that you spent the day in your pjs with your friend. Since you were at her house, doing those chores was the right thing to do - when she couldn't worry about you doing them. I guess it really comes down to knowing the person and what they would want. If you still don't know, ask but try to ask in a way that puts absolutely no pressure on that person. Even that specific way is specific to each person. In the end, don't get mad or feel bad or helpless if the person with cancer/going through chemo doesn't respond how you want. As I said, in this case, even with the most selfless person, it's not about YOU it's about them.

Peg Grafwallner
on June 7, 2018 - 12:24 pm

Thank you, Amy. This opened up my eyes; I had no idea. I am really appreciative of reading this. I'll probably read it a dozen more times to let in sink in. Love, love, love.

Karla Pierce
on June 7, 2018 - 12:24 pm

Wow Amy....I get it now! Thank you for sharing this. Sometimes we forget to think how the "receiver" feels. When I first came back to WI to take care of my friend Laura who was dying of cancer, she tried to be a good host. I didn't get it why she was up and running around trying to do things for me, but the day that I didn't change out of my pj's and just laid in bed with her all day watching tv, taking naps, drinking water, and eating soft food, I finally got a taste of what her final days were. I did do her dishes, took her dog for a walk, watched her grandson to give the young mother a break, but only when she was sleeping. I will never EVER forget those days or regret them. Thank you!!