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Germs during Chemo/Radiation

Heeran's picture
Posts: 173
Joined: Aug 2011

My mom will start Chemo/Radiation next week. How paranoid do I need to be about keeping her away from public places, my children when sick, going on vacations, etc. I see people here posting that they are still working. How is that possible when there's so much possibility of catching a cold or any other infection/virus?

NikiMo's picture
Posts: 346
Joined: Jul 2011

I would say, be concerned but not paranoid. My husband worked in a retail setting the entire time he was in chemo, came home early one day. He put a small fan on the desk between him and his customers to keep the air moving and making it less likely to catch something (that was the suggestion of our NP). He also kept anti-bacterial liquid in his pocket at all times and used it often at work and at home. We did avoid large crowds, didn't go to movies on the weekends instead we went on Tuesday nights, no concerts that type of thing. But, we still went to malls and shopping, we didn't upend our lives at the suggestion of our medical team. Yes, your Mom has cancer but other than that I haven't heard mention of any other medical issues. Our doctors said don't act like your unhealthy because your not, you have cancer but your not an invalid so don't act like one. Part of the fight is trying to lead a normal positive life. Don't keep your children away from your Mom, I am sure that would upset her. Just make sure if they sit on her lap that they face away from her, and keep the kisses to a minimum.

Of course all of this advice could change depending on how your Mom tolerates the chemo. My husband never had any problems with his counts. If he did we probably would have made the decision for him to stay home.

Just try to keep life as normal as possible. And give your Mom lots of hugs!!

Posts: 19
Joined: Aug 2010

Hi: Two suggestions from our cancer clinic that I didn't think about was 1. Buy a new toothbrush every 3-4 weeks. Brush your teeth often, but old toothbrushes harbor germs.
2. Don't store partial onions in the fridge. If you use half an onion, throw the rest out. Onions absorb any bacteria that may be in your fridge. They had several suggestions for us, but those are the only 2 that come to mind at present. I will post more if I remember other pointers. Other than that, we tried to avoid large crowds, used lots of hand sanitizer especially at the cancer clinic after touching buttons on elevators, doors etc. I always kept a purse-sized bottle in my purse. Hope this helps, Patti

adube's picture
Posts: 66
Joined: Sep 2011

wow what great suggestions! I had no idea onions were such bacteria hotbeds! Duly noted. Thanks for sharing these!

Callaloo's picture
Posts: 147
Joined: Nov 2010

The doctors should tell you if the wbc count is exceptionally low, which means she should take extra precautions. But in the absense of extremely low wbc counts, she should be fine exercising sensible precautions (wash hands, stay away from sick people, etc.). The lab will check for blood cell count before each chemo infusion to make sure it is adequate. It may get progressively lower with each infusion. It may get so low as to require protective measures, or delay in treatment. But in any case, blood cell count is what determines a person's immunity to the general bad stuff in the air. So make sure it is closely monitored.

For most of us with strong immune systems to begin with, it is not a major problem. Just use common sense.

Also, if there's time, and if your mother is up to it, she should have her teeth cleaned. I know it sounds weird, but it is standard procedure in our clinic. Let the dentist know why, and he/she will probably also give you some flouride treatments to take home (chemo is murder on tooth enamel)


Heeran's picture
Posts: 173
Joined: Aug 2011

Thanks for your suggestion on the Dentist. I didn't even think of that. Dog on it, she has bad teetht to begin with.

cher76's picture
Posts: 302
Joined: Nov 2010

Last Tuesday we had Granddaughter #1 over for the afternoon until her dad got off work. By evening she was not feeling well but I chalked it up to the extreme heat here. She ended throwing up all night and the next morning. By Saturday her dad was sick all day with what he thought was heartburn and upset stomach. Sunday we kept granddaughter #2 all day and in the evening she started throwing up! Rickie insisted she stay with us as my daughter-in-law was out of town for the night and our son had to get #1 to school in the morning and then go to work himself. While I was getting her ready for bed Rickie was washing out the clothes and towels she had thrown up on. I could have killed him! Last night my father, who had been with her on Saturday, came down sick, and today her mom had vomiting and diarrhea all day. So now I am holding my breath hoping Rickie and I don't get it. Seems to just be a 24hour bug, but Rickie can not afford to catch anything like that. his blood counts are usually pretty good, so we will see.
Wife of Rickie, dx stage IV EC, Oct. 2010

Heeran's picture
Posts: 173
Joined: Aug 2011

I hope you two don't get sick.

Daisylin's picture
Posts: 380
Joined: May 2011

Well, I'm certainly not qualified to disagree with anyone here, but we were specifically told NOT to go to the dentist during chemo treatments. They said that with the little nicks and cuts that happen during a cleaning, Lee would be more likely to get bacterial infections in his mouth. I guess, perhaps you should ask your oc, or maybe your dentist. We were given lots of information sheets before treatment, and some of them also recommended no dentist during treatment. Maybe if she could get in for that cleaning before she starts her treatments next week, just to be safe???


AngieD's picture
Posts: 504
Joined: Sep 2011

We were also told not to have any dental procedures during chemo. So, if you can get in to dentist before starting, that would probably be best.

Callaloo's picture
Posts: 147
Joined: Nov 2010

Serves me right for being gone so long. Should have told you that bit about the dentist long before you were scheduled for chemo. Probably not enough time now to have it done. Still recommend the topical flouride treatment though. You should be able to get that from the dentist.

Ericalynn's picture
Posts: 207
Joined: Jun 2011

My husband went to the gym everyday he made sure he wiped down the equipment before and after he used any machine. He was careful to not touch his face unless he had washed his hands. We did not go out a lot but we did go to restaurants. He always washes his hands after touching menu (even before chemo). He never got sick, he did have to take naps in the afternoon (he started mid way thru treatment). Like others have said your Mom should try to live her life just listen to her body and rest when she needs to.

sandy1943's picture
Posts: 883
Joined: Jun 2010

The only time I stayed away from others was when my counts were low ( which in my case, was lots)
Before I had cancer, I had already started developing some precationay habits. The main thing, is to keep your hands clean and away from your face. We really need to be careful in things we touch-door knobs, elevator buttons, grocery carts, magazines. The list goes on and on. Don't get paranoid ,but just cautious--even common colds can be avoided.
Good Luck with the treatment,

Heeran's picture
Posts: 173
Joined: Aug 2011

Thanks for all your replies. I will get stocked up on hand sanitizers and keep a watch on your WBC. I thought I had to isolate her from the public but it seems like that's not the case. I'm still learning here.

mruble's picture
Posts: 179
Joined: Jun 2011

We were told that counts typically start to fall on day 7 after infusion and continue to fall until day 10 when they slowly begin to rise again until day 14. We were advised to avoid crowds and eating out during this period (called Nadir). I can't say that we always followed the cancer center's advice but we tried to be more careful during that time. Given Chad ended up with sepsis in February, I'm a little more serious about it now -- though we don't know where he picked up the infection. We have kids in school so we do try to keep them away from Chad if they are feeling under the weather.

caregiver to Chad
diagnosed IVa in October 2009 @ 43

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