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Help! My loved one has cancer

Help! My loved one has cancer

2 January 2019

Having a diagnosis of cancer is one of the most shocking and stressful realities that a person can face - and not just the affected patient, but also loved ones, friends and family. The shock can last a long time, and it is a long process with many emotional ups and downs. Having a friend or loved one with the diagnosis is a shock as well carers can feel helpless, fearful and frustrated.

Your loved one may need acute physical help for at least three months during/after initial surgery/chemotherapy/radiotherapy, and for up to one year or more (depending on the situation), therefore a slow and consistent support stream is most helpful.

SO, what to do? Here's some ideas;

1. Create a shared calendar (eg Google Calendar) to input appointments and tasks to be done. Then offer to help with

  • driving them to and from appointments
  • offering care for children or school pickups
  • look after pets while they are away
  • cook meals
  • clean the house, vacuum, do the laundry
  • collect mail, mow the lawn, and other household chores
  • go shopping for fresh organic food

There are some very helpful rostering apps available to ensure consistent and ongoing support for your loved one www.gathermycrew.org or www.thrivor.com or www.mealtrain.com

2. Give money. Having cancer is expensive, and even if the patient has private health insurance, out-of-pocket costs can reach the tens of thousands within months. Extra costs can include the following: scans and imaging, surgical expenses (having a double mastectomy privately can leave you with a $10-15K bill, even with top insurance cover) anaesthetist fees, physiotherapy, post-operative lymphatic massage, psychology/psychiatry, additional medications/chemotherapies, specialist foods, exercise physiologist, naturopathic appointments and supplements, acupuncture appointments. And maybe a fun day/night out once in a while!
A great idea is to open a bank account in their name, and ask family and friends to regularly contribute a small amount (eg $20-50 per month). This way a good little sum will accumulate and money will come in regularly.

It is estimated that 50% of cancer survivors suffer from long term 'financial toxicity' as a side effect of cancer. This is due to complex issues including the cost of treatment, loss of employment and wages of the patient and their caregiver (usually their partner or family member), long term side effect that require treatment, and the loss of superannuation to pay for treatment. Long term financial distress is more common in younger patients, those with a lower income, those receiving more treatment - and an unfortunate statistic is that over 30% of cancer survivors are not able to return to work within 5 years of their cancer diagnosis. So friends please give a little for at least one year after treatment is finished.

3. Ask your loved one what they may be struggling with and be prepared to just listen (without giving advice).

Unhelpful 'help'... please consciously avoid these;

1. Don't ask too many questions. Your loved one is in shock and is struggling to comprehend the situation at the best of times. Allow your loved one to bring up issues that they need to discuss or debrief about, and if they don't bring it up, you don't bring it up. It's nice having those friends who will just chat about mindless stuff or what was on TV last night. Remember that true support is not necessarily doing what you would want, it's doing what your loved one wants and needs.

2. Don't immediately search every possible treatment for cancer on the internet and email/call/drop around information about the latest "cancer cure". It is understandable that you may desperately want to help your loved one and find answers, however ONLY do this if the patient has directly asked you to do so. Problems with this include:
  • There is a wealth of misinformation online. Your 'treatment' may have a good level of evidence behind it, or it may have no evidence base and/or have no benefit, or it could be downright dangerous. Leave it to qualified health practitioners.
  • The treatment may interfere with their current management protocol.
  • Its too overwhelming and confusing for the patient. They are in shock. Even if they have good scientific knowledge, it is too stressful to be presented with a multitude of options when theyre trying their best to deal with the reality and just get through their current treatment.

MIOG offers individualised care during treatment for patients with cancer, including nutritional, psychology, acupuncture and massage therapies. Call us for a chat! +613 9571 7498

About the Author: Tanya Wells

Tanya is our lead clinician here at MIOG. She is a Naturopath with over 15 years experience in Integrative Oncology. She is also an experienced lecturer at tertiary level, and was a tutor for the Faculty of Medicine at Monash University.
Connect via:LinkedIn

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