How a Cancer Mom Prepares for Fall: Part 1 -The House

The new season is in the air! You know those “Opening Celebrations” and bucket lists for Fall? Cancer families have them too. No, it is not the faint smell of pumpkin spice and crunch of leaves.  I smell disinfectant and hear every sneeze, sniff, cough and “it’s just allergies”. It’s Fall– the season of dying and fright. Even slight and normal sickness is dangerous when the immune system is compromised.

This is the start of house arrest and fighting the disease experiments of pre-school. I am often asked if I spend all day cleaning. The short answer is “kinda” . I am constantly asked what we do, so today I reveal it. It may work for you or it may be the most ridiculous or common sense thing you’ve ever heard.

Mostly, this post is for my AMAZING friends whose children are starting chemo this season.  Sadly, there are several. This is how we have survived 5 years of compromised immune systems and 3 of house arrest.

1. Load the Arsenal and Prep the Weapons

  • Assign a Toy Bin. I use a Rubbermaid bin with lid to keep kids out.  All toys that have been played with that day (in a common area) are either cleaned daily or every other day. At the end of the day, or if something gets gross, put it in to be washed at night.
  • Get Mesh Laundry bags. Put the small toys inside and put that bag into the sink, the laundry, or the dishwasher.


  • Clean the Weapons. We get down the humidifiers, extra air purifiers and clean them thoroughly. All diffusers and things we need to breathe at night without sounding like Darth Vader get a right and proper scrubbing.
  • Use cleaners you love. We found natural, chemical-free cleaners with a smell we enjoy. It helps our home feel less like a hospital and smell less like bleach.
  • Cleaning Bins on each floor.  I don’t want to run up and down stairs to get cleaners, trash bags and Clorox, especially if vomit is involved.  It also keeps cleaners in one place.
  • Strategic Motivation. Put your favorite quotes, things that make you laugh, chocolate stashes, etc. near places where you will frequently be discouraged or working hard. Mine are near the trash bags and in the laundry room.

2. Guard the Door

A small table at the door holds Clorox wipes for the door handles, sanitizer, and masks for visitors and those going inside and out.

cleaning supplies

3. Purchases for Petri-Dish People (read TODDLERS)

  • Buy ALL the toothbrushes and pitch them. Strep throat and contagious germs that linger on toothbrushes are gross. Rotate regularly.  I get it, we want to cut down on waste and save the world. If pitching dollar store toothbrushes or plastic waste bothers you, buy the fancy earth-friendly ones on your Christmas list. You could boil them, but that uses water… look, sometimes you have to balance saving your kid’s life with saving the planet. My kid wins every time. EVERY time.
  • Laundry sanitizer. Game changer. Chemo caused Jon’s skin to have a strong smell which permeated all laundry. We tried 5 detergents without success.  We wash his clothing separately, but adding the extra sanitizer was a winner. lysollaundry
  • Masks. They look weird and hurt your ears over time, but if there is 100% change your little one will cough or sneeze in your face or use you as a human tissue, it is worth it to stay healthy. You can buy boxes of masks at pharmacies or on Amazon.
  • Sticker charts or visual aides for hand washing.  You can find these online. ANYTHING to motivate kids to wash their hands!

4. Air

“I can feel it coming in the air tonight…oh Lord.” -Phil Collins

Y’all know the basics from allergies, colds, temperature changes, etc.  Humidifiers, diffusers with essential oils, airing out the room, etc.

It really may be worth it to pay up for duct cleaning or an amazing air purifying system. Yes, they are pricey, but it can offset the smaller and less effective purifiers, etc. ( If you want the BEST purifier EVER, I know a gal.)  If that is NOT an option, change out the air filters often.

5. The Extra Cleaning

Eliminate all you can! You can’t keep adding more and expect to do it all.

  • Outsource if you can! A few people paid for cleaning service for me. It was hard to schedule and find time away, but it was glorious and soothed my soul afterward!
  • Have toys that are hard to clean or wash? Put them away for this season. You don’t need to get out all the seasonal clothing. 10 favorite outfits will do. You’ll be doing laundry all the time.
  • At nap time or the end of the day, wash the toys in the bin. If possible, pour the water and bleach right in. Just take out electronics first! (Oops). Then spread towels and let the toys dry out. For sanity, I only allow one “small toy” group at a time. If Legos are out, K’Nex are away, etc.
  • If you have a laundry day, add a load of stuffed animals. (Do this in the morning during home school or a distracted time so they reappear before bedtime!

LET PEOPLE HELP. I made a full task list of what should be cleaned, what cleaner to use and where to find it.


6. The Drastic and Dramatic

The dread of one kid getting sick is that the others will likely catch it, despite best efforts.

This probably won’t apply to you, but we do keep kids apart. We disassembled bunk beds, changed flooring and put in a door.When William arrives home, he takes off shoes and heads directly to the shower. After a scrub down and a change of clothing, he gets to eat a snack and play in the top two floors while Jon must stay downstairs. That is when he can read or play with special “afternoon” toys after his school hours.

I use different colors and styles of plates for the boys so they are kept apart. Will likes to touch everything and he is likely to be germy. It also helps me know who has put their dishes in the sink and who hasn’t! Jon’s pantry items are also where Will can’t reach them.

That’s the basic start of how we prep! I do this over a week because we are already exhausted. Turn on a playlist of favorites, grab a favorite audio book or invite a friend over– anything to decrease the emotional urgency that will crop up


If you want a Pumpkin Spice Latte at the end, I promise not to roll my eyes at you. This is literally just a season. After all, “winter is coming”.




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