Iris Mini: Staying on Top of Taking Your Medications

For many people diagnosed with cancer, managing a medication regimen is a new concept that takes some practice. It’s something that can take effort, energy, and attention, all of which can be hard to come by when coping with cancer. And yet, it’s important to stay on top of taking your medications to help make sure your treatment is as effective as possible and to help manage side effects.

Here are a few common issues and some tips to help.


I have trouble getting to the pharmacy to pick up my medications.

  • Ask if your pharmacy offers mail order or delivery services which could significantly reduce the number of times you need to go to the pharmacy to pick up medications.

  • Check if your insurance company will pay for medical transportation rides. You can ask to speak to a case manager at your insurance company to inquire if this is an option for you.

  • Look at your local county/town website or your local council on aging. Some towns have medical transportation or shared ride options available at a low cost.

  • Check with the social worker at your clinic who may have assistance programs to address transportation needs.

I have trouble affording my medications because the copays are too expensive, or I’m having issues with my insurance covering my them. 

  • For both issues, it is important to immediately alert your pharmacist and your oncology care team that you need assistance. They may be able to direct you to resources including prescription assistance programs, applying for additional insurance coverage, and copay relief programs.


I’m having side effects from taking my medication that make it difficult to want to take them.

  • Communicate: Speak with your oncology team about your side effects and how they are impacting your ability to do things you want to be able to do. Discuss options, including possible medication dosage adjustment, or adjustment in the time of day you take the medication.

  • Plan: If possible, plan your day around potential side effects. If you know that you become tired after taking a particular medication, choose to do activities that require more energy earlier in the day before you take it. If post treatment side effects are an issue, consider what activities would be best at this time.

I have difficulty opening my medication bottles.

  • Ask your pharmacist about easy open bottle caps.

  • Ask a friend, family member, or nurse at your oncology office to help open the medication bottles and put medications in a pill organizer, which can be much easier to open than the medication bottles.

I have difficulty remembering to take my medications.

  • Consider using a timed medication management machine or timed alarm bottle caps (both available for purchase online). Ask your pharmacist to help you choose the best option for your needs.

  • Use your phone alarm for reminders. Consider setting a specific alarm tone to go off when you need to take your medication. Label the alarm “Take meds” or get more specific with “Take [medication name].”

  • Consider using a whiteboard with a checklist of your medications that you can view easily and checking each off once you have taken it.

  • Pair taking the medication with something you already do every day, like brushing your teeth, boiling water for your tea, or letting your dog out in the morning.


I’ve never had to take this many medications before. Taking them reminds me that I’m sick.

  • Address your emotions - consider determining any underlying reasons or feelings behind what makes taking your medications difficult.

  • Take time to self reflect. Taking medications can make things feel more “real” - what might be holding you back from taking them? Fear? Uncertainty? A shift in identity? Beliefs about what it means to be a person needing to take medications?

  • Adopt a ritual or mantra. Consider taking a deep breath and reciting a statement or word that is motivating and affirming to you around taking your medications. Example: “As I take this pill my body, my mind, and my soul will allow it to do the healing work it needs to do.”

I don't fully understand how to take my medications.

  • Ask your pharmacist to print a larger label so that you can more easily read instructions.

  • Ask your pharmacist to print an informational sheet about that medication or to direct you to a website with more information.

  • Ask your pharmacist to review how to take each medication.

  • Ask your oncology team to make a full list of your medications and the times you need to take them.

I have people in my life who don’t understand my medication needs and/or make judgments about me taking medications.

  • Everyone has different understandings of and beliefs about the use of medication. You do not need to take on the beliefs of others, but you might center yourself on what you believe and what you need to understand about your medications to feel okay with taking them.

  • Sometimes a list of “back pocket phrases” can be helpful to use when other people say unhelpful or judgmental things. This can help you to advocate for yourself and your needs without putting in too much emotional effort. Consider the Iris Minis on Asking for What You Need and Assertive Communication for additional ideas.

I need more social support with managing my medications but am not sure who to ask.

  • For some people, it may be a good first step to reach out to your natural support system of friends and family to find out who is comfortable helping with medications. You never know who might be able to help until you ask.

  • Checking in with your local community resources is a good second step. For people ages 60 and over, asking your local council on aging about available nursing or caregiver support programs can help connect you with someone to help manage your medications.

  • Talking with your oncology team, particularly your oncology nurse and pharmacist, can be a good option as they can help you brainstorm a system for managing your medications and may know about local community resources.