Thursday, November 7, 2013

Know the Choices You Can Make

Good Morning Cancer Patients and Caregivers;
As with many journeys, the cancer treatment and recovery journey is filled with numerous choices to be made. Many will be made by your cancer treatment team, Oncologist, surgeon and others. While many will be made by you. Your Oncologist and treatment team will decide the protocol they will use to treat you. The surgeon will decide the procedure to use if surgery is required. If you use a Dietitian, they will decide your  nutritional regime. Your Radiologist will decide the radiology treatment protocol. All along the course of the journey, choices are made regarding your treatment. Most cancer patients don't realize they can be a part of the decision process by participating, asking the questions: why? and, what alternative choices do I have?

When I was diagnosed, I could be treated with chemo and radiation, then go through surgery or I could go through surgery and then start chemo and go through radiation. If I had not asked the question about the alternatives I would have never known there were alternatives. When my tear ducts closed from the chemo and my eyes watered because they couldn't drain through the ducts, the eye specialist decided to insert glass tubes into the tear ducts to keep them open. I asked him what were my alternatives. He responded, do nothing, or come in here every week and I will flush the ducts and you will use a steroid eye drop which wouldn't resolve the issue, just make it more tolerable. I chose to have my eyes flushed every week and to use the drops. A week after I finished my last round of a week's worth of chemo treatment, my tear ducts opened and were back to normal.

There were numerous other occasions where I made choices including: deciding on a surgeon based on the procedure he was going to use and his past experience with it, versus using the surgeon the Oncologist referred me to that was going to use a different procedure and was rather nonchalant during our meeting to discuss the surgery; deciding to keep my infusion port in until I was finally released from the Oncologist five years after I was diagnosed, and had my port flushed every three months; requesting to have a CT scan done every three months rather than every six months because I wanted to shorten the time from when the cancer returned to when we identified it and started a treatment; deciding I was going to continue living my live while going through treatment and continue doing the things I was doing when I was diagnosed ( working, water sking, riding motor cycles, lifting weights).

Don't let the diagnosis of cancer and the treatment process keep you from knowing what your choices are and the decisions you can make . Your oncologist and cancer treatment team will share any information and choices that will be made. You need to participate and have them know, you want to know your choices and the consequences of the choices you can make. By doing so will help reduce the fear factor, give you a sense of controlling your destiny, and allow you to feel like treatment is being done with you, and not being done to you.

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

Monday, October 21, 2013

Find What Works for You

Good Morning Cancer Patients and Caregivers;
Undergoing cancer treatment is a trying experience by any stretch of the imagination. Only another cancer patient knows the trials, tribulations, degree of discomfort and down right physical torture you  will need to endure during treatment. Modern medical science has a wealth of drugs to assist you to endure the treatment and its side effects but I have always said medicine is not an exact science and many times you will either have to just endure or be proactive and find what works for you.

For example, when I finished radiation treatment for esophageal cancer, the inside of my throat was so soar from radiation I was not able to swallow most foods. My Oncologist had directed me to go on a liquid diet or to eat foods that were soft, to allow my throat to heal for the next two weeks. I responded  I wasn't going to be able to eat ice cream for the next two weeks. His response was I was going to have to figure it out. So, Linda and I set out to find what works besides ice cream. First we made a list of every known soft food we could think of, from Ramen noodle soup to scrambled eggs. The list was longer than we thought it would be and included the protein and good calories I needed to keep my weight and strength up. The list included:
poached eggs, hot cereals, milk, tea, jello, puddings, mashed potatoes, tuna salad, ham salad, egg salad, soft meats in cream sauces or in thick meat sauces. Thick meat gravy on bread and bread and butter became staples. Soda and beer burned and foods with rougher textures scratched my throat. The temperature of the foods could not be hot, but warm to cold . The colder the foods the better they seemed to sooth. Every day the healing process got a little better until my throat was fully healed and I could return to my normal diet.

This is just one example where we needed to find what works. There were more occasions such as finding what foods I would not eat during treatment days in order to keep the effect of being sick to my stomach to a minimum. Lighter foods always did better than foods with tomato base or with higher fat count. Spicy foods were out, on days of treatment but I didn't mind because for the most part, I couldn't taste anything anyway. Finding what works was the result of the medical profession and the cancer team not having the answers to the day-to-day issues I faced while in treatment. Since they hadn't ever sat in the infusion chair, my expectation of them knowing what to do once I left the infusion chair on treatments days was too high.

There are numerous other times during my treatment process, surgery and recovery that I had to find what works. I encourage every cancer patient and caregiver not to get discouraged. You just have to figure it out as a member of your treatment team and  share what works for you with other cancer patients and your treatment team so they can share your findings with other patients.

When there aren't any answers, you can decide to suffer through it or you can find what works for you. Just the effort alone, to find what works for you, will take your mind off of it for a while and when you have found something that works for you it will be a small accomplishment that gives you assurance you are not losing.

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

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Dealing with the Pain from Treatment

Good Morning Cancer Patients and Caregivers;
The physical pain caused by cancer treatment can be unbelievable. As treatment progresses, the pain from  chemo treatment or the radiation treatments will increase as well. How you deal with the pain is your choice. Your Oncologist will ask you how you are feeling. You need to explain the pain you are experiencing. Pain suppressant medication can be prescribed to help you deal with the pain.

During my treatment of chemo I found the pain to progress as treatment progressed. The pain seemed to be compounding, getting stronger and more encompassing over my body. What started as the aches and pains like that from a bought with the flu, progressed to the point I could not sleep at night because I physically ached all over. The pain would wake me up and it would keep me up the rest of the night. There were times I would just lay in bed and try not to move. As soon as I moved the pain would strike, reoccur and stay with me.

I used aspirin during the day for as long as I could but would then have to resort to prescribed medication in the evening, otherwise I would not be able to sleep. The pain from radiation treatment was more concentrated to the area being treated. The pain was both external as well as internal. My chest was red and burned and the inside of my throat raw from radiation. Eating and swallowing food caused sever pain in my throat. Prescribed cream helped deal with the burn on my chest.

As my chemo treatment continued, I learned to deal with the pain during the day by staying busy, which distracted my attention away from the pain. Although I found the bottoms of my feet never hurt so bad as they did when I was in chemo treatment.Staying busy took my mind off the pain. It didn't make the pain go away, it just distracted me from dwelling on it. Evenings after dinner were difficult. I would notice the pain as I watched TV or went to bed and tried to fall asleep.

One activity I found that did help keep the pain level down was exercise, any physical exercise: walking, swimming, weight lifting, mowing the lawn, all made the pain level subside or at least made the pain more tolerable. I also found that having a few cold beers at the end of the day helped as well.

The diagnosis of cancer and the rigor of cancer treatment, create enough emotional pain to deal with, without having to endure the strong physical pain that accompanies you on your treatment journey. Learning to deal with the pain is an acquired skill. You will need find what works for you and be proactive in managing and dealing with the pain. I encourage you to be as active as your physical strength and stamina will allow. The activity whether mental or physical, creates enough distraction that you will not be able to dwell on the pain. I found as soon as I became inactive, the pain level settled in and I couldn't make it subside without the help of medication. Enduring physical pain will drain you of the energy and strength you need for treatment and recovery. Don't let the physical pain from cancer treatment make you a victim.

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

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Make It Work

Good Morning Cancer Patients and Caregivers;
More cancer patients today are surviving cancer than ever before and more people are living with cancer than ever before. When you are diagnosed with cancer and before you have gotten through the shock of the diagnosis, your cancer treatment team will have already begun to do everything possible to cure your cancer. The question is: What are you going to do now to help your cancer treatment team win this battle you are in?
This is the worst battle of your life and for your life. Cancer is a relentless enemy that works on your body 24/7 with no time off for holidays and vacation. Relying solely on your cancer treatment team to fight this battle with cancer for you, is nothing more than a good intention, and hoping they don't lose. The cancer patient can chose the be a  victim and a specimen and have treatment done to them. Or the cancer patient can decide to help make the treatment work.

Chemo treatment is a high stakes poker game where your oncologist and cancer treatment team are trying to kill your cancer before the treatment kills you. Your body will take the worst chemical abuse it has ever endured with chemo and radiation treatment. You can't sit on the side line. You have to help your body endure the treatment, stay healthy during treatment,and stay as strong as possible.

 This sounds easier than it is to execute. I was there.But while I was sitting in an infusion chair five days a week for five hours a day, I couldn't help thinking: What should I be doing to help with the treatment? Over the course of my treatment being challenged by this thought, I concluded there were three Must Get Rights. First: Join the Journey. Learn everything  about your cancer, treatment protocol being used, the success rate with the protocol, understanding your blood work results and CT and PET scan results. Second: Feed the System. A tired and undernourished soldier can't fight a long battle. Feed your body much higher nutrition especially high antioxidant and protein content foods. Physically exercise to keep your system and body functioning. The data shows that cancer patients that exercise regularly while undergoing treatment have better treatment success.  Feed the system mentally by not dwelling on the fact you have cancer and are in treatment. Stay as active as you are physically able. Activity keeps your mind off the cancer and the pain it may be causing you. Third: Decide to Live. Don't let cancer and the treatment strip you of your life. You are not sick, you just have cancer. So, keep living your life.

Most importantly, find what works for you. You will have to figure out what you can and cannot do. What you should do and shouldn't. The more you Make It Work, the greater control you will have over your own destiny and treatment outcome. Being diagnosed with cancer is like being thrown out of a perfectly good air plane with a parachute that's a streamer and won't open. As the ground is rushing up to you, You Now Have the Rest of Your Life to Make It Work.

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

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Knowing When It Is Time to Stop

Good Morning Cancer Patients and Caregivers;
At a presentation I was giving to a cancer support group I was asked the question: "How do you know when it's time to stop?" The person who asked the question, informed me they had been battling cancer off and on for over 11 years now because it came back 3 times. I asked if it came back again would they be willing to battle it again? They responded, "at this time, yes".

 I don't know the right answer to this question. My treatment lasted for 3 months, 5 days a week for 4-5 hours in an infusion chair every 4 weeks for 2 months; another month of carrying an infusion pack 5 days a week with 24 hour infusion and 25 days of radiation; recovery for 6 weeks; surgery; recovery from surgery; and 6 more rounds of 5 days a week 4-5 hours a day every 4 weeks for 6 months. That was my treatment protocol. I haven't been faced with the decision to make about when it is time to stop. I know when I completed my 6th round of treatment, I wasn't in any condition to be able to continue treatment if needed. My body told me it had enough. Although, after the 4th round of the 6 round regimen of treatment, I was asked by my oncologist if I was able to continue treatment. My body wasn't telling me it needed a rest or that it couldn't continue. My response was "I will tell you when to stop". It took me 18 months after treatment before I could say I felt good again. During the 18 months of recovering, I was asked if I would go through treatment again if it came back. I responded, I didn't feel like I wanted to but yes, I would go through treatment again.

Every cancer patient decides how they will conduct their personal battle with cancer. I believe if you listen to your body, your body will tell you when it's time to stop. This is the time when the mind, which may be willing, needs to yield to the body. Regardless of your personal strength, stamina and courage, there may come the time when enough is enough and your body tells you no more and your mind concurs. It is not failure, and you are not giving up. It is acceptance, and time to do something else. When you have been pushed out of a perfectly good airplane and your parachute is a streamer that won't open and there isn't anything you can do, it may be a better choice to enjoy the time you have left, and the view.

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

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Caregivers Journey

Good Morning Cancer Patients and Caregivers;
I recently provided a session with a cancer support group that had more cancer caregivers in the group than cancer patients. The caregivers were spouses, children, grandchildren, relatives and friends. During the sessions, I always have a segment devoted to the caregiver. Having been a cancer patient and not a caregiver, this segment about the caregiver is from an observation point of view and not from the actual experience of being a caregiver. Only the caregiver knows and understands the journey of the caregiver on the cancer patient's treatment journey.

As a result of the discussions and questions regarding care giving of the cancer patient, several observations about the caregiver's journey are worth the attention of the cancer patient;
1. The caregiver's life is disrupted equally as much by the diagnoses of cancer.
2. The caregiver had a life B4 becoming the caregiver and the new routine is now consuming that time.  
3. The stress and agony of cancer is equally hard on the caregiver.
4. A sense of guilt is felt when the caregiver now does things they did B4 the cancer diagnosis, and the
    cancer patient cannot participate.
5. Fear of the future and maintaining a sense of security through the journey creates added stress.
6. The roles and responsibilities of being a caregiver are not defined for the caregiver and the cancer patient.
7. The caregiver gives up the time they use to have for themself as it is being consumed by care giving.
8. The caregiver suffers in silence.

Surviving cancer is equally as stressful for the caregiver as it is for the cancer patient. The pain for the caregiver is more emotional than physical pain. If not recognized and attended to, the stress may begin to affect the caregivers own health. If the caregiver goes down, the cancer patient is going to be in big trouble.
The cancer patient and caregiver must work together to:
  •  Define the role of the caregiver for the journey
  •  The caregiver needs to maintain their life by managing the stress, staying healthy and making time for   themself
  • The caregiver can't become a martyr, they should be patient with the cancer patient, push the patient when they need to be pushed, don't be mistreated, and don't turn away any help that is offered to you.
The cancer treatment journey doesn't have to be made more difficult than it already is for the cancer patient and the caregiver. The caregiver has a new role and responsibilities as well as added stress and emotional turmoil. The caregiver needs to recognize the challenges that are not obvious during the treatment journey, and take care of themself.  Being the designated caregiver doesn't mean your the designated martyr.

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

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Get On The Team

Good Morning Cancer Patients and Caregivers;
Fighting your battle with cancer requires a team effort with the oncologist, treatment team and cancer patient. When you are diagnosed with cancer, your oncologist and treatment team know exactly what, and how, they are going to treat you and rid you of the disease. They know the treatment regimen and the protocal they will follow. They know, the what, the how, and the when, of your treatment process. Unfortunately, the cancer patient, who has Never Done This Before, doesn't know what he doesn't know. The cancer patient doesn't feel like a customer, and more likely feels like a victim or a specimen.The cancer patient certainly doesn't feel like they are a member of the team, and the treatment process lends itself to this feeling.

Don't let the treatment of cancer be done to you. Insert yourself into the process and have treatment done with you. If you don't know what is in store for you as you go through treatment, then ask the oncologist and members of your treatment team. You should be proactive in your treatment process and you should know what your oncologist and treatment team expects of you as the patient, to achieve the best outcome from the treatment. Know the choices you have and alternatives you can choose, to make informed decisions.

During my year of treatment, there were many times I knew I wasn't the customer, and felt like a victim and sometimes a specimen. I learned the more I knew what was expected of me by the the oncologist and treatment team, the more I felt like treatment was being done with me and not to me. The more I knew and understood about the process, the fewer surprises I experienced, and the more choices I had and could make. My anxiety level decreased and my fear of the unknown about treatment, deminished.

Every cancer patient decides how they will deal with their cancer and treatment. Decide to be a member of the team and have treatment done with you and not to you.

Stay strong, keep your sense of humor, find what works for you, and never ever give up.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Antioxidant and Cancer Preventing Foods

Good Morning Cancer Patients and Caregivers;

There is never a good time to be diagnosed with cancer. When the diagnosis is confirmed the resulting fear and emotional upheaval just adds more stress to your body. Coupled with the toxic abuse of chemo and radiation treatment, your body's strength, endurance, tolerance and immune systems can decline very rapidly.

Cancer patients need to settle the fear and emotional distress as quickly as possible and focus on helping there body remain strong and endure the rigors of treatment. Cancer patients need to feed the system. Many will be advised by a dietitian what and how to eat during cancer treatment. The challenge during treatment is to keep feeding the system, which becomes more and more difficult during a long treatment regime.

I found during my treatment that eating more frequent smaller meals was easier than trying to consume the same level of calories with just three meals a day. As the treatment makes you nauseous, your tired, have no energy and you haven't done anything to create an appetite, eating becomes a major undertaking. Not to mention you can't taste the food anyway. Sounds like a conspiracy.

Break the day up to eat 5-6 small meals rich in protein, antioxidants and good calories, especially antioxidant and cancer preventing foods. Now is the time to help your body with the fight of your life, and the antioxidant and cancer preventing foods will help. The selection to eat is very large. I know prior to my cancer diagnosis I was eating very few antioxidant and cancer preventing foods. Once I was diagnosed, the research Linda had done indicated I needed to include high antioxidant and cancer preventing foods in my diet. The following are many of the high antioxidant and cancer preventing foods you can eat:
Berry Fruits; blackberries, blueberries, raspberries,strawberries,cranberries, cherries
Citrus Fruits;oranges, kiwis, grapefruit, lemon, lime
Other Fruits; pin apple, apples,apricots,mango's, peaches,prunes, plums, watermelon, cantaloupe, red grapes, tomatoes, raisins
Vegetables; broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower,cabbage,carrots,cooked artichoke, spinach, green and red peppers, sweet potatoes, russet potatoes, pumpkin, squash, kale, beans
Beverages; green tea, white tea, black tea, coffee, vegetable juice, red wine, pomegranate juice,dark beer

My diet during treatment included these foods. Every morning at breakfast I would have berries with my oatmeal and glass of milk. Every meal included an antioxidant food or several. Today I still eat foods rich in antioxidants in most of my meals.

If you do the research you will find numerous other antioxidant-rich foods and foods that help your body prevent cancer. Eating during treatment is a major challenge but eating the right foods to help your body fight back is a good battle strategy.

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

Friday, March 15, 2013

Knowing When the Hard Part Starts

Good Morning Cancer Patients and Caregivers;
There is no good time to be diagnosed with cancer and there isn't a good time to start cancer treatment. When you are diagnosed with cancer, you think - nothing good will come of this - and sure enough, as you go down that treatment process road, it begins to look like nothing good will come of this, all the while your cancer treatment team is trying to cure you. During the course of being diagnosed, going through treatment, surgery, more treatment, then recovery, it becomes difficult to know when the hard part starts because each step on the treatment journey path seems to be the next harder part.

You may say the hard part starts at diagnosis. But the reason you need to recognize when the hard part starts is because when you reach that point where you just can't go on, doing no more would be a blessing, you have had enough and you can't take it anymore, is when you will need to "Buck Up", dig deep into your inner strength, and muster every ounce of determination and grit to go on. That's when you know the hard part starts. Everything was easy up to this point compared to what you need to do now.

Knowing when the hard part starts will help you during the treatment journey to decide where to spend your energy. You will know you're there when you are ready to quit. Thats when you decide what to do and whether to go on, not before.

I had several times during my treatmet journey when I reach the point I decided I wasn't going to be able to continue. The mind was willing but the body was not. I knew I wasn't dying yet because my body hadn't told me it was dying. I felt I didn't have the energy, strength or stamina to do any more. The treatment made my body ache from head to toe. I couldn't sleep because of the pain and the steroids to tolerate the chemo.  The pain from surgey and the energy to recover was intense. I had a choice to make as every cancer patient does, succumb to the cancer and treatment or buck up and push through it. I knew I wouldn't like the alternative if I didn't buck up.

Knowing when the hard part starts is difficult to determine when the entire journey is tough. But when you make the decision you need to buck up is when you will know the hard part has started. That's the time you need to throw every ounce of energy and determination you have in you, at the treatment and cancer. It may happen several times during the course of the treatment. Conserve your energy and strength for the time when you will need it most, when the hard part starts.

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

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Season Meals for Taste

Good Morning Cancer Patients and Caregivers;

The treatment process of chemo, radiation, surgery all have effects on your senses. As treatment continued for me I found my senses deteriorated more and more. The sense of smell, touch, taste, as well as my eye sight and hearing all became worse as I clocked 4 months of treatment sitting in an infusion chair five days a week for 4-5 hours every four weeks. In my case most of my senses have not returned to their normal strength since I completed treatment. The sense that took the biggest abuse was my sense of taste.

During treatment your sense of taste deteriorates and changes frequently as treatment progresses. You never know what something is going to taste like because it never has the same taste while you are in treatment. Foods with mild flavors like eggs, rice, mashed potatoes, baked and broiled chicken, and most meat products all had no taste for me. I found smoked meats and anything flavored with bacon I could taste. I added hot sauce to rice so it had flavor I could taste. As treatment progressed, I found myself doctoring my meals with various seasonings to be able to taste them. It was bad enough that I didn't have an appetite and no desire to eat anything, but forcing myself to eat 5-6 small meals a day without any flavor I resorted to bombarding everything I ate with heavy seasonings. Garlic, Italian seasonings, cheyanne pepper, barbeque sause, tabasco sauce, hickory smoke flavoring, salt, pepper.....any seasoning that would raise the level of taste in meals for my weak sense of taste. I flavored popcorn so strong most people couldn't eat it.

My sense of taste never returned and it may be the weakest of my senses after recovering from treatment so I still season foods to a level most people wouldn't eat. Going through the rigors of treatment causes your appetite to disappear, coupled with the loss of your ability to taste anything makes eating during treatment a major undertaking. So season your meals to be able to taste them. Try different seasonings. You can't hurt the meals flavor because you can't taste it anyway. You are just trying to add flavor and taste to a meal you really have no desire to eat but know you must to maintain your strength for treatment and recovery.

 So find the seasonings that work for you. The challenge is to find the seasonings and flavors that you can taste while in treatment. I found hickory smoke flavoring, barbeque sause and tabasco sause worked best for me, along with alot of garlic, salt and pepper.

You have to eat during treatment to keep up your strength but you don't have to suffer through the lack of taste and flavor in your meals. Be creative, get out the seasonings and season your meals to taste them.

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