Care for Cancer Patients: 5 Practical Tips for Caregivers

If you are about to become a caregiver (or just found out that you are a caregiver) of someone with cancer, odds are, you have a lot of new things running through your head. There is a lot you need to know and a lot that you need to learn about care for cancer patients, and care for yourself. Being a caregiver is a job that includes not only logistics and physical needs, but also emotional needs as well. We know that you’re often also handling all of your other responsibilities as well.

Don’t stress, my friend! You CAN do this and your loved one needs you now more than ever! Here are a few simple reminders to help you move forward in confidence as a caregiver of someone with cancer.

  1. 1. Take Notes:

    There will be A LOT coming at you, so take notes and get organized from the start. Whether you like a handwritten notebook or binder to keep notes straight, or you like a digital version on your phone or small device, find something that works. Just remember, that you might be taking these notes a lot of places so you want something that can easily be taken into an exam room and be with you all on the go!

  2. 2. Plan for your own health.

    You can’t help your loved one if you aren’t well yourself. Go into this cancer fight with the perspective that you will have times of exhaustion or physical limits. Know your limits and be prepared when you hit them. The last thing you need is to feel discouraged. Go ahead and feel tired, but plan ahead so that you don’t burn out. Perhaps you need others to help fill in so that you get a break from time to time. Perhaps you can’t physically lift your loved one to help them shower or get out of bed. Think ahead to have your network of people around to help!

  3. 3. Gather your information:

    Gather the vital information that you or someone else might need. This includes insurance information for the patient, doctors’ numbers, pharmacy information, etc. Keep that handy for when others might step in to help or just to save your sanity and make it easy!

  4. 4. Plan for irritability ahead of time.

    Anyone going through pain and disease will feel grouchy a time or two. Often certain medications have side effects that cause irritability. I’ve found that when I have that as a mental reminder in my head, I don’t take things personally when my patient is frustrated. You can love with grace instead of taking things as an offense.

  5. 5. Read my book.

    No, seriously. Read my book and read others like it. I wrote Know Your Enemy because I want families to be smart about how they approach the cancer fight and care for cancer patients. I want to help set you up for success because I believe when you know your enemy and are educated, you can fight better and smarter. There are people like me who have walked through the cancer fight multiple times, whether as a patient or as a friend, and you can learn a lot from others!

A cancer diagnosis can be quite the shock, and many people find themselves in caregiving situations by default when that diagnosis comes. You may not feel prepared for this next season, but trust me, you are!   You have what it takes to fight cancer with strength and walk alongside your loved one to help them fight with all they’ve got too!

Staying Motivated: National Cancer Prevention Month

A wise man should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings, and learn how by his own thought to derive benefit from his illnesses.
– Hippocrates

As you may or may not know, February is National Cancer Prevention Month. What I like about this particular campaign, is that it focuses on prevention in addition to awareness.

Keeping in mind that cancer prevention is possible by making simple lifestyle adjustments, I’ve thankfully been able to gain focus on getting my health in check for February and for the rest of the year.

Here are 3 things I would recommend to do to create good exercise habits for the rest of 2017 in honor of Cancer Prevention month:

Challenge Yourself to Daily 30 Min Exercise
Take 30 minutes each day to get the body moving and blood pumping. It doesn’t have to be extreme and there’s no need for a gym membership. You just need to get up and get outside for some physical activity. On the days when you are not feeling up to a challenge, step it up with some bike riding, running or weights. The important part is to just keep your body in motion.

Evaluating and Optimizing your Diet:
The key here is balance. So, plan on incorporating more plant-based foods into your diet and limit processed foods and red meats. With the reports linking red meat consumption to colon cancer, this should be a no-brainer. Boosting your nutrition habits will help fortify your immune system and cut the risk of cancer.

Maintain a Healthy Weight.
Carrying around excess weight is not only bad for your joints and can place strain on your cardiovascular system; it has also been linked to different types of cancers. Keeping your weight at a solid and steady level will not only prevent chronic health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, it can also help prevent against types of cancer. As a bonus, if you follow the first two steps, maintaining a good weight shouldn’t be hard.

The American Institute for Cancer Research has estimated that about one-third of the most common cancers in the US could be prevented by simply exercising, eating better and keeping your weight in check. Read more at American Cancer Society: Weight and Cancer .

For those of us who have made resolutions for 2017 to get healthy, this is great source of motivation to keep going. And for those of us who have had trouble keeping our resolutions, this is the perfect time to give ourselves a second chance.

Just remember, it’s never too late to change your habits and yourself for the better.

Please feel free to share your own story or leave some kind words of encouragement in the comments section below.

I hope the rest of 2017 and beyond, finds you healthy and happy.

The Pitfalls of Self Diagnosis on the Internet

As any doctor can tell you, the most crucial step toward healing is having the right diagnosis. If the disease is precisely identified, a good resolution is far more likely. Conversely, a bad diagnosis usually means a bad outcome, no matter how skilled the physician.
Andrew Weil

Self Diagnosis: The Hows, The Whys and the Why Nots

The Internet is an incredibly great resource for accessing information and has become increasingly embedded into daily life as the “go-to” for any questions we don’t have answers to.However, when it comes to researching potential health problems or symptoms, it can sometimes lead to worry and confusion, ending up doing more harm than good. In certain cases, self-diagnosis online can be a catalyst for unleashing someone’s worst fears about their health.

With the millions of online medical resources, including health apps and sites, it’s easy to self-diagnose and self-treat. But self-diagnosis can be dangerous, as Dr. Weil alludes to in his quote above.

We’re all guilty of googling symptoms or health concerns we are having and thinking the worst after reading through bulletpointed lists of related symptoms and rare conditions. But before hitting the panic button, just remind yourself that out of all of the readily available medical content online, a significant portion can be confusing and misleading; and there are a number of health conditions that overlap and share an array of symptoms.

So What Should We Do?

Although the Internet is a logical first step in trying to determine what could be wrong with your health, it should not be a substitute for a consultation with your physician. For some of us with time and financial constraints, I understand how difficult it can be to schedule a doctor’s appointment. But for the sake of your health, don’t solely rely on what the Internet tells you.

After reading an article about the “Key signs of cancer” I thought to myself, I have experienced almost every single one of the symptoms listed (fatigue, pain, weight loss, changes in bowel activity) at one time or another. I was falling into the self-diagnosis trap. Thankfully, my symptoms were caused by something much less severe.

It’s important to remember that we are not experts. And with something as serious as cancer, getting treatment and catching the initial symptoms is critical. This is why if you’re feeling ill and or believe you have any symptoms of cancer, I urge you to see a doctor before self-diagnosis.

Tips for Online Research

If you are intent about searching online, keep in mind that some sites that are more credible sources of information than others. For example, look for sites that end with the following suffixes, as they would be considered more trustworthy:

“.gov” which means the site is sponsored by the federal government

“.edu” which means the site is run by medical schools or universities

“.org” which means they’re maintained by not-for-profit organizations

Also scientific journals or medical journals can provide credible studies and information.

The bottom line is, if you’re not feeling well, for the sake of your health and sanity, get offline and go see a doctor. You’ll be much better off in the long run. You don’t want to risk getting delayed treatment, especially with cancer. Don’t fall into the self-diagnosis trap. Seeing a doctor can (literally) be a life saver.

A New Way of Thinking for the New Year

“Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”
–Winston Churchill

Each New Year brings new opportunities to change and improve how we choose to live our lives.

Aside from the standard resolutions many of us make (and often break) such as “I’m going to eat better, exercise more, quit smoking, etc.” what’s helped me is to focus more on changing the way I think and cope when dealing with what life has thrown at me, as in my case, dealing with cancer.

For 2017, I plan on not letting negative thoughts and fears overtake me. I’m not going to let myself worry more than I have to.

Something I’ve found myself grappling with over the past few years is the fear of recurrence. This started after a loved one completed treatment and received news that the cancer was in remission. Initially, this gave me strong feelings of relief and gratitude.

However, not long after the good news arrived, feelings of anxiety and fear started to creep in. I kept constantly thinking to myself “what if it comes back” and “what if they didn’t find it all”. I eventually started to dreadfully anticipate hearing the words “the cancer is back”, even though everything was going great.

In a lot of ways, this fear negated the positivity and hope I worked to achieve throughout the treatment process.

So basically this New Year, I’m going to let go of my fears of the things that haven’t happened yet.

Life isn’t predictable and doesn’t come with any guarantees. I’m a firm believer of rolling with the punches, and when a real challenge arrives, that’s when I’ll fight back.

I’m going to keep reminding myself that fear really doesn’t help in the fight against cancer. Instead, I’ll let my strength guide me and get me through it. I’d rather focus on what I still have, versus thinking about what may be lost.

This year I also plan to connect with other survivors of cancer. Hopefully I can do this with this blog. If you would like to share your own experiences, thoughts or have questions, I encourage you to leave a comment or send me a message.