How to continue with your lifestyle during cancer treatment
An interview with Michaelann Liss, DO, The Vancouver Clinic Medical Oncology
Hear Dr. Liss in HealthTalk — Chemo Sucks: A guide to feeling better during treatment
Cancer treatment has been described as a three-legged stool. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation are the "legs," and you need all three to create a balanced treatment program. In addition, the patient's care is on top of the "stool." During your cancer treatment, PeaceHealth Southwest's Cancer Center takes into consideration your physical and emotional needs, as well as practical details such as your diet, medications, insurance, family and caregivers, work schedule, and activities you enjoy.
I've been diagnosed with breast cancer. How do I cope?
The first thing you need to know is this: Cancer is no longer considered an automatic death sentence. More people are living as cancer survivors than ever before.
Our Cancer Center team is here to help. Usually within the first week after meeting with your physician, we will set up an appointment for a pre-treatment consult. You and your loved ones may have many questions, such as:
- How do I tell my children?
- How can I put food on the table before paying medical bills?
- Will I be able to continue to work?
- Will my insurance cover medical treatment?
- How will treatment affect my strength-will I be able to continue the activities I enjoy?
Perhaps it feels like the cancer diagnosis has sent you on a journey into uncharted lands, where you don't speak the language or are unsure what questions to ask. During the pre-treatment consult (PTC), you will meet with one of PeaceHealth Southwest's nurse navigators, social workers, insurance specialists and pharmacists.
Nurse navigators are registered nurses specializing in oncology. Like compasses that provide direction, they will help guide you and your family through the health care system during your cancer experience.
How do I deal with physical changes?
The good news is, today's improved therapies and medicines can reduce side effects such as nausea and fatigue. Here are some additional tips:
- Hair loss: Try using a mild shampoo, a soft hairbrush, and low heat on your hair dryer. A shorter hairstyle can make hair look fuller. Or you may want to cover your head with a scarf, wig, or hairpiece. Cancer Center volunteers often make attractive, free "chemo caps" you can have.
- Nausea and vomiting: Ask your physician about prescription medications that can help. Also, try eating bland foods, such as toast, boiled potatoes, and canned peaches until you feel better.
- Nutrition: Your appetite may change during treatment, so be sure to get enough nourishment and drink plenty of water. PeaceHealth Southwest's Cancer Center includes an on-site, registered dietitian with special training for creating nutrition plans that suit cancer patients.
- Fatigue: Exercise can make you feel less tired, so encourage yourself to go for a short walk. Ask for help with tasks that are too tiring. And limit naps to one hour so you can sleep well at night.
- Infections: Since many cancer-fighting medications make it harder for your immune system to fight off infections, be sure to wash hands frequently, and quickly clean any cuts or scrapes. Also, discourage people who have colds, the flu, or other infectious illnesses from being around you until they are well again.
How do I deal with emotional changes?
Having cancer gives you a new identity and a challenge. It's normal to feel a mix of emotions, such as fear, denial, loss of self-esteem, and anxiety. Managing these emotions is an important part of treatment.
- Decisions: Be proactive in decisions about your treatment. Talk with your medical team and your family about what you need. Ask questions.
- Creativity: Writing can provide a safe outlet and help you make sense of your thoughts and emotions. Creating art can help you express your feelings about your treatment or illness, or can help you to imagine a beautiful place. Expressing yourself artistically can also relieve side effects of treatment and certain symptoms of cancer.
- Humor: By laughing, your body releases endorphins, which help control pain and enhance your immune system. A good laugh also releases you from worry and helps ease tension.
- Hope and support: A support group can help increase your quality of life, both physically and emotionally. It can even bolster your immune system. One study showed that women who had advanced breast cancer and belonged to a support group lived twice as long as those who did not. (For more information, go to www.swmedicalcenter.org/cancersupport.)
How can I continue with activities I enjoy?
Cancer is rarely an emergency situation. Take time to talk with your physician, other family members, friends, clergy or spiritual advisor, support group, and others close to you. Make sure you have the support you need, and take the long view.
Anticipate stress and find ways to work through it. Take care of yourself, and focus on today. Be honest about your feelings, especially as they change.
Exercise, such as walking three to five hours each week, helps breast cancer survivors live longer and enjoy life more. Look for creative ways to keep up with the activities you enjoy. For example, make your daily routine more active. Play games with your children at the time of day you feel strongest, or ask a friend or family member to walk or work out with you.
If you don't feel strong enough to play tennis right now, toss the tennis ball to your dog. If you don't feel up to dancing today, play music.
Over time, some cancer survivors report that they have a greater appreciation of life and even a change in life values as their treatment progresses. Remember, healing takes place in many forms, not just physical.
Are there other, holistic approaches I can take during my cancer treatment?
Complementary medicine can be utilized as an adjuvant to cancer care. It does not replace traditional and evidence-based cancer treatments but can assist in reducing cancer symptoms, easing side effects of treatment and improving quality of life.
Complementary techniques include yoga, tai chi, acupuncture, massage techniques, meditation and journaling, to name a few. These can be particularly successful in helping patients deal with depression, anxiety, hot flashes, pain, muscle tension and side effects such as fatigue and nausea. Also, being fitted for breast prosthesis and special bras can help.
Patients should always discuss these treatments with their doctors to ensure they are safe for them. A good thorough discussion about complementary medicine and how to find safe practitioners can be found at www.BreastCancer.org.
How can I get more help during cancer treatment?
The Cancer Center is located on the third floor of the north side of the Medical Center Physicians' Building (formerly PABCO), 505 NE 87th Ave. (off Mill Plain Blvd.) in Vancouver. For more information, go to http://www.swmedicalcenter.org/cancercenter or call 360.514.2174.
PeaceHealth Southwest's Cancer Center is accredited as a Community Cancer Center by the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer. It is the only accredited Cancer Center serving Southwest Washington.
Only one in four hospitals that treat cancer are accredited by the Commission, and less than a third of accredited facilities receive the Commission's top overall ranking. The perfect accreditation score places PeaceHealth Southwest's Cancer Center among the top 10 percent of all cancer treatment programs nationwide.
About Dr. Liss
Michaelann Liss, D.O., specializes in cancer and in diseases of the blood (oncology/hematology), particularly breast cancer and lymphoma. With years of training and experience in clinical practice and cancer research, Dr. Liss believes in treating her patients as a whole person, addressing psychological and family issues as well as other variables. To contact the Medical Oncology Department in PeaceHealth Southwest's Cancer Center, call 360.514.2550.
You can locate a doctor to help you with cancer care (oncology) on our Find a Doctor area.
Published October 2007.