By Debbie Hardy
CANCER. I HATE IT.
When my husband was diagnosed, I had no idea what we were facing. So I searched the internet and my local bookstore for some guidance. Not only was I overwhelmed, I was also inundated with medical terms I didn’t understand.
Through a lot of reading, experience, and trial and error, I learned how to care for my husband Bryan. After he died, I was encouraged to write down what I did so others could benefit from it. The result was a book, “Stepping Through Cancer: A Guide for the Journey,” which includes tips for patients and caregivers to learn what to expect and how to handle it.
Here are some of the tips included in the book. I hope they will help you or your loved one if you are faced with having to travel this road.
- Fill a tote bag to keep by the front door. When you go to doctor’s appointments, treatments, or the Emergency Room, you’ll have all the things you need. Include the patient’s ID and health care card, a water bottle, snacks, change for a vending machine, a sweater for that freezing waiting room, a book of crossword puzzles or Sudoku to keep you busy, a book to read, and a notebook to write down what transpires.
- Prepare a notebook to keep all the info in one place. Include sections for the patient’s info, oncologist’s and other medical personnel’s info, friends’ and family’s contact info, questions to ask the doctor at the next appointment, notes about treatment and doctor’s suggestions. Also include a wish list of things you’ll do when the cancer is in remission, something to look forward to.
- Slow down. Your brain has a lot to deal with, so don’t push it. Drive slower, even if other drivers honk at you. Take your time preparing meals. I cut myself often and burned my fingers on pans, trying to hurry. Cut yourself some slack. Don’t expect to accomplish all that you normally do. And that’s okay. Concentrate on what’s important and let the rest go.
- Write things down. Your memory is overloaded now, so don’t expect to remember everything. Take notes at every appointment, every treatment, even at home. This will help when you’re trying to remember what the doctor said. As you think of a question to ask at your next appointment, write it down so you don’t forget it. And write down your feelings through all of this. Who knows? You might write a book like I did, and help thousands of others on their cancer journey.
- Share with others what you’re going through. A friend’s husband was dying of cancer, but she didn’t tell anyone. When he passed away, she had no support system to help her through her grief. On the other hand, I sent emails twice a week to anyone interested and let them know what Bryan was going through and how we were dealing with it. They offered help while he was alive, and after he passed, the ordeal was a little easier for me.
- Let others help you; and ask for help if you need it. You can’t do everything, even if you are Superman or Superwoman. When a friend calls and says, “Let me know what I can do for you,” give them some ideas. I had friends mow my grass, bring meals so I didn’t have to cook, stay with Bryan while I went to the grocery store, and clean my bathrooms. But I had to tell them what I needed. Don’t be embarrassed to ask. If they are true friends, they’ll come through.
- Learn all you can about the disease and its treatment. Knowledge is power, so strengthen yourselves for the journey. Once you know what to expect, you’ll feel more in control. Our oncologist sent Bryan for a PET scan, assuring us it would be like a CAT scan. He didn’t say that it would take two hours, and that I’d be freezing in the waiting room with nothing to drink and only old magazines to pass the time. I later learned to take a sweater, a water bottle, and a book every time Bryan had an appointment.
- Sleep when you can. Cancer doesn’t have a schedule, so your rest may be interrupted. It’s almost like having a newborn in the house. You have to be awake whenever they are, so sleep when they do. Like flight attendants tell you on a plane ride, put on your own oxygen mask before you try to help someone else.
- Laugh. And then laugh some more. Humor is very healing and can ease pain, so stay away from cop shows, news before bedtime, movies with bad guys, and sad stories. Stick with comedies and romances so you get positive vibes. You’ll be surprised how much easier it is to fall asleep this way.
- Stay positive. As Tim Allen’s character says in the movie Galaxy Quest, “Never give up; never surrender.” Winston Churchill might have said something similar, but Galaxy Quest is more fun. Your brain tells your body how to function, so have it send positive thoughts. It’s not easy, but you can decide every morning to be positive.
Cancer is no longer the insurmountable nightmare it once was. It’s just a word, not a sentence. More and more patients are surviving and flourishing, so don’t give up. And take that journey one step at a time.