Posts Tagged ‘Coping With Cancer’

Even after cancer treatment has ended, many people find that their sleep is still affected. Both physical symptoms related to the cancer or treatment and worry can cause sleeplessness. Add this to the fatigue which can remain for a year or more after treatments such as chemotherapy and there is a real effect on quality of life. Sleep medication can even be prescribed, but most people do not want to rely on such medicines.
These days it is quite common for people to use complementary treatments in addition to their cancer treatment, but now there is evidence that yoga can be beneficial after treatment to alleviate some of the remaining effects. Participants in the study reported improved sleep, less use of sleep medication, reduced fatigue and improved quality of life. The study followed a 4-week yoga programme, and I would expect that continuing with the yoga would result in ongoing improvement.
(For more detail about this study see Medical News Today.)
I also am interested in how this relates to family members. For partners, their sleep may also be affected directly by a wakeful bed-mate. There is also the worry that family members feel. Although not included in the study, it may be that yoga would also be helpful here – and it is also an activity which could be a new shared interest if you were to join in.
Are these issues that have affected you? How do you handle sleep issues? Are there other beneficial treatments or activities you have tried? Please add your experiences in the responses.


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Following on from my last post looking at how breast cancer affects husbands or partners, here are John InDelicato and Dave Balch’s top tips:

John’s list of recommendations:

  • Be honest and open about your feelings.
  • Accept the help of family and friends. You may be providing them with an opportunity to fulfil their need to help.
  • Include children in conversations and encourage dialogue with them to dispel fears, misinformation, and mysteries.
  • Reconstruction brings closure and wholeness.
  • It’s okay to be broken.
  • Realize and come to terms with what is unimagineable. Men may not experience breast surgery, chemo, and radiation.
  • Learn to listen.

Dave’s list of recommendations (“The 11 L’s of Caring and Coping” © 2009, Dave Balch All rights reserved):

  1. Learn as much as you can. Even if what you learn is scary, it’s better to know than not to know.
  2. Level with each other. Sharing your fears helps reduce them.
  3. Laugh. Nothing changes… but you feel better!
  4. Live in the moment. Focus on things you can control, not things you can’t.
    Remember this phrase: “Don’t go there ‘til you get there.”
  5. Look forward to something to remind you that your crisis won’t last forever, even if it seems like it will.
  6. Keep friends and family in the Loop. It’s important but stressful to keep everyone up-to-date. Reduce that stress by using our free online services at: http://www.ThePatientPartnerProject.org
  7. Let people help you, but only with things that you need.
  8. Limit yourself to one crisis at a time. You can’t solve all problems at once, so focus on only one problem at a time.
  9. Lift your spirits by taking time for yourself. Remember what they say on the airlines:
    “Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others with theirs”
  10. Lower the bar. Give yourself a break: do less than you normally do until things are better.
  11. Lose people that upset you. Avoid well-meaning people who try to help but make things harder instead.
  12. Remember that things seem worse Late at night, when you’re tired. Be aware of that; then it’s easier to ignore the additional stress.

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Recently I wrote about how being married improves outcomes for those with cancer. Spouses make a difference! (See the post)

What I also knew was that the improvement for people with cancer comes at a cost to the spouse. The additional stress, extra workload and role of caring all have the potential to adversely affect the health of those around the person with cancer. It would seem likely that the greatest effect would be on those closest – the spouses – though this depends on many factors.

Research has recently been carried out in this area, and it shows that there is an increase in healthcare needs and psychiatric diagnoses (mental health issues) amongst those who have a spouse with cancer. According to the researchers, this effect is greatest in male spouses. Perhaps this would indicate that the support structure of friends and family, which is more common amongst women, can alleviate the issues to some extent.

The study was limited in scope to those issues for which medical help was sought, and I would suspect that there would be a larger underlying issue of health issues experienced by spouses for which medical help has not been accessed. The researchers also recognise that there is a need for further study to ascertain ‘how to support the partner in the most effective way’. Families Facing Cancer will welcome such research, and the implementation of its findings.

Ref: ‘Influence on the Health of the Partner Affected by Tumor Disease in the Wife or Husband Based on a Population-Based Register Study of Cancer in Sweden’ – Katarina Sjövall, Bo Attner, Thor Lithman, Dennis Noreen, Barbro Gunnars, Bibbi Thorné and Håkan Olsson.

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As I’ve been discussing in previous posts, there are times when someone who has cancer chooses not to pass on all the information about their condition to those around them. Today I’m going to look at why they might do that, what effect it can have, and how the difficulties might be avoided.
These are the main reasons for secrecy that I am aware of:

  • The first is that people may not be ready to face the truth themselves. Telling someone else all about your illness leaves you no room to avoid or lessen the truth. People sometimes cope with cancer by ignoring it as best they can. They may have treatment but otherwise just pretend nothing has changed. So this may be the reason, if someone is downplaying the significance of their cancer, or doesn’t want to talk about it.
  • Another option is that the person who has cancer is depressed. They may feel much negativity about their life and at the extreme may not even be sure they want to survive. In this case, the person may not wish to share much about their illness because it would mean exposing their feelings, and maybe having pressure put on them to accept treatment.
  • There is also the case where someone wants to explore alternative methods of treatment, or simply does not believe that medical intervention is right. In this case, the person might withhold information in the belief that their family’s feelings could sway their decision. (Those who involve family members in their treatment decision are likely to have a greater degree of medical intervention than those who don’t.)
  • Lastly, I think people with cancer often keep information to themselves in the belief that this is a way of protecting those around them from difficult information.

The damage that can be caused by these kinds of secrecy are mostly mental and emotional.
Relationships may be permanently damaged because they cannot flourish in an environment of secrecy.
Cancer can give family members time to adjust to the future loss of that person. But when information is withheld, and the person dies when their family were expecting them to recover, it makes it harder for them to adjust and delays or disrupts the grieving process.
There is also the worry that can be generated. Because I do not know where my mother’s primary cancer was situated, I cannot make sure I guard against that specific cancer myself. This is a worry I have had to deal with.
Then there is the opportunity that cancer gives for growth – the inner strength that people find. Keeping back information denies them the opportunity for that growth.

My feeling is that information must be passed on. Cancer does not only affect one person, and so the information does not belong only to that person. But I do recognise all the above challenges and issues. So I think that time should be spent with each person who is diagnosed, both alone and with their family members. People should be assisted with passing on the information, guided into doing so where they are reluctant, and any fears of pressure being put on them addressed. Those with cancer should be protected from being forced into choices they don’t want to make – which may be made less likely with education of family members.
This kind of support service is already available to some after diagnosis, so please share with me what kind of support you and your family received. I look forward to you joining the debate.

With best wishes,

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Who in your family has been most affected by the diagnosis of cancer? The first answer is of course, the person who has cancer. But how about the rest of the family, friends and so on?
In my workshop, ‘Life in the Cancer Fallout Zone : How Cancer Affects Family and Friends’, I ask the course participants to create a list of people who might be affected by someone else’s cancer. It’s a long list, and usually starts with a partner or spouse. Other family members include parents and children (and the experience differs depending on the age of the child in both these situations). Then there are brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles and other wider family members. After that come friends – close friends, acquaintances and people who just know one of the other family members. Then there are colleagues, employers and even employees. And even, with today’s celebrity culture, people who have never met the person with cancer can be affected by hearing about them on the news. Any of these people can be affected by someone else’s cancer if it changes their life in some way, or provokes strong feelings for them.
The next question we think about is who is most affected, and the answer is always that the people at the beginning of the list are more affected than those at the end. It seems obvious. A partner is more affected than a cousin, for instance; an aunt than an employer. But the truth is that it is not so obvious. A partner may cope well, whilst the cousin feels they are falling to pieces. Or the employer may struggle to cope where the aunt is able to keep serene. Why is this? The truth is that although there may be more changes to the life of someone with a closer relationship, how well they manage those changes has little to do with the relationship. It depends more on the person themselves. What other traumatic events have they had to deal with in their lives? Are they a person who manages stress well? Do they have a support structure of friends around them who they can lean on? Are they independent, or used to depending on others? It can be difficult if the person they rely on is the one with cancer.
Sometimes time also changes who is coping and who is not. Someone who needs a lot of support at the beginning may get used to the challenges, and improve. Then those who have been supporting them may find they have their own issues and emotions to deal with now they have more time to think. Changes in the progress of the illness can also trigger new worries.
So how does this knowledge help? It’s important to remember that there is no right or wrong. A person is affected in the way they are. They have their own viewpoint, their own worries, their own journey. If one person is having a harder time, be there for them, but also make sure you deal with your own feelings. That way you are less likely to be the person struggling next week.

With best wishes,
Anne x

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