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Stewart B. Fleishman, M.D.
Stewart B. Fleishman M.D.

Someone You Love Has Cancer

What you need to know and do

Someone you love finds out they have cancer. They may be in the hospital, or with such short hospital stays these days, are at home. You’d like to visit, but you’re not sure what to do or to say. You’re uncomfortable. So you buy a nice assortment of magazines and some flowers and brace yourself for the visit.

It’s hard not to be fearful of what you anticipate may happen. Your someone will go through lots of testing, some surgery, many rounds of chemotherapy, and many visits for radiation therapy. Even with a full response to the treatment, your friend or family member will find themselves tired and very frightened. They will have lost (or gained) a lot of weight and probably will lose some hair as well. They won’t look or feel like their usual self. What can you say… that they’ll be fine? What if you say something wrong? Is it better not to say anything?

Fortunately, this is a scenario that need not continue as there continue to be many breakthroughs in the world of cancer treatment. Many of these advances, low tech and high, aren’t getting the same degree of publicity as a stellar new drug or new technology. But the real game changer is that the field has moved along to a new emphasis on caring for people we love who have cancer, rather than just extending survival.

The National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Program accounts for about 12 million cancer survivors alive in the United States today, with an expected 22 million by the year 2022. That’s a large group of us.

Excellent studies, both large and small and oncology thought leaders are now now illuminating a new pathway for patients and their loved ones that starts at the moment of diagnosis, and can make all the difference in survival and recovery. For virtually every patient undergoing cancer treatment today, it is no longer necessary to wait until after treatment is over to feel better and get better.

More good news: A new standard of care for cancer centers in the U.S. will be going into effect by 2015. The new patient-centered programs for survivors (yes, sometimes we refer to patients as survivors) are personalized and will focus on the total wellbeing of the whole person, from nutritional and physical to emotional, mental and even spiritual, in tandem with the usual traditional cancer treatment.

Future blog entries will highlight what patients and families can do during and after treatment to maintain their energy and outlook so that they do much better—because they are taking good care of themselves and thus, feel much better. I’ll cover everything from how to be a good spouse if your husband or wife has cancer, to getting a second opinion. Planned entries will cover:

  • how the Institute of Medicine report of 2006 solidified the needs of cancer survivors
  • how to figure out What is Important to Me at the beginning of treatment to guide your future family discussions and decision-making
  • how to prepare for an Initial Consultation or Second Opinion visit to get the most out of the encounter
  • how variable the experience of patients is and what commonalities exist
  • what to expect during chemotherapy
  • what to expect during radiation therapy
  • who do I tell about my cancer?
  • complementary therapies that work
  • what people speak about in waiting rooms
  • how high quality cancer centers ask, "how are you?" and intervene
  • “chemobrain”
  • finding help at home
  • using The LEARN SystemÒ to guide recovery
  • why having a purpose makes treatment more bearable
  • sorting out good information sources from bad ones
  • why activity is vital all through and after treatment
  • how to rest and sleep more effectively
  • the major role of nutrition is getting better and staying healthy
  • living as a long-term survivor
  • what you primary care provider needs to know about you after treatment
  • living with a recurrence or relapse of cancer
  • the importance of giving back and giving forward

I look forward to sharing what constitutes a much brighter future for you and your loved ones that will forever change the way you think when cancer is suspected or confirmed.

About the Author
Stewart B. Fleishman, M.D.

Stewart B. Fleishman, M.D., is the Associate Chief Medical Officer of Continuum Hospice Care-Jacob Perlow Hospice.

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