Thursday, December 13, 2012

Let Your Body Sleep

Good Morning Cancer Patients and Care Givers;
Cancer treatment puts an enormous emotional and physical stress on your body. The physical stress chemo treatment and radiation put on your body are hard enough but when you add the emotional stress that accompanies you on your journey, the stress level is compounded.

I found chemo treatment made me very tired, especially the days I was doing treatment. Coupled with the every day activities of trying to live my life with cancer and treatment sessions, I became extremely tired and run down. The amount of sleep I was getting was not sufficient enough to get me through the day. By default, I found myself going to bed earlier at night and awaking later in the morning. I went from getting 6-7 hours of sleep every day to 10-12 hours of sleep every day. I wouldn't nap during the day because I am not a good napper. I wake up crabby from a nap.

The more sleep I managed to get the better I felt. There were many times while in chemo treatment I needed a sleep aid to help me sleep. Because of thesteroids that I was on to help with the treatment, I would wake up in the middle of the night  wide-eyed staring at the ceiling. During the 5 day treatment sessions, the sleep aids helped me sleep better. I only used the sleep aids on the nights of the treatment days. On weeks that I wasn't in treatment, I didn't need the sleep aids.

Listen to your body. It will tell you it needs more sleep. The more sleep you can get improves your ability to endure the treatment and recover between treatment sessions. I suggest 10-12 hours. Go to sleep when your body tells you it is tired. Let your body wake up on its own when it is fully rested. I found my body would wake up when it felt it was rested. I have continued this practice ever since. I don't need an alarm clock. My body tells me when it is rested and when it should get up.

If you are in treatment or you have completed treatment and are recovering, get as much sleep as your body will allow. It won't make the pain from treatment go away but it will give you the strength to endure the pain better. More sleep will also help your stamina and ability to continue living your life with cancer and treatment.

Sleep more, stay healthy, keep your sense of humor and never give up.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Surviving the Flu and Cold Season

Good Morning Cancer Patients and Caregivers;
The news recently announced this year's flu and cold season has begun earlier than in most years and anticipation is it will be worse than previous years. If you are going through chemo and radiation treatment during this period, this is not good news because the flu and colds create another hurdle that has to be overcome if you come down with it.

So, what do you do? Prevention, Prevention, Prevention.... If you haven't gotten a flu shot, yet then get one now. Your immune system needs as much support as it can get while you are in treatment. Even when treatment is completed and you are recovering, your immune system is more depleted and you need to protect yourself from getting the flu or a cold. Eat healthy, stay away from sick people. Small children are germ factories and you don't have the strength in your immune system to ward off unnecessary germs that could make you sick. Wash your hands frequently, especially if you have been in contact with others. You can use hand lotion to add the moisture back into your hands and fingers. Keep your hands and fingers away from your mouth, eyes and nose. Use hand sanitizers if you prefer not to wash your hands often. If you travel or go out, be on guard for people that are coughing, sneezing, have a fever, ache all over .... and stay away from them. If you can't, then cover your mouth and nose til you can get away from them. If you happen to be on an airplane and someone is coughing and sneezing, turn the overhead vent above you so it blows away from your head and could keep the germs from coming closer.

During the flu and cold season, while going through treatment, you must be on guard to protect yourself from getting sick. You don't want to have to stop treatment because you are sick or too run down to continue. Nothing good will come from the delay. Cancer treatment is difficult enough without complicating it with the flu or a cold. The Holiday Season will be tough because many family and friend gatherings occur. So be aware of your surroundings and enjoy the  gatherings. Take your daily vitamines and increase your vitamine C during this period.
Stay warm, stay healthy, keep your sense of humor and never give up.

Friday, November 2, 2012

No Cold Weather Hibernation

Good Morning Cancer Patients;
Enduring cancer treatment is difficult enough without adding the discomforts of cold and inclement weather. I found as the weather became colder my body's heat receptacles didn't work as well. I would get cold easily and the dryness in the air made my hands very dry. I needed to add more layers of clothing to stay warm. Since I had lost all my hair from chemo, my head and around my ears were always cold, so I wore a cap to help retain my body heat, heavier gloves for my hands and a small heater in my office. I have always enjoyed the cold weather but cancer treatment turned that enjoyment into a cold annoyance.

I found the combination of cancer treatment, colder weather, shorter hours of daylight and the discomforts of being cold, all contributed to a lower energy level and a less than positive state of mind. As I cogutated about the predicament and state of mind I was in, I realized it was only late fall and I had at least 5 more months to endure the colder weather, shorter daylight hours, extra dryness in my hands, cold hands, feet, ears and nose, as well as six more rounds of a gruelling treatment regime. Compounding the issue further was the holiday season. I needed to put up the outdoor Christmas decorations and latter take them down. I had to put the yard in order and get the leaves picked up, get the snow plow put on the garden tractor, trim down the bushes and put the patio furniture away,...all in the cold weather.

I concluded getting depressed over this was a waste of good energy I needed, and being depressed wouldn't make it any better.  The colder weather would pass and I could adapt for the duration. So I decided to embrace the cold. I knew how to dress warm, I knew how to deal with the dryness in my hands, I knew I had to deal with the cold in my hands and feet and around my head. I knew the decorations and the yard and equipment preparation needed to be done. I couldn't do anything about shorter daylight hours or fewer sunny days but I could adapt and take advantage of them. Cold weather was not going to make me hibernate just because I had cancer and was going through treatment. Hibernation was easy, embracing the cold I usually enjoyed was a challenge.

I found this approach took my mind off the treatment and cancer. It gave me something else to occupy my free time rather than hibernating. I dressed warmer than I usually would and took longer to do my cold weather tasks, coming inside to warm up often. I also began to enjoy the winter sun light and its subtle warmth. I found I appreciated the warmth of a fire, the radiant heat from the oven and a very long steaming shower or hot bath, much more that before cancer.

My message is don't let the change of season cold weather make you hibernate. Decide how you will live with the cold and continue to live your life. Be proactive, embrace the change of season, be active and stay warm. It too will pass.

Stay strong, keep your sense of humor and never ever give up.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Direct Your Destiny

Good Morning Cancer Patients and Care Givers;
The past couple of months I have had too many friends, acquaintances and relatives diagnosed with cancer, restart treatment or enter hospice programs, none of which I would have expected. Fortunately, there are more cancer survivors and more people living with cancer than ever before. What I find curious, is more cancer patients I meet put their entire trust for a successful treatment and cure in their cancer treatment team and oncologist. When I ask -- so what are you doing to contribute to the success of your treatment program and recovery?... the response is generally the same. "What should I be doing"? This approach is the treatment process being done to you rather than being done with you as an active participant team player in the process.

Every cancer patient decides how they will deal with their cancer and their treatment. Doing nothing but receiving treatment and hoping for the best is an option but it makes you a victim of your destiny guided by someone else. Unfortunately, you need to be as aggressive in your participation as your cancer treatment team is in trying to cure you. This is the worst battle of your life and for your life. You will have to buck up even more if you have to restart treatment because of a recurrence or another invasion. Don't get discouraged. You made it through the first time. You can do it again. You just have to give your body more support to endure the new rounds of treatment.

Don't let cancer treatment make you a victim of your destiny. Contribute to directing your destiny through the treatment process as an active team member.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

When Its Not Over,Yet

Good Morning Cancer Survivors;
There is nothing more discouraging than finding out It's Back. It's like a bad dream that keeps returning.  Wham.... bad news.You're getting close to finishing treatment and you think the treatment is working and you can begin the recovery process, Wham... bad news. During a routine follow-up check with your oncologist, the damn thing pops up some where else or treatment and surgery didn't get it all. Damn... it's not over yet. These and many other occurrence of the dreaded bad news have a way of distorting your courage and discouraging you.

After I completed surgery I was informed by the surgeon while I was getting ready to check out of the hospital, the pathology report showed no signs of the tumor in my esophagus but microscopic cancer in several of the lymph nodes. The good news.... treatment worked at destroying the cancerous tumer....the bad news.... you need to start the chemo treatment again to destroy any residual microscopic cancer cells that may not have been removed with surgery. So after recovering from surgery for 10 weeks I started the treatment regime again - 5 days a week in an infusion chair for 5 hours a round, every four weeks, for six sessions.

Just when I thought the worst was over, the journey made a bad u-turn to renewed treatment. It took me a while to reconcile the bad news which consumed more energy than I should have allowed it to but I was extremely disappointed. It took me about three weeks to regain my inner-strength and decide to go down the chemo treatment path again. Given the choice, I would have much rather stabbed my hand with an ice pick than start treatment again. Although I did have a choice. I could elect not to go through treatment again but I figured I would rather not get down that road and find out latter it's back. I chose to be aggressive and start treatment again. This was an extremely hard decision that was made easier when I thought through my choices and their consequences.

I found with cancer you shouldn't underestimate its resolve to continue infecting you. It is a disease that works 24-7's to kill you, making your battle with it, the worst battle of your life and for your life. It's easy to become discouraged and distraught over the bad news, which makes it more difficult to dig down into your inner strength to buck-up. But thinking through the alternatives and the choices you have, helps deal with the anguish and your ability to buck-up.

When the news is not good, causing the journey to go on longer, I encourage you to get through the discouragement cycle quickly. There are choices and decisions to be made that require a clear mind. Consider instead, there are more cancer patients surviving cancer today and living with cancer today than ever before, and you are one of the survivors. Don't give up, stay strong and keep your sense of humor.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Summer Sun and Cancer Treatment

Good Morning Cancer Patients and Caregivers;
As warmer weather begins and the warm sunny days get longer, its always beneficial to get out in the sun and soak up the vitamin D from the sun rays. When I was deep in chemo treatment and radiation I found  just sitting in the warm sun was a way of escaping the side effects and burning from the radiation. However, I also found  I needed to be careful in the sun because your skin becomes very sensitized to the sun from the chem treatment. In addition, I needed to be careful not to become dehydrated. I spent the summer in chemo treatment of 5 days in treatment for 5 hours a day and 3 weeks off, then do it again. The last month in treatment was to carry a 24 hour chemo pack and take radiation 5 days a week for a month. Great way to spend the summer but I didn't let it interfere with summer activities we had planned. I just had to be more careful in the sun.

The first thing I noticed was I didn't sweat much. Prior to cancer treatment I sweat like a race horse but now I didn't. The chemo treatment had changed my ability to deal with the heat and although I was careful  not to get too much sun or get sun burned, I didn't drink enough fluids which caused dehydration. I thought I could drink enough beer to keep from getting dehydrated but I underestimated the effects of treatment.

I spent the time in the sun all greased up and it reminded me of when my mother would coat baking potatoes with bacon grease to bake them in the oven. About every hour or so I would add more sun block.

The two things to be cautious of when in the sun and going through treatment are to protect your skin with the strongest sun block lotion available, and drink more fluids than you think you should drink. When I was being treated for dehydration I was informed by my Oncologist that beer is not a very good liquid to keep you hydrated. He recommended mass quantities of water or one of the athletic drinks.

So I encourage you to spend time this summer in the sun and be overly protective of your skin because the treatment makes it very dry. Drink more fluids than you think you need to when in the sun, as well as when you are in treatment to avoid getting dehydrated. The cure for dehydration is sitting in an infusion chair having large bottles of fluids pumped into you until your hydration level is normal. The test to see if you are dehydrated is to pinch about an inch of skin on your arm close to your wrist and if the skin stays standing and pinched when you release it, you are dehydrated.

Don't let enjoying the sun and summer be taken away from you because of cancer treatment and the fear of getting sun burned or dehydrated. Just be careful and enjoy the summer.

Stay stong, keep your sense of humor and never give up.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What about the Needles?

Good Morning Cancer Patients and Caregivers;
I was recently in a discussion with a newly diagnosed cancer patient about what they might expect going through treatment and I was reminded of the volumes of needles, sticking and injections I endured during the course of my treatment and surgery. Having always tried to avoid being poked with a needle, being poked with a needle to take blood, inject medication into my veins or through my chemo infusion port I had in my shoulder, I realized I was going to be stuck with a needle very frequently during the course of treatment and I had better figure out how to endure it.

What I learned was there are various poking with needles for different things and in different places on your body. For injections they go into your shoulder or hip. For infusions they may go into the veins in your arm on the inside of your elbow, inside-top of your wrist or your port. For blood samples they may poke the end of your finger or poke your vein on the inside of your elbow.No matter where or for what, I found being poked hurt and hurt like hell when the attendant wasn't very skilled at it, missed the vein, blew the vein or just was plane rough with the process. Taking off your shirt at 8:00 AM in the morning in the infusion room sitting in an infusion chair, having your port wiped with a cold antiseptic cotton wipe and being poked in the port in your shoulder with the infusion needle is not an event one begins to look forward to.

So what do you do to get through the very short and irritating discomfort that you need to endure with needles? I found several ways to make the event less discomforting. First, distract yourself during the process. I would read the news paper while being poked. Also, I found that at the time being stuck with the needle, if you inhale a large breath through your nose and exhale through your mouth during the jabbing, you don't notice it as much. When being given a shot or being stuck in your wrist or inside your elbow, the breathing works and also works with the withdrawal of the needle. Finally, to help alleviate the pain from the injection especially in the shoulder or hip, spend time rubbing the infusion point to work the bruise out. I also found that doing push-ups helped break down the bruise in the shoulder after the injection. The only thing I found with the hip injection was to rub and message the area to work it out.

I couldn't find a simple way around the torment the needle inflicted, but I figured out how to endure them and make them less tormenting. The needle is another companion you have on your cancer treatment journey.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Cancer Treatment and Winter Cold

Good Morning Cancer Patients;
The winter cold makes cancer treatment more abusive. I think its because the treatment kills many of the body's heat receptors and therefore you feel the cold more. I always enjoyed the winters and the cold and could deal with them effectively but when I started chemo treatment of Taxol, Cisplatin and 5FU, I was always cold. I started treatment in the summer and began to notice I would get cold. When I started treatment again in January after recovering from surgery, I really noticed the cold. To compound it even further, the dry heated air coupled with dry skin from the treatment and the neuropathy in my hands and feet made what was a reasonable winter very cold for me. Staying warm became a challenge in public places. I began dressing differently to stay warm. The neuropathy in my hands and feet got so bad I had to be very careful to not get frost-bitten when I was out in the cold. My fingers would turn white down to the middle knuckles before I could feel they were cold, and by that time, frost-bite was setting in. My feet were the same way.

I encourage you not to let the winter cold deter you from living while in treatment but you need to protect yourself and safeguard against frost-bite. Do everything possible to stay warm and to get warm when you're cold. Layer on your clothes, cover your hands, wear a scarf around your neck, use heat packets in your gloves and heavy coat, wear a hat. It's not about how you look it's about staying warm. I found when I couldn't get warm from the cold, a hot shower worked to take the chill out of my body.

I haven't been in cancer treatment for several years now but the cold still bothers me and with the neuropathy in my hands and feet I must be real careful not to get frost-bite. My hands are also very dry and coupled with the neuropathy in them, still today, it makes even simple tasks like buttoning shirt buttons, grabbing small items with your fingers or separating papers are a major task in the winter with cold and dry hands. Hand lotion helps with the dryness but not with the loss of the sense of feel I lost with the neuropathy.

I still enjoy winter and the cold months but I don't enjoy the cold like I used to before cancer treatment. Don't let your lower tolerance of the winter cold keep you from living your life. Even a cold winter day can be drowned out by the excitement of life.

Stay warm, keep your sense of humor and never ever give up.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Just Don't Get Sick

Good Morning Cancer Patients and Caregivers;
Going through cancer treatment is one sure way to make you feel sick. But its the side effects of treatment that make you feel sick. I believe cancer treatment is a high-stakes poker game. Treatment kills good body cells and cancer cells. The intent is to kill the cancer with the treatment before the treatment makes you weak and it has to be stopped. Your cancer treatment team will do everything it can to play offense and treat your cancer. You have to play defense by helping your body stay strong and healthy while it is going through treatment. Remember, the treatment is making you weak. It is reducing the strength of your immune system. You may not be getting enough good nourishment because you have no appetite. Your endurance, energy and activity levels are declining. By its very nature you are susceptible to getting the flue, a cold, pneumonia or some other illness as a result of your weak immune system.

You need to take every precaution not to get sick. Stay away from sick people. Small children are germ factories. Especially during the flue season and colder months of the year. Get a flue vaccine and a pneumonia vaccine.Keep your hands clean from germs by frequently washing them or wiping them with hand cleaner. Keep you hands out of your eyes, nose and mouth. Don't touch your face with your hands. When you are out in public and you see people coughing and sneezing, avoid them in the area. The cold months are the worst and you have to be overprotective not to get sick. Do not under estimate the disadvantage your body and immune system have to ward off even common sickness. Recovering from a common cold when you are in treatment can become a major event.

Finally, eat right and eat healthy to strengthen your immune system. Take vitamines and extra protein to help rebuild your cells and strengthen your immune system. Be extra-cautious of the winter flue months and to protect your body so it can endure the abuse it is going through from the treatment. Conserve your energy but exercise. Just don't wear yourself down.

Going through cancer treatment is a battle of its own, don't add to the battle by getting sick. Do everything you can to keep from getting sick. You can't be careful enough.