We know that chemo can be toxic to ourselves and we can get sick, but did you know that it can make those around us sick too if they are exposed.
Before I started chemo, I was invited to attend a chemo education session where I learnt things about treatment, nutrition and what it means to be cytotoxic.
When you have chemo you are considered 'cytotoxic' for the next 7-10 days. This means that your bodily fluids such as urine, tears, sweat, saliva, semen, poo and blood contains chemicals that can be toxic to others if they are exposed to it. They can be near you and not get sick, just as long as they don't come into contact with your bodily fluids.
So when you have chemo it is important that you be mindful of what you're doing to help protect those around you.
Here are 10 steps I take to ensuring the safety of others around me when I am cytotoxic
#1. Double flushing the toilet with the lid down
This helps to keep the toxic waste inside the toilet and avoid splashing. Double flushing also ensures that the toxic waste is removed from the toilet and is safe for the next person to use. Make sure you also wipe the toilet seat properly.
#2. Try and use one toilet for my use only
I know this one can be hard especially if you only have one toilet being used by all the members of your household, but I am lucky in my house that we have two toilets and I try and keep one toilet for my use only. This is just to minimise the risk of me being cytotoxic with my husband or guests visiting our house.
#3. Don't share drinks/cups
As saliva is one of the ways in which I am cytotoxic it is important for your own safety that you don't drink out of a bottle I have drank out of, or a cup. If you (like me) prefer to drink out of the bottle of milk or softdrink rather than in a glass simply mark that bottle with your name or just make sure others know not to drink that drink.
#4. Don't share food/utensils
This very much goes with #3, don't eat the food off my plate or use my utensils after I have used them. I have to keep reminding my husband to not eat my leftovers. I am getting more into the habit of having smaller meals and going back for more if I am hungry as opposed to food going to waste... but sometimes my eyes are just too big for my tummy!
#5. Use condoms if having sex even if it is just oral
Not only do you not want to get pregnant while undergoing chemo (I imagine it wouldn't be good for the baby), but it also isn't safe for your partner if you have unprotected sex.
#6. Double line your garbage bags when disposing your stoma bags
This is something that I was told to do by my stoma nurses which helps ensure the safety of those working in the garbage disposal industry in the event that the original bag you've disposed of your stoma bag in has broken down or torn open, that you aren't exposing workers or the environment to your toxic waste. To be safe I put my soiled stoma bag in a garbage bag and seal it then place it inside another garbage bag and seal that one.
#7. Make sure you have disposable gloves handy
If you are likely to have someone at home who would jump in willy nilly and help you clean up if you vomitted, had a bag leak or made a mess, it is important that you have gloves at the ready for them to wear to protect themselves. My husband bless his soul really is my night in shining armour, he sees that I am in trouble and his first instinct is to jump in and help me. But, I have to keep stopping him and reminding him to get gloves if he wants to help as I don't want to run the risk of making him sick. Also put the used gloves in a plastic bag and seal it before placing in the garbage bin.
#8. If you are holding a newborn
My brother (and his partner) recently had a beautiful little boy. Easter was approaching and I had started back on chemo and I knew I would be sad if I could see him but not get cuddles. So I asked the chemo nurses if it was okay for me to hold him and they said that it was providing I wasn't sweaty, I don't kiss him and my bag isn't leaking. Thankfully, I got a couple of cuddles in on Good Friday and I made sure that there was always something between my skin and the baby to be safe.
#9. Wash soiled items seperately
When you do have a leak it is important that the clothes and linens are washed seperately to your normal (non-chemo person's) laundry. I find one wash cycle to be enough to clean the clothes, it is just more to protect other's clothes from being exposed to cytotoxic waste.
#10. Wash your hands and make sure others do too
Whenever you go to the toilet, do a bag change, deal with soiled linen or clothes or if you sneeze/cough always make sure you wash your hands. Not only is this good hygeine practice, but it helps eliminate the spread of germs and chemicals. Make sure others around you wash their hands too and if possible ask them to use hand sanitiser.