My mom is undergoing chemo - but she won't wash her hands!

2 answers | Last updated: Oct 29, 2012
A fellow caregiver asked...

My Mom has stage 4 pancreatic cancer and lives with me and my husband. She is weak but can get around somewhat. My question is this....How do I get her to wash her hands after she uses the bathroom? I have already talked about how we need to be very careful with germs because of her taking chemo. I have placed anti bacterial hand sanitizers all over my house but still she does not use them. Please help.

Expert Answers

Bonnie Bajorek Daneker is author and creator of the The Compassionate Caregiver's Series, which includes "The Compassionate Caregiver's Guide to Caring for Someone with Cancer," "The Journey of Grief," "Handbook on Hospice and Palliative Care," and other titles on cancer diagnosis and end of life. She speaks regularly at cancer research and support functions, including PANCAN and Cancer Survivor's Network. She is a former member of the Executive Committee of the CSN at St. Joseph's Hospital of Atlanta and the Georgia Chapter of the Lymphoma Research Foundation.

This can be so frustrating, but hang in there. You need to understand why she is not doing that. My guess is that extra step takes energy out of her that she may not want to use. It's an effort to go into another room, partially undress, bend, redress, balance, and walk back to where she was before. She may be very concerned about her balance, nausea, and dizziness, too -- holding onto the sink may be more important than using it!

It could also be a small semblance of her maintaining control, choosing not to do something because she can. Cancer makes people feel helpless oftentimes, and they may act out to just feel like they have some power.

Consider some other creative solutions. Would she use a walker? Would she use sanitary wipes for babies? Maybe the soaps dry her skin and you could find an antibacterial lotion that smells great.

Bottom line, though, her body is already dealing with the germs within. It's more important to have her use the sanitizers in public than in your home, where you are probably all much more conscious than outside the home. Also, you can help by periodically taking turns in cleaning the bathroom. Good luck.

Community Answers

Myhandy2012 answered...

What about just getting some baby wipes? They just come out of the box, rub your hands around in them then toss in the waste basket. Give it a try. If she doesn't use them then everyone else in the house will have no excuse!!