Helping with Treatment

Dealing With Possible Side Effects of Treatment and How You Can Help

Your loved one will likely experience some side effects related to her treatment. It’s usually best to ask her how you can help first, rather than jumping in where you think she needs assistance. The following are some suggested practical tasks that might be helpful.

How you can help after surgery:

  • Make sure that you have all necessary prescriptions filled and a phone number to call if either of you have any questions or concerns.
  • Help her keep tabs on her pain. Some women will need to be encouraged to take pain medication; others may risk relying too much on these drugs. Still others may be forgetful and need help remembering what to take and when to take it. If you are concerned, discuss it with her, her doctor and ask her Woman to Woman volunteer about her experience.
  • Discourage her from lifting anything heavy for a while.
  • Your loved one will need you most in the weeks following surgery— both physically and emotionally. Be ready to pitch in more with meals, driving, childcare, and household tasks.
  • Be there for her. Being a supportive, reassuring, consistent presence has a huge impact. She may feel anxious, fearful, out of control, and overwhelmed. Being a good listener is especially helpful at this time, because many women adjust to the stress of surgery by sharing and re-telling their story.
  • Most women do not need professional nursing care at home following surgery and insurance will only pay for it if doctors indicate that it’s a medical necessity. Speak to the hospital social worker if you have questions or concerns, or think that she will need a nurse or special equipment at home.

How you can help during chemotherapy:

  • Know her cancer treatment regimen and the typical side effects. Be sure to get the name and phone number of a healthcare provider who can answer any follow-up questions, or address any questions about side effects if they arise. Although your loved one may never experience severe side effects, it’s comforting to know that something she is feeling at 11:30 at night is not a new symptom, but a side effect of chemotherapy.
  • If her hair falls out — often after the 2nd or 3rd week of treatment — reassure her that she is beautiful with or without her hair, and that it will grow back. You could even offer to go with her to get a wig. (Her Woman to Woman volunteer can be very helpful as she has likely been through this and can offer support, guidance, and reassurance.)
  • Be sure she’s packed a “comfort bag” to take with her when getting chemotherapy treatments.
  • Arrange for transportation to and from the treatment center. She will likely be tired and unable to drive herself home. It may be helpful to arrange for a tour of the center before her treatment begins so you’ll both know what to expect. Find out if your hospital offers a virtual online tour.
  • Be sensitive to her unique needs. Some patients like to be alone during treatment to read and sleep; others like talking to friends, other patients undergoing similar treatment, or their Woman to Woman volunteer.
  • Many women develop “chemobrain,” which is characterized by forgetfulness or lack of focus, caused by chemotherapy. You can help by being patient and by keeping a calendar of appointments and other commitments.

How you can help during radiation treatment:

  • Be patient. Fatigue is a very common side effect of radiation. She may need extra time with tasks and more downtime between activities. Be ready to help out.
  • Remind her to clean and protect the skin exposed to radiation to control irritation and redness.
  • Help her arrange transportation to and from the radiation facility.
  • Understand that scarring from radiation administered in gynecologic cancer treatments may cause certain changes and discomfort that can negatively impact her sexual experience. So, partners should try to be as open, honest, supportive, and patient a possible during her healing process.