Thursday, September 24, 2009

When You Have Cancer: Tips for Coping (part 2)

I just got off the phone last night with my sister Cyndie, who told me her friend Val is having surgery tomorrow to remove a very small breast cancer tumor. Val wanted to talk to me back in August after her routine mammogram found the tumor. She wanted clarification about the technical terms her doctor used to describe her type of breast cancer. Since I am familiar with some of the terminology and I am good at Internet research, I felt both honored by her request and capable of helping her get answers to her questions.

I am keeping Val in my thoughts and prays today and
I am continuing my series of tips for coping when you have cancer in her honor:

  • Some doctors have the worst bedside manner. If you happen to encounter one of these doctors, please don't let them discourage you or disuade you from treating your cancer. Talk to this doctor's other patients while in the waiting room and compare notes. Talk to the nurses and other professionals in the office about your concerns. Exercise your right to a second opinion. If you are stuck with this doctor, trying turning your disgust and discouragement into extra determination to win your fight so you won't need their services anymore.
  • Ask to meet with the oncology social worker. Social workers can provide a wealth of information about the practical and everyday aspects of living with cancer like disability benefits, referrals to support groups, program and services available to persons living with cancer, referrals to individual, couples and family counseling and home health care services. Unfortunately, due to under staffing and the high patient numbers, the social worker may not have the time to come and introduce themselves to you. So be proactive, ask to see them and ask them how they can help you!
  • Reward your medical team with small tokens of your appreciation. The nurses, doctors and others in the field of oncology are some of the hardest working medical professionals. Having a bowl of candy (or a jug of jelly beans from Costco) in your hospital room or bringing some cookies (store-bought are fine!) to clinic are nice ways to say 'I notice and appreciate your hard work and caring.'
  • Don't take it personally when the people around you act weirdly in response to your cancer diagnosis. For some people, their family and friends rally around them, which can be wonderfully reassuring or smothering. For others, they find that suddenly friends and family disappear or avoid them, which can be devastating or better than having them hovering around you. Sometimes it's a combination of these two extremes. However your friends and family respond, their reaction is really all about them, not you.
  • Take what other people have to say about your cancer with a grain of salt. Sometimes even the most well-intentioned people say the most hideous things about how and why you got cancer, like, "You were burning the candle at both ends." or "God must be upset with you." Again, whatever they say, remember that these statements have little to do with you and a lot to do with how poorly these people are dealing with your cancer diagnosis.
  • Give yourself permission to put your needs in front of everyone else's needs. You are fighting a life-threatening illness and, for right now, you need to be your number one priority. Remember you can't take care of anyone else unless you take care of yourself first.
  • Be willing to reject the advice of the countless self-help authors who write about the subject of cancer if what they say doesn't work for you. Back in 1988, Love, Medicine and Miracles was a bestseller and was given to me as a gift after I was diagnosed. In the book, author Bernie Siegel, MD asks the reader 'why do you need cancer in your life?' Needless to say, I was mortified. For some people, learning how you can think yourself sick or well might work for them. It didn't work for me.
  • Be very careful about alternative treatments for cancer, especially treatments that advocate the discontinuation of traditional treatments like surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. In addition, talk to your doctor about any vitamin and mineral supplements and herbal products you may be taking, as they may cause serious side effects in combination with prescription medications and/or chemotherapy.
  • Be extra cautious when your blood counts are low from treatment: you are more susceptible to infection. Postpone your night out dancing or your trip to the mall until your counts rebound. If you need to wear a mask when out in public, consider buying your own supply of N95 respirator masks. Recent studies show that the surgical masks many patients are provided are not as effective as the N95 respirator mask in protecting you from cold and flu viruses.
  • If you need to be hospitalized, be sure to take along some distractions and decorations for your room. When you are feeling up to it, it is better to fill your time there with a good book, good music, a game to play or a movie to watch. Bring along pictures of your loved ones, your pets or a drawing from a child close to you. Better yet, bring art supplies to make your own drawings. Bring along some of your own clothes, slippers, bathrobe, etc. Not only will bringing along your personal items from home make you feel more at ease, it helps the medical professionals taking care of you see beyond your cancer to the person you truly are.
That's all for today. I'll be back tomorrow with my recommendations for a variety of helpful resources. In the meantime, please leave me a comment with your reactions, questions, suggestions and your tips for coping with cancer. And please send some healing thoughts in Val's direction today.

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