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What can chemo patients not do?

Chemotherapy is a common treatment for cancer patients. While it can be very effective at killing cancer cells, it also comes with many side effects that can limit a patient’s normal activities. In this article, we will explore some of the main things that chemo patients often cannot do while undergoing treatment.

Physical Activities and Exercise

Chemotherapy can cause fatigue, muscle weakness, nausea, and overall feelings of illness. This can make it very difficult for patients to participate in their regular physical activities or exercise routines. Some key things chemo patients often cannot do include:

  • High-intensity exercise like running, weight lifting, sports, etc.
  • Even light exercise like walking or yoga on bad days
  • Daily chores like cleaning, laundry, yardwork, etc.
  • Climbing stairs or just doing basic movements

The level of activity a chemo patient can handle varies based on the drugs and doses used in their treatment protocol. But in general, any strenuous activity is off limits, and even light activity may be too much on days when side effects hit hard. Patients need to take it very easy and listen to their body.

Work and School

Most chemo treatments require visiting the cancer center or hospital for infusions that can take anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours. And on the days after chemotherapy, patients often feel unwell and need to recover at home.

As a result, chemo patients frequently have to take extended time off from work and school during treatment. Some key impacts include:

  • Missing work or school 1-5 days per week for appointments
  • Needing weeks or months of leave during peak treatment periods
  • Being unable to work at all if the job is physically demanding
  • Having difficulty concentrating on mentally demanding tasks

This can be very frustrating, as patients want to maintain their normal roles and activities as much as possible. Some may be able to work reduced hours or do tasks remotely on good days. But overall, chemo usually requires significant time away from work or studies.

Social Activities

In addition to physical activities, chemotherapy side effects often get in the way of basic social interaction. Some examples include:

  • Having to cancel plans with friends and family when feeling unwell
  • Avoiding crowded indoor spaces like parties or events
  • Not having the energy for outings or get-togethers
  • Staying isolated at home due to lowered immunity

It can be very disappointing for patients when chemotherapy prevents them from participating in the social activities that usually bring joy and community. But rest and isolation are often necessary to protect health when the immune system is weakened by cancer drugs. Social interaction may need to be limited to phone calls, texting, and video chats on especially challenging days.


Another common limitation for chemo patients is an inability to travel long distances or for extended periods of time. Reasons travel may be off limits include:

  • Needing to remain near the cancer treatment center for frequent appointments
  • Concerns about accessing care if side effects occur while away
  • Lowered immunity making air travel or other public spaces risky
  • Fatigue and nausea making driving or transport difficult

This impacts everything from family vacations to business trips to visiting relatives. Therapy schedules with set days per week or month are especially restrictive for getting away. While short local trips may be manageable between treatments, most chemo patients are advised to avoid extensive travel until their course of therapy is complete.

Diet and Alcohol

Chemotherapy drugs, nausea, appetite changes, and altered taste buds can all affect the diet and ability to enjoy food and drink for cancer patients. Common dietary restrictions include:

  • Needing to avoid uncooked foods due to infection risk
  • Not being able to tolerate spicy, greasy, or acidic foods well
  • Drinking little or no alcohol, as it exacerbates dehydration and chemical side effects
  • Requiring bland, simple, easy-to-digest meals
  • Relying on nutritional supplements if solid foods become unappealing

In general, chemo patients are advised to choose foods that are gentle on the stomach and maintain hydration and calories as much as possible. It can be disheartening to lose the enjoyment of favorite flavors and dishes. But dietary changes are an important way patients can support their body through treatment.

Fertility and Pregnancy

Some types of chemotherapy drugs are toxic to reproductive systems in both men and women. This can negatively impact:

  • Fertility
  • Ability to conceive or maintain a pregnancy
  • Production and health of eggs or sperm

For this reason, chemo patients are advised to avoid becoming pregnant or trying to conceive while undergoing chemotherapy. The effects are temporary for some drugs, while others can cause permanent infertility. This is a major consideration for patients of childbearing age to discuss with their oncology team.


The side effects of chemo like fatigue, nausea, neuropathy, and brain fog can impair motor skills, coordination, and reaction time. This may prohibit driving under the influence of chemotherapy. Typical recommendations include:

  • No driving for 24-48 hours after chemo infusions when side effects peak
  • Asking someone else to drive to appointments when possible
  • Taking taxis or public transportation on treatment days if needed
  • Staying off the road entirely if very fatigued or impaired

Driving requires focus and quick responses, which may not be possible for chemo patients experiencing cognitive effects. Arranging alternative transportation is an important way to stay safe.

Working with Food

Due to significantly suppressed immune function, chemotherapy patients are advised not to work directly with food for the safety of themselves and others. Examples include:

  • Working in food service
  • Preparing food for others or at a commercial kitchen
  • Waiting tables
  • Stocking grocery shelves

The risks from bacteria and other contaminants in food are too high. Food handling jobs need to be put on hold during chemo treatment to prevent possible infection and illness.

Children and Childcare

Caring for young children often involves physical demands like lifting, constant movement, and keeping up with their energy. It also carries exposure to childhood illnesses frequently brought home from school and daycare. For these reasons, chemo patients may require help with childcare tasks, including:

  • Getting small children dressed, fed, and ready for the day
  • Transporting kids to and from school
  • Supervising play time and physical activities
  • Hosting sleepovers or play dates with other children

Family and friends may need to pitch in more, or outside childcare services could provide needed assistance until a parent’s treatment is over.

Pet Care

Pets often feel like part of the family. But some chemo patients find themselves unable to fully care for their furry companions during treatment. Challenges can include:

  • Having low energy to walk, exercise, or play with pets
  • Not being able to bend or scoop litter boxes
  • Needing help lifting heavy bags of food or litter
  • Relying on others for grooming, bathing, and nail trims

If no family or friends can help out, temporary pet-sitting services may be required until a patient finishes therapy. This can give pets the care they need while their owner focuses on rest and recovery.


Chemo often leaves patients feeling utterly exhausted. Chores like cleaning, laundry, yardwork, and home maintenance can become impossible burdens simply due to lack of energy. Patients may need to:

  • Hire professional house cleaning services
  • Rely on family to help with chores and errands
  • Let housekeeping slide during peak treatment periods
  • Break tasks into smaller pieces and rest frequently

The fatigue and weakness of chemo can make even basic chores around the house feel insurmountable. Asking for help is crucial so patients can focus on rest.

Yard and Garden Work

Mowing grass, pruning bushes, planting flowers, and simple outdoor chores often require strength and stamina. But chemotherapy can zap all reserves of energy. Yardwork challenges may include:

  • Operating mowers, trimmers, blowers and other equipment
  • Bending, lifting, and carrying mulch, dirt, plants, and tools
  • Working outdoors in heat and humidity
  • Standing or kneeling for extended periods

All of these tasks may be too physically demanding for a chemo patient to tackle. Help from landscapers or lawn services can keep the yard maintained while energy is directed toward healing.

Hygiene Tasks

Day-to-day hygiene rituals can even become difficult for chemotherapy patients coping with fatigue, nausea, and overall illness. Some examples are:

  • Taking daily showers or baths
  • Washing and styling hair
  • Shaving or other grooming rituals
  • Brushing teeth
  • Doing makeup, skincare, and other beauty regimens

When the body feels wiped out, even self-care tasks can get neglected. But maintaining whatever hygiene is possible can help patients feel more human while going through an exhausting process.


Chemotherapy can place many limits on daily life for cancer patients. The treatments sap energy, impair immunity, and cause many disruptive side effects. As a result, chemo patients often cannot participate in physical, social, and lifestyle activities they previously enjoyed.

But these limitations are temporary, even if they feel endless in the moment. With support from loved ones, professional caregiving services, and their medical team, patients can get through their prescribed treatment period one day at a time. The light at the end of the tunnel is returning to all the activities and roles they love after finishing chemotherapy and beating cancer.