4 Tips For a Cleaner House When You Have Cancer

Patient Expert

Spring! Time to chase away winter’s cobwebs and freshen up your house! Unless you are exhausted from cancer treatments, that is.

Surgery, chemo, radiation — all can affect your ability to keep your house clean, whatever the season. Your fatigue level is higher and your arm’s range of motion may be lower. Cleaning is low on the scale of priorities for some people, while others have a family or a paid housekeeper who keeps the house spotless. However, in many families, it is still the woman who does the majority of the cleaning. How can you manage when you’ve been laid low by cancer treatments? Here are a few tips.

Set your priorities

Whatever your previous standards for a clean house, you will probably need to adjust them. Time spent at the doctor’s office is time you don’t have to vacuum. Think about what is most important to you. Some people can tolerate clutter as long as the bathrooms are clean. Shoes and toys scattered about drive others crazy. Make a list of household chores and how often you and your family do them. Which can be done less often? Which can you skip? Which are essential to your health?

Many people won’t notice a little more dust, but if you or someone in your family has asthma, frequent dusting needs to stay on your list of chores. Cancer treatments have lowered your immune system, so clean dishes are important. When I was on chemo, I mainly wanted a clean toilet to vomit in.

Get your family involved

Even little children can help put away clothes. They may not be perfectly folded, but a few wrinkles aren’t as important as making your children feel needed and saving your own energy. If you are still cleaning your older children’s rooms, it’s time to stop. Shut the door if their mess bothers you. Most husbands these days contribute to family cleaning, but while you are in treatment, they will need to step up their game. They will probably do so more willingly if you let them do it their way. My husband had been cleaning the floors better than I could for years, but I was the main cook. When I was too exhausted to cook, he learned to put together some easy meals. Don’t underestimate what your family can do.

Say yes when people offer to help

People will say to you, “Let me know how I can help.” Most of us never respond to the offer, but think again. What household task would you be willing to turn over to someone else? Who would you trust to do it? Maybe you have relatives who could send a gift card for a restaurant with healthy take-out meals if you let them know you need something different from flowers. Maybe you have a friend who could watch a movie with you AND move the laundry along. Most of us feel a certain amount of embarrassment at having someone else see our dirt, but you likely have someone among your friends who really likes to clean. If you could get past your embarrassment, they would be glad to know there are ways they can help you. Your yard work could be the service project for a youth group. Just be careful that you don’t take advantage of your friends inadvertently. No one wants to become your full-time maid, but there will be days when you are feeling overwhelmed and need a hand.

Consider a cleaning service

Even people with good insurance find cancer treatments to be a financial burden. Still, even though hiring a cleaning service can be expensive, you should consider contacting one. There may be another part of the budget that can be adjusted to cover the cost. Some cleaning services offer gift certificates, so you might ask for one for a birthday present. Try negotiating with the cleaning service for exactly what you need done. Instead of an expensive full-house cleaning, you may be able to get someone to scrub just your bathroom and mop only your kitchen floor for a lower rate.

One good resource is a charity called Cleaning for a Reason. Founded by Debbie Sardone in 2006, Cleaning for a Reason has recruited over 1,200 maid services to donate four free house cleanings to women who are undergoing treatment for cancer. Demand for this service exceeds the supply, but it is worth checking out and applying if there is a provider in your area. There may be similar charities in your community that your nurse navigator or social worker knows about.

When you are fatigued from cancer treatments or laid up after surgery, having a clean house may seem impossible. However, if you set your priorities and get others to help out, coping with housework can be manageable.

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Cleaning for a Reason: A Support Service for Women in Cancer Treatment

Phyllis Johnson is an inflammatory breast cancer survivor who serves on the Board of Directors for the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the oldest 501(3)(c) organization focused on research for IBC. She is a list monitor for an online support group at www.ibcsupport.org. She stays current on cancer information through attendance at conferences such as the National Breast Cancer Coalition’s Project LEAD® Institute. A retired teacher, she has been writing about cancer issues at HealthCentral since 2007.