Does chemotherapy make you toxic?

Last Modified: November 24, 2002


Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"
I am receiving chemotherapy and some of my friends are avoiding me because they say I am toxic. Is that true? 


Carolyn Vachani RN, MSN, AOCN, OncoLink's Medical Correspondent, responds:

You cannot get toxic from your chemotherapy treatments, nor can you expose people to the chemotherapy by being near them. Many people do not understand cancer, and may withdraw from you because they are afraid of your illness and do not know what to do to help you. Others may worry that they will upset you by saying "the wrong thing."

You can help them better understand what you are going through by talking about your illness, your treatment, your needs, and your feelings. By talking openly, you can correct any misinformation they may have about cancer. You can also let people know that there is no single "right" thing to say, as long as they care about you. Once people know they can talk with you honestly, they may be more willing and able to open up and lend their support. Accepting help can be hard, but by allowing others to help, you are helping others deal with your illness. Perhaps your friends may want to come to your appointment with you to better understand what you are going through.

The National Cancer Institute publishes a booklet, which you may find helpful, called Taking Time. It offers advice for cancer patients and their families and friends about communicating with each another. You can get a copy of this booklet by calling the Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) or you can read it on the NCI's website.