The Power of Journaling During Cancer Treatment

There are two ways to fight cancer, both of which are equally as important. The first is physical and the second mental. Journaling might not be able to help with the physical symptoms, but easing the mind can truly help in such situations.

By providing a safe place to store your thoughts and experiences, you will be able to find a great source of power. If you have never thought about journaling before, this might be the perfect time for you to give it a try. Here are some important reasons why this might be a very great decision.

1. Keeping track of all important moments

Some people believe that battling cancer is only filled with negative moments and experiences. While that is true to a big extent, there can be plenty of memorable moments that you might want to keep track of. The beginning of your treatments is a moment that you can write about and think about when this situation is over.

Other important moments might include family gatherings, important presents you might receive, very bad and very good days that stand out in your treatment course. Just because a day way difficult doesn’t mean it should be considered bad. At the end of this difficult journey, you will be able to look back at everything you wrote and remember the good and bad times.

2. Helping ease certain symptoms

Another great reason why journaling can truly help cancer patients during their treatments is because of symptom management. Research has actually shown that journaling can help with combating symptoms and dealing with the physical size of things.

Writing about how you feel and what you are going through can help you sleep better and feel more energetic. Getting plenty of rest will allow you to feel less nauseous, be in a better mood and battle everything with a stronger will. The more you face your symptoms, the stronger you will feel through your treatment.

3. Fighting against the stress

The stress that can be caused by such a difficult diagnosis is great and can truly affect your mood and outlook on life. Being under stress can make you feel tired, mess up your sleeping schedule and make you feel more negative about everything. This is not ideal for any situation you are in in your life and there are ways to overcome it.

Journaling can provide you with a safe space to write everything you have in your mind. During your treatments, you will possibly want to appear strong in front of your family and you might not want to share everything you feel. You can write all your thoughts in your journal and let everything out. This way you will be able to handle everything you face and feel a lot less stressed.

4. Reminding yourself of things you love

When dealing with any hardship in life, it is important to keep thinking of things that bring you joy. Journaling has helped me create a notebook full of memories, which I can go through any time I need some positivity in my life. You don’t only have to put words into it but anything and everything that makes you think of memories and people you hold dear.

In your journal you can keep stickers, receipts, drawings and cards from loved ones. Then you can write how receiving these things made you felt. When the days get difficult and you are struggling, open your journal again. Read through everything nice you have collected and it can help you remember all the reasons why this difficult process is worth it.

5. Seeing all the progress you have made

Last but not least, another important reason why journaling is so helpful during cancer treatment is that it can help keep track of your progress. There are going to be many days that will be hard and many that will be good and filled with hope. In order to be able to go through both, it is important that you keep track of everything new that happens in your journey.

The good days will help you remember that things will get better. The difficult days will allow you to live in the moment and work on staying positive. Journaling this experience can also help your family better understand what goes on in your head and how they can help. After you have successfully put this difficult period of your life behind, you can even share your story with other patients through your journal.

Battling cancer every way possible

Journaling is a creative and fun activity that can help you deal with certain symptoms and negative thoughts during your treatment. Even if you have little experience with writing, journaling gives you the chance to get creative. You don’t need any special skills in order to journal. You just need a notebook, some fun colors and a few thoughts in your head.

Through writing about your experiences, you will be able to express how you feel and let everything run its course. This treatment course might be tough, but writing everything down will help you see just how much progress you are making. This can truly help you feel stronger mentally and physically and overcome this situation like a true warrior!

Head and Neck Cancers

This was originally posted by the National Cancer Institute here.


What are cancers of the head and neck?

Cancers that are known collectively as head and neck cancers usually begin in the squamous cells that line the moist, mucosal surfaces inside the head and neck (for example, inside the mouth, the nose, and the throat). These squamous cell cancers are often referred to as squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck. Head and neck cancers can also begin in the salivary glands, but salivary gland cancers are relatively uncommon. Salivary glands contain many different types of cells that can become cancerous, so there are many different types of salivary gland cancer.

Cancers of the head and neck are further categorized by the area of the head or neck in which they begin. These areas are described below and labeled in the image of head and neck cancer regions.

Oral cavity: Includes the lips, the front two-thirds of the tongue, the gums, the lining inside the cheeks and lips, the floor (bottom) of the mouth under the tongue, the hard palate (bony top of the mouth), and the small area of the gum behind the wisdom teeth.

Pharynx: The pharynx (throat) is a hollow tube about 5 inches long that starts behind the nose and leads to the esophagus. It has three parts: the nasopharynx (the upper part of the pharynx, behind the nose); the oropharynx (the middle part of the pharynx, including the soft palate [the back of the mouth], the base of the tongue, and the tonsils); the hypopharynx (the lower part of the pharynx).

Larynx: The larynx, also called the voicebox, is a short passageway formed by cartilage just below the pharynx in the neck. The larynx contains the vocal cords. It also has a small piece of tissue, called the epiglottis, which moves to cover the larynx to prevent food from entering the air passages.

Paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity: The paranasal sinuses are small hollow spaces in the bones of the head surrounding the nose. The nasal cavity is the hollow space inside the nose.

Salivary glands: The major salivary glands are in the floor of the mouth and near the jawbone. The salivary glands produce saliva.

Head and neck cancer regions. Illustrates location of paranasal sinuses, nasal cavity, oral cavity, tongue, salivary glands, larynx, and pharynx (including the nasopharynx, oropharynx, and hypopharynx).

Credit: Terese Winslow

Cancers of the brain, the eye, the esophagus, and the thyroid gland, as well as those of the scalp, skin, muscles, and bones of the head and neck, are not usually classified as head and neck cancers.

Sometimes, cancerous squamous cells can be found in the lymph nodes of the upper neck when there is no evidence of cancer in other parts of the head and neck (1). When this happens, the cancer is called metastatic squamous neck cancer with unknown (occult) primary. More information about this cancer type can be found in Metastatic Squamous Neck Cancer with Occult Primary (PDQ®).

What causes cancers of the head and neck?

Alcohol and tobacco use (including smokeless tobacco, sometimes called “chewing tobacco” or “snuff”) are the two most important risk factors for head and neck cancers, especially cancers of the oral cavity, oropharynx, hypopharynx, and larynx (25). At least 75% of head and neck cancers are caused by tobacco and alcohol use (6). People who use both tobacco and alcohol are at greater risk of developing these cancers than people who use either tobacco or alcohol alone (68). Tobacco and alcohol use are not risk factors for salivary gland cancers.

Infection with cancer-causing types of human papillomavirus (HPV), especially HPV type 16, is a risk factor for some types of head and neck cancers, particularly oropharyngeal cancers that involve the tonsils or the base of the tongue (911). In the United States, the incidence of oropharyngeal cancers caused by HPV infection is increasing, while the incidence of oropharyngeal cancers related to other causes is falling (9). More information is available at the HPV and Cancer page.

Other risk factors for cancers of the head and neck include the following:

Paan (betel quid). Immigrants from Southeast Asia who use paan (betel quid) in the mouth should be aware that this habit has been strongly associated with an increased risk of oral cancer (1213).

Preserved or salted foods. Consumption of certain preserved or salted foods during childhood is a risk factor for nasopharyngeal cancer (1415).

Oral health. Poor oral hygiene and missing teeth may be weak risk factors for cancers of the oral cavity (1617). Use of mouthwash that has a high alcohol content is a possible, but not proven, risk factor for cancers of the oral cavity (1617).

Occupational exposure. Occupational exposure to wood dust is a risk factor for nasopharyngeal cancer (1415). Certain industrial exposures, including exposures to asbestos and synthetic fibers, have been associated with cancer of the larynx, but the increase in risk remains controversial (18). People working in certain jobs in the construction, metal, textile, ceramic, logging, and food industries may have an increased risk of cancer of the larynx (19). Industrial exposure to wood or nickel dust or formaldehyde is a risk factor for cancers of the paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity (2022).

Radiation exposure. Radiation to the head and neck, for noncancerous conditions or cancer, is a risk factor for cancer of the salivary glands (162324).

Epstein-Barr virus infection. Infection with the Epstein-Barr virus is a risk factor for nasopharyngeal cancer (25) and cancer of the salivary glands (2627).

Ancestry. Asian ancestry, particularly Chinese ancestry, is a risk factor for nasopharyngeal cancer (1415).

What are the symptoms of head and neck cancers?

The symptoms of head and neck cancers may include a lump or a sore that does not heal, a sore throat that does not go away, difficulty in swallowing, and a change or hoarseness in the voice. These symptoms may also be caused by other, less serious conditions. It is important to check with a doctor or dentist about any of these symptoms. Symptoms that may affect specific areas of the head and neck include the following:

Oral cavity. A white or red patch on the gums, the tongue, or the lining of the mouth; a swelling of the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable; and unusual bleeding or pain in the mouth.

Pharynx. Trouble breathing or speaking; pain when swallowing; pain in the neck or the throat that does not go away; frequent headaches, pain, or ringing in the ears; or trouble hearing.

Larynx. Pain when swallowing or ear pain.

Paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity. Sinuses that are blocked and do not clear; chronic sinus infections that do not respond to treatment with antibiotics; bleeding through the nose; frequent headaches, swelling or other trouble with the eyes; pain in the upper teeth; or problems with dentures.

Salivary glands. Swelling under the chin or around the jawbone, numbness or paralysis of the muscles in the face, or pain in the face, the chin, or the neck that does not go away.

How common are head and neck cancers?

Head and neck cancers account for approximately 4% of all cancers in the United States (28). These cancers are more than twice as common among men as they are among women (29). Head and neck cancers are also diagnosed more often among people over age 50 than they are among younger people.

Researchers estimated that more than 65,000 men and women in this country would be diagnosed with head and neck cancers in 2017 (29).

How can I reduce my risk of developing head and neck cancers?

People who are at risk of head and neck cancers―particularly those who use tobacco―should talk with their doctor about ways that they may be able to reduce their risk. They should also discuss with their doctor how often to have checkups. In addition, ongoing clinical trials are testing the effectiveness of various medications in preventing head and neck cancers in people who have a high risk of developing these diseases. Descriptions of these clinical trials can be accessed by searching NCI’s list of cancer clinical trials. NCI’s list of cancer clinical trials includes all NCI-supported clinical trials that are taking place across the United States and Canada, including the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, MD.  For information about other ways to search the list, see Help Finding NCI-Supported Clinical Trials.

Information specialists from NCI’s Cancer Information Service (CIS) can also help people find clinical trials for the prevention of head and neck cancers. The CIS can be reached at 1–800–4–CANCER (1–800–422–6237) or by chatting with a cancer information specialist online through LiveHelp.

Avoiding oral HPV infection may reduce the risk of HPV-associated head and neck cancers. However, it is not yet known whether the Food and Drug Administration-approved HPV vaccines Gardasil®, Gardasil 9®, and Cervarix® prevent HPV infection of the oral cavity, and none of these vaccines has yet been approved for the prevention of oropharyngeal cancer. More information about these vaccines is in the NCI fact sheet Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccines.

How are head and neck cancers diagnosed?

To find the cause of the signs or symptoms of a problem in the head and neck area, a doctor evaluates a person’s medical history, performs a physical examination, and orders diagnostic tests. The exams and tests may vary depending on the symptoms. Examination of a sample of tissue under a microscope is always necessary to confirm a diagnosis of cancer.

If the diagnosis is cancer, the doctor will want to learn the stage (or extent) of disease. Staging is a careful attempt to find out whether the cancer has spread and, if so, to which parts of the body. Staging may involve an examination under anesthesia (in an operating room), x-rays and other imaging procedures, and laboratory tests. Knowing the stage of the disease helps the doctor plan treatment.

How are head and neck cancers treated?

The treatment plan for an individual patient depends on a number of factors, including the exact location of the tumor, the stage of the cancer, and the person’s age and general health. Treatment for head and neck cancer can include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, or a combination of treatments.

People who are diagnosed with HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancer may be treated differently than people with oropharyngeal cancers that are HPV-negative. Recent research has shown that patients with HPV-positive oropharyngeal tumors have a better prognosis and may do just as well on less intense treatment. An ongoing clinical trial is investigating this question.

More information about treatment for specific types of head and neck cancers is in the following PDQ® cancer treatment summaries, which are available in patient and health professional versions, as well as in Spanish (the links below go to the patient versions in English):

The patient and the doctor should consider treatment options carefully. They should discuss each type of treatment and how it might change the way the patient looks, talks, eats, or breathes.

What are the side effects of treatment?

Surgery for head and neck cancers often changes the patient’s ability to chew, swallow, or talk. The patient may look different after surgery, and the face and neck may be swollen. The swelling usually goes away within a few weeks. However, if lymph nodes are removed, the flow of lymph in the area where they were removed may be slower and lymph could collect in the tissues, causing additional swelling; this swelling may last for a long time.

After a laryngectomy (surgery to remove the larynx) or other surgery in the neck, parts of the neck and throat may feel numb because nerves have been cut. If lymph nodes in the neck were removed, the shoulder and neck may become weak and stiff.

Patients who receive radiation to the head and neck may experience redness, irritation, and sores in the mouth; a dry mouth or thickened saliva; difficulty in swallowing; changes in taste; or nausea. Other problems that may occur during treatment are loss of taste, which may decrease appetite and affect nutrition, and earaches (caused by the hardening of ear wax). Patients may also notice some swelling or drooping of the skin under the chin and changes in the texture of the skin. The jaw may feel stiff, and patients may not be able to open their mouth as wide as before treatment.

Patients should report any side effects to their doctor or nurse, and discuss how to deal with them.

Where can I find more information about clinical trials for patients with head and neck cancers?

Clinical trials are research studies conducted with people who volunteer to take part. Participation in clinical trials is an option for many patients with head and neck cancer. Ongoing clinical trials are testing the effectiveness of treatments for head and neck cancers. Descriptions of these clinical trials can be accessed by searching NCI’s list of cancer clinical trials, which includes all NCI-supported clinical trials that are taking place across the United States and Canada, including the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, MD. For information about other ways to search the list, see Help Finding NCI-Supported Clinical Trials.Alternatively, call NCI’s Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) for information about clinical trials for individuals with head and neck cancer, or chat with a cancer information specialist online through LiveHelp.

People interested in taking part in a clinical trial should talk with their doctor. Information about clinical trials is available in the NCI publication Taking Part in Cancer Treatment Research Studies. This resource describes how research studies are carried out and explains their possible benefits and risks.

What rehabilitation or support options are available for patients with head and neck cancers?

The goal of treatment for head and neck cancers is to control the disease, but doctors are also concerned about preserving the function of the affected areas as much as they can and helping the patient return to normal activities as soon as possible after treatment. Rehabilitation is a very important part of this process. The goals of rehabilitation depend on the extent of the disease and the treatment that a patient has received.

Depending on the location of the cancer and the type of treatment, rehabilitation may include physical therapy, dietary counseling, speech therapy, and/or learning how to care for a stoma. A stoma is an opening into the windpipe through which a patient breathes after a laryngectomy, which is surgery to remove the larynx. The National Library of Medicine has more information about laryngectomy in MedlinePlus.

Sometimes, especially with cancer of the oral cavity, a patient may need reconstructive and plastic surgery to rebuild bones or tissues. However, reconstructive surgery may not always be possible because of damage to the remaining tissue from the original surgery or from radiation therapy. If reconstructive surgery is not possible, a prosthodontist may be able to make a prosthesis (an artificial dental and/or facial part) to restore satisfactory swallowing, speech, and appearance. Patients will receive special training on how to use the device.

Patients who have trouble speaking after treatment may need speech therapy. Often, a speech-language pathologist will visit the patient in the hospital to plan therapy and teach speech exercises or alternative methods of speaking. Speech therapy usually continues after the patient returns home.

Eating may be difficult after treatment for head and neck cancer. Some patients receive nutrients directly into a vein after surgery or need a feeding tube until they can eat on their own. A feeding tube is a flexible plastic tube that is passed into the stomach through the nose or an incision in the abdomen. A nurse or speech-language pathologist can help patients learn how to swallow again after surgery. The NCI booklet Eating Hints: Before, During, and After Cancer Treatment contains many useful suggestions and recipes.

Is follow-up care necessary? What does it involve?

Regular follow-up care is very important after treatment for head and neck cancer to make sure that the cancer has not returned, or that a second primary (new) cancer has not developed. Depending on the type of cancer, medical checkups could include exams of the stoma, if one has been created, and of the mouth, neck, and throat. Regular dental exams may also be necessary.

From time to time, the doctor may perform a complete physical exam, blood tests, x-rays, and computed tomography (CT), positron emission tomography (PET), or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. The doctor may monitor thyroid and pituitary gland function, especially if the head or neck was treated with radiation. Also, the doctor is likely to counsel patients to stop smoking. Research has shown that continued smoking by a patient with head and neck cancer may reduce the effectiveness of treatment and increase the chance of a second primary cancer.

Additional information can be found at NCI’s Follow-Up Medical Care page.

How can people who have had head and neck cancers reduce their risk of developing a second primary (new) cancer?

People who have been treated for head and neck cancers have an increased chance of developing a new cancer, usually in the head, neck, esophagus, or lungs (30–32). The chance of a second primary cancer varies depending on the site of the original cancer, but it is higher for people who use tobacco and drink alcohol (30).

Especially because patients who smoke have a higher risk of a second primary cancer, doctors encourage patients who use tobacco to quit. Information about tobacco cessation is available from NCI’s Cancer Information Service at 1–800–4–CANCER (1–800–422–6237) and in the NCI fact sheet Where To Get Help When You Decide To Quit Smoking. The federal government’s main resource to help people quit using tobacco is BeTobaccoFree.gov.The government also sponsors Smokefree Women, a website to help women quit using tobacco, and Smokefree Teen, which is designed to help teens understand the decisions they make and how those decisions fit into their lives. The toll-free number 1–800–QUIT–NOW (1–800–784–8669) also serves as a single point of access to state-based telephone quitlines.


Selected References

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  4. Hashibe M, Brennan P, Benhamou S, et al. Alcohol drinking in never users of tobacco, cigarette smoking in never drinkers, and the risk of head and neck cancer: pooled analysis in the International Head and Neck Cancer Epidemiology Consortium. Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2007; 99(10):777–789.

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  11. Gillison ML, D’Souza G, Westra W, et al. Distinct risk factors profiles for human papillomavirus type 16-positive and human papillomavirus type-16 negative head and neck cancers. Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2008; 100(6):407–420.

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  12. Ho PS, Ko YC, Yang YH, Shieh TY, Tsai CC. The incidence of oropharyngeal cancer in Taiwan: an endemic betel quid chewing area. Journal of Oral Pathology and Medicine 2002; 31(4):213–219.

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  16. Mayne ST, Morse DE, Winn DM. Cancers of the Oral Cavity and Pharynx. In: Schottenfeld D, Fraumeni JF Jr., editors. Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
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  18. Olshan AF. Cancer of the Larynx. In: Schottenfeld D, Fraumeni JF Jr., editors. Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
  19. Boffetta P, Richiardi L, Berrino F, et al. Occupation and larynx and hypopharynx cancer: an international case-control study in France, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland. Cancer Causes and Control 2003; 14(3):203–212.

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  20. Littman AJ, Vaughan TL. Cancers of the Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinuses. In: Schottenfeld D, Fraumeni JF Jr., editors. Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
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  24. Horn-Ross PL, Ljung BM, Morrow M. Environmental factors and the risk of salivary gland cancer. Epidemiology 1997; 8(4):414–429.

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  25. Chien YC, Chen JY, Liu MY, et al. Serologic markers of Epstein-Barr virus infection and nasopharyngeal carcinoma in Taiwanese men. New England Journal of Medicine 2001; 345(26):1877–1882.

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  26. Hamilton-Dutoit SJ, Therkildsen MH, Neilsen NH, et al. Undifferentiated carcinoma of the salivary gland in Greenlandic Eskimos: demonstration of Epstein-Barr virus DNA by in situ nucleic acid hybridization. Human Pathology 1991; 22(8):811–815.

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  27. Chan JK, Yip TT, Tsang WY, et al. Specific association of Epstein-Barr virus with lymphoepithelial carcinoma among tumors and tumorlike lesions of the salivary gland. Archives of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine 1994; 118(10):994–997.

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  28. Siegel RL, Miller KD, Jemal A. Cancer Statistics, 2017. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians 2017; 67(1):7-30.

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  29. American Cancer Society (2017). Cancer Facts and Figures 2017Exit Disclaimer. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society. Retrieved March 29, 2017.
  30. Do KA, Johnson MM, Doherty DA, et al. Second primary tumors in patients with upper aerodigestive tract cancers: joint effects of smoking and alcohol (United States). Cancer Causes and Control 2003; 14(2):131–138.

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  31. Argiris A, Brockstein BE, Haraf DJ, et al. Competing causes of death and second primary tumors in patients with locoregionally advanced head and neck cancer treated with chemoradiotherapy. Clinical Cancer Research 2004; 10(6)1956–1962.

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An Introduction to Head & Neck Cancer

This was originally published by Cancer.net on 8/20/18 here.


Dr. Ezra Cohen explains how head and neck cancer is categorized, current treatment options, and the latest research developments in this introductory patient education video.


Transcript:

Cancer.Net®: Doctor-Approved Patient Information from ASCO®

Head and Neck Cancer: An Introduction

What is Head and Neck Cancer?

Ezra E. W. Cohen, MD, FRCP, Member, American Society of Clinical Oncology:

When we think about head and neck cancer, we are really talking about diseases or cancers that occur essentially above the clavicles, but not including the brain. Brain cancers are really a different entity. So these are cancers that start in the mouth or the throat. Often we see patients with cancers that originated in the thyroid gland or the salivary glands.

Essentially, that part of the body that is responsible for speech and swallowing, communication. And most of those cancers start on the surface, what we call the mucosa of those areas, the lining of the mouth or the throat or the tongue.

Types of Head and Neck Cancer

Dr. Cohen:

The primary types of head and neck cancer we really put into, I think, three major categories and they are based on their origin in terms of the tissue. So the main type, and I would say this accounts for 90 percent of the cancers that we see, we call squamous cell carcinomas. Those are cancers that start in the lining of what we call the upper air digestive track, so the mouth, the throat, the upper esophagus, the voice box or larynx, the upper trachea.  Those are all lined by a mucosal surface that when there is a cancer from it, we call those squamous cell carcinomas.

Then the second most common are thyroid cancers, they come from the thyroid gland. Those fall into a couple of categories, either medullary thyroid cancer or what in broad terms what we call differentiated thyroid cancer. And then the third category that we see most often are cancers that start from the salivary glands or salivary gland cancer.

Potential for Cure

Dr. Cohen:

When we think about a head and neck cancer diagnosis and when a patient gets a diagnosis of head and neck cancer, one of the things that they need to begin to think about are what their potential for cure is and potential for organ preservation.

Let me expand on both of those. In terms of this disease, the majority of patients that we see present with what we call local regional disease. And what we mean by that is that they have a tumor that often has spread to lymph nodes, but has not spread widely. So no metastases to other organs like the lungs or the bones or the liver and what we are really talking about is disease that is confined to the area of the head and neck.

And that’s important because those patients we would consider for curative intent therapy. We are going to try to cure that disease. And that becomes obviously incredibly important to both the patient and the physician. And the first thing that we think about when we see a patient with head and neck cancer is, is this a patient that can be cured of their disease.

If they are, that obviously takes us down a road of what we can do to cure that patient. And if they are not, that takes us down a completely different therapeutic avenue. Then we begin to think about well, as you can imagine, because the organs of the head and neck are so critical to day to day interaction, to really what defines us as human beings – our ability to talk to each other, our ability to have a meal, to eat normally, our facial expressions.  So much of what we do as people, as humans happens above the clavicles.

And so functional preservation becomes so important in patients with head and neck cancer, especially ones that we are going to try to cure. So the next question that we ask is how can we cure this patient and return them to normal function. And that is exactly the questions that patients should be asking their physicians. Do I have, can I be cured of this and if I can be cured of this, how can I maintain my normal activity once I am done with therapy?

And then we need to think about what are the other medical professionals that are going to be important in this person’s care. So because many patients have, will get radiation to the mouth or the oral cavity is going to be included in the radiation field, dentists and dental professionals become incredibly important to the ongoing care.

You can imagine that as we, as patients go through therapy they are going to have trouble swallowing. So nutrition and speech and swallow therapists become incredibly important.

Treatment Options

Dr. Cohen:

Going back to the idea that many of our patients will present with local regional disease, the main treatment option really focuses on curing these patients. And when we talk about curative intent therapy, we are really talking about three major modalities – surgery, radiation therapy and medical oncology or chemotherapy.

And what we’ve done really for the last couple of decades is learned how to integrate those three modalities to produce the best outcomes possible. For some patients it is going to be surgery upfront, possibly followed by radiation or chemotherapy and radiation. For other patients, we want to, and for many patients, we want to think about a non-surgical approach in an attempt to preserve function and preserve the organ.

And then lastly, I do believe it’s very important to ask about clinical trials. Because not only is this the way that we move the field forward, but honestly, clinical trials offer novel therapies to patients, new approaches to patients that very often prove to be the next standard of care, especially now with the excitement around immunotherapy. So I think it is very important to ask what clinical trials are available to me for the disease that I have.

Beyond that, I think the important things to ask are what should my caregivers be thinking about, what support team do I need to have in place. And it is good to think about that proactively and get that in place. How much help will I need as I go through this treatment and who is going to be available to supply that help.

Latest Research Developments

Dr. Cohen:

When we think about where the research is going and the most recent research advances in head and neck cancer, I really like to group them into two categories. The first is what we are learning about the cancer and our better understanding of really the biology of this disease. And the second falls into what are the new therapies, what treatments are coming online or about to come online that we can take advantage of to improve outcomes for patients.

But we are learning that clearly there are two distinct types of squamous cell carcinoma, the head and neck. One is related to a virus called human papilloma virus or HPV, the same virus that causes cervical cancer and some other cancers. And we are understanding that HPV related head and neck cancer behaves a lot differently than non-HPV related head and neck cancer.

And what I mean by that is the patients tend to be younger, they are often non-smokers and non-drinkers. And that is a real, that is a very important thing to point out. Because we are learning as practioners is that patients don’t need to smoke to be at risk for head and neck cancer. And in a non-smoker, we need to be still concerned if somebody begins to complain of symptoms around the head and neck area, pain, a lump in the neck. We need to be very concerned and begin to think about is this possibly a viral related cancer, even in a non-smoker and patients, of course, should be aware of that as well.

So HPV positive head and neck cancer behaves differently. And then HPV negative cancer, which is often related to tobacco exposure, occurs in patients who are a little bit older. It has a different presentation in terms of where it occurs, it often occurs in the voice box or the oral cavity. And again, it is often associated with, especially cigarette smoking.

We have also begun to understand that there are mutations and alterations that we can target specifically. So for instance, there are patients who have mutations in certain pathways or in certain genes that now we have drugs that specifically target those genes.

We have also begun to understand that immunotherapy is going to play an incredibly important role in this disease for both HPV positive and non-HPV related head and neck cancer. And that we are seeing some incredibly exciting data with the first wave of immunotherapy drugs in this disease. In fact, now we have randomized data of an immunotherapy drug versus standard of care in patients that are current in metastatic disease that are showing a dramatic improvement for immunotherapy.

And truly, this is just the first step, the first drug that has shown this type of efficacy. We are going to see many, many more in the next few months and an explosion, really, in the next few years for immunotherapy in head and neck cancer.

Where to Get More Information

Dr. Cohen:

For head and neck cancer, there’s some especially relevant websites that would be worth looking into. Cancer.Net is a site designed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology specifically for patients to address patient questions, patient needs, caregiver questions and needs. And it’s really geared towards the patient. So Cancer.Net would be certainly one of those.


[Closing and Credits]

Cancer.Net®: Doctor-Approved Patient Information from ASCO®

ASCO’s patient education programs are supported by Conquer Cancer Foundation of the American Society of Clinical OncologyConquerCancerFoundation.org 

Communicating About Cancer: A Brief Guide to Telling People Who Care

Getting a cancer diagnosis can easily be the most terrifying, heart-wrenching experiences one has in their lifetime. Everything from different treatment options (if you’re lucky), to financing, and maintaining quality of life suddenly are in full force front and center. It can be hard to know who to turn to if you’re not directed to a support group (of which there are many), and especially how to tell loved ones and co-workers. The choice is yours, of course, in whom you wish to tell and when – there is no right or wrong answer. (However, I and many others have found that having a caregiver to help manage appointments, billing, etc. can help).

Should you choose to tell others, here are some tips that I have read and/or heard from other cancer patients/survivors as well as some I have found personally helpful:

Kids:

  • It depends on the age – using simpler terms with younger kids (8 and under) may be more helpful, while older kids and teens can understand more detail. For example, saying that you’re sick and you’re getting the best care from a team of doctors who really want to help you get better
  • According to the American Cancer Society, children need to know the basics, including:
    • The name of the cancer
    • The specific body part(s) of where it is
    • How it’ll be treated
    • How their own lives will be affected
  • Think of a list of questions ahead of time that you think they may ask and jot down answers, such as how the cancer happened (that it’s not anyone’s fault), if it’s contagious, and/or if it’ll be fatal
  • Make sure that they know you are open to talking about it at any time. You can also perform check-ins with each other to monitor feelings

Family and friends:

  • Select a group of people, including immediate family and close friends
  • Divulge information only you feel comfortable sharing. Maybe it’s the basics, as mentioned above, or more detailed information
  • Prepare for different reactions, including sadness, anger, frustration, depression, anxiety, compassion, and support
  • Also prepare for people to not feel comfortable and feel as if they’re helpless. A cancer diagnosis is a heavy weight to bear, and not everyone will feel like the have the capacity to help as much as they want to
  • As the patient, tell them how you’re looking for support (ex. what are your needs during this time, including physical, emotional, mental). Guiding members of your support system to get your needs met may help them feel more at ease and able to help

Work:

  • Telling a supervisor/manager may be one of the hardest tasks for fear of discrimination
    • However, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which covers employers with 15 ore more employees, prohibits discrimination based on:
      • Actual disability
      • A perceived history of disability
      • A misperception of current disability
      • History of disability
    • The ADA also:
      • Protects eligible cancer survivors from discrimination in the workplace
      • Requires eligible employers to make “reasonable accommodations” to allow employees to function properly on the job
      • Ensure that employers must treat all employees equally
    • The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) also gives you the right to take time off due to illness without losing your job
      • However, an employee must have worked for his or her employer for at least 12 months, including at least 1,250 hours during the most recent 12 months in order to qualify. The law applies to workers at all government agencies and schools nationwide as well as those at private companies with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius
    • The Federal Rehabilitation Act prohibits employers from discriminating against employees because they have cancer
      • However, this act applies only to employees of the federal government, as well as private and public employers who receive public funds

Sources:

Take Care of Yourself and Your Family’s Health

Building Resilience and Boosting Immunity

At a time when health is top of mind for everyone, despite the stressors, how can we ensure to emerge emotionally, physically and mentally resilient? Patient Empowerment Network Care Partner Manager, Sherea Cary sits down with distinguished guests, Sara Goldberger and Dr. Shivdev Rao to discuss building resilience and boosting immunity. Both experts define resilience, provide tips for boosting heart-lung health and provide useful tools for cultivating resilience.

Defining Resilience

Defining Resilience from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Tips for Boosting Heart and Lung Health

Tips for Boosting Heart and Lung Health from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Community Resources & Tools for Cultivating Resilience

Community Resources and Tools for Cultivating Resilience from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Oncology Social Worker Checklist

Resiliency Checklist During the Time of COVID-19


Sara Goldberger, MSSW, LCSW-R, has been an oncology social worker for 30 years. Currently she is the Senior Director, Program for the Cancer Support Community Headquarters. She has also worked in hospitals and community NFP settings. She is a member of several Advisory Boards is a frequent presenter and author. As AOSW strives to continue to advance excellence in psychosocial oncology, Sara hopes to play a part in efforts to educate, advocate, develop resources, expand on research initiatives, and create networking opportunities so that AOSW can improve the care of people impacted by a cancer diagnosis.

Turning Your Home Into a Sanctuary

In Five Simple Steps

These days, whether you’re spending more time there or you need a place to unwind after a long day, you need to feel like your home is your happy place. With the help of a few simple tips you can turn your home into your very own sanctuary.

1. Define your sanctuary

Think about where and when you feel the most comfortable and happy; then bring elements of that into your space. Whether you feel your best reading under a cozy blanket and low lighting, or painting in a sunlit room, consider your needs for the space. It doesn’t have to be complicated, says Professional Organizer Kristy Potgieter at KLP Organizing, LLC. Her philosophy is: simple is better.

2. Appeal to the senses

Sound, smell, and color can all evoke emotions. Play music that soothes you or makes you happy, use candles, oils, or incense to fill your space with your favorite scents, and paint your walls with neutral or calming colors. Even changing out your light bulbs can make a difference. Pink light bulbs give a warm, calm glow to your space.

3. Ditch the clutter

Clutter causes anxiety and stress so your best bet is to get rid of it. While clutter looks different to everyone, a good rule of thumb is to remove anything that doesn’t serve a purpose or make you happy. For the things you use on a regular basis, Potgieter recommends storing them in baskets and bins, which can be both decorative and functional. She also says keeping your kitchen counters clear is a simple way to make your home appear clutter-free.

4. Bring nature inside

You can place a vase of fresh-cut flowers on your table or bring in some house plants. If you don’t have a green thumb, a photo of the ocean, a wall painted green, a water fountain, some seashells, or a piece of wood are all okay ways to incorporate nature into your home. It can be as simple as opening a window and letting in the sunlight, which is a known mood booster.

5. Unplug from technology

You don’t have to ban technology altogether, but pick times, such as during meals and the hour before bed, to not use technology at all. Spend less time on social media platforms by deleting the apps on your phone and only using your computer to log onto those sites. You can also use the “do not disturb” settings on your devices to allow yourself some down time.

 

Whatever you do, remember Potgieter’s philosophy and keep it simple. Address the things that are most important to you and let the other stuff go. “The first thing I think of when making a home a sanctuary is really taking a look around and making sure all the things you see are things you love,” she says.

Daily Practices for Cultivating Awareness and Anchoring Yourself in Resilience

Resilience is our capacity to bounce back from the inevitable challenges of being alive. When challenges arise, our meandering minds can take us into various worrisome directions, leading to a host of negative emotional states and their subsequent adverse effects on our well-being.

Although we may not have control over the external factors in our lives or needless to say our genetic predispositions, we do have the capacity to cultivate inner psychological faculties that enable us to weather the storms of life with relative calm. For most of us, these internal resources are underdeveloped. They require intentional cultivation through the regular practice of actions that support their development. Among these inner resources are self-awareness, self-acceptance, and a secure inner base to fall back on.

What is Resilience?

What is Resilience? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Anchoring the Mind

Anchoring the Mind from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Focusing the attention on the natural breathing process and body cultivates self-awareness and tends to have a calming effect on the mind. By doing so non-judgmentally, we accept the process as it is truly experienced. This is not an advocation of apathy towards our lives. To the contrary, by shining the light of awareness on our experience and accepting it as it truly is, we are given a clarity from which to make any necessary course corrections in our lives.

Awareness of Breath

Awareness of Breath from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Awareness of Body

Awareness of Body from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

A secure base is supported by continually returning our attention to our breath and body when distracted by the meandering nature of the mind. By regularly practicing the activities here offered you can enhance your capacity to bounce back and calmly weather the fluctuating trials of life.


Broderick Rodell has a PhD in chemical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology and a Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University. His search for self-betterment led to his passion for mindfulness. He considers himself a dedicated student and practitioner of yoga including contemplation, meditation, breath work, and mindful movement. Broderick believes that through individual evolution we can all tap into greater possibilities within ourselves.

Cancer Survivors: Managing Emotions After Cancer Treatment

Since the 1980s, doctors have tried to describe the stages cancer survivors normally go through. Most divide them into a version of the three stages described below:

Acute Survival (Living With Cancer) – Covers cancer diagnosis and any subsequent treatment. During this time, patients will undergo treatment and may be invited to participate in a clinical trial to study new cancer treatments. Sometimes services are offered to patients and their caregivers to address emotional, psychological and financial problems.

Prolonged survival (transient cancer): Post-treatment period during which the risk of recurrence is relatively high. Many patients are relieved that treatment has ended, but are concerned that they will not visit the oncologist regularly. During this stage, patients often visit the oncologist two to four times a year, depending on their circumstances.

Permanent survival (living after cancer): survival after treatment and long-term. Although two out of three survivors declare that their lives have returned to normal, a third affirms that they continue to have physical, psychosocial or economic problems. During this stage, most survivors are cared for again by their GP. Ideally, they have developed a long-term follow-up plan with the oncologist for their regular doctor to implement.

Social and Emotional Repercussions of Cancer

In addition to the physical effects of cancer, survivors experience psychological, emotional, and spiritual consequences. Many of them affect quality of life and can manifest many years after treatment. Here are some of the most common problems cancer survivors face:

Fear of Recurrence

Many survivors live in fear that the cancer will return at some point. In some cases, a major event, such as the anniversary of the diagnosis or the end of treatment with the oncologist, can trigger these feelings. Fear can be good if it encourages you to discuss your health changes with your doctor, but it can also cause unnecessary worry. Knowing your own body will help you distinguish between normal changes and more serious symptoms.

Pain

Grief is the natural result of loss. In cancer, losses refer to health, sexual desire, fertility, and physical independence. To overcome your pain, it is important to experience all of these feelings. Support groups and psychological assistance can help you deal with these problems.

Depression

It is estimated that 70% of cancer survivors experience depression at some point. Depression can be difficult to diagnose in cancer survivors, since the symptoms are very similar to the side effects of cancer treatment, such as weight loss, tiredness, insomnia, and inability to concentrate. In a 10-year follow-up study, symptoms of depression have been found to be associated with shorter survival, so seeking treatment for depression is essential.

Body Image and Self-esteem

Cancer survivors who have suffered amputations, disfigurements, and loss of organs such as the colon or bladder often have to overcome their problems to relate to themselves and to others. A negative body image and low self-esteem can affect the survivor’s ability to maintain relationships with their partner, which will have important consequences on their quality of life. Good communication is essential to maintain or regain intimacy after cancer. Consult a doctor if problems persist.

Spirituality

Many survivors feel that life takes on new meaning after cancer and renew their commitment to certain spiritual practices or organized religion. Research indicates that spirituality improves quality of life through a strong social support network.

Survivor’s Fault

Some people feel guilty about surviving cancer when others don’t. You may be wondering “Why me?” Or reevaluate your goals and ambitions in life. If you have a prolonged feeling of guilt, a psychotherapist, a member of the clergy, or a support group can help you express your feelings.

Relations

Possibly the biggest challenge cancer survivors face is how others react to their disease. Friends, coworkers, and family members may feel uncomfortable when discussing the diagnosis of cancer. They can keep silent, avoid you, or pretend that nothing has happened. Others may use humor to try to distract you and not think about your situation, instead of offering to talk about your problems. Cancer can be a long-lasting disease, so it is essential to overcome communication barriers.

Social and Work Life

Social and professional reintegration can be accompanied by many fears: concern about being exposed to a higher risk of infection, lack of enough energy to reach the end of the workday and anxiety about not being able to think clearly due to the so-called “neurological impairment by chemotherapy “or memory loss. In overcoming a life and death situation, many cancer survivors feel alienated from people who have not had the same experience and turn to other survivors for support and friendship.

You may be reluctant to reveal to your bosses and colleagues that you are receiving cancer treatment for fear of being treated differently or even losing your job and health insurance. This creates an atmosphere of uncertainty that contributes to emotional stress. Again, honest communication with your colleagues will help you overcome these feelings.


About the author: Diane H. Wong is copywriter at write essay for me service. Besides, she is a professional nutritionist. So she is going to start writing her own blog. It can help her share her knowledge with others.

10 Ways of Thriving After Cancer

First and foremost, “surviving” cancer is amazing. After all, cancer is one of the deadliest diseases in the world! So, if you are a survivor, you are indeed worthy of praise. 

There are many types of cancers out there. One thing that they all have in common is that they are a result of uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells anywhere in a body. Early detection of cancerous growth results in a good prognosis as there is nearly no definitive cure for any form of cancer at its late stages.

Again, whether yours was at its late-stage or not and you survived, you are a winner! At this point, you should hold no reserve about cancer resurfacing and instead THRIVE. 

Now that you have survived cancer, the next step is reintegration back into society and doing the best you can to thrive while doing so. 

1. Battle your fear & anxiety head-on 

Long after getting cleared of cancer, survivors have to fight an emotional battle of fear and anxiety. No matter what the medical reports say about their health status, there is the seemingly never-ending fear of the cancer returning. 

This emotional turmoil is insurmountable and almost never avoidable unless you normally just have a strong will. You must quench this fear so that you can thrive.  A chat with your doctor is vital. Disclose whatever concerns you have about your health. Your doctor may even schedule frequent testing and care plans to make you feel better. 

2. Be devoted to your physical therapy sessions 

Cancer is usually for the long term. So, when the health providers eventually manage to get rid of all the cancerous growths, you may be left with a physical limitation like immobility. Such a physical limitation may make life less enjoyable, thus your doctor’s statutory recommendation for physiotherapy.

 Be dedicated to treatment sessions and work closely with the physical therapist as well as your loved ones. Don’t be afraid to ask for continued support as you heal.

3. Try a new hobby 

Don’t rush to get back to your old self before cancer. Try to enjoy the process more by finding new sports or leisure activities that fill your time. 

So, instead of getting mopey and worrying over cancer resurfacing, try knitting for a change, go golfing, try swimming! There is nothing too small or too big to try, and the main goal is to get you taken by any activity other than sitting down and getting paranoid. 

4. Consider returning to work

A defining part of getting reintegrated back into society after cancer is a career. If you were working before cancer, going back to work can help redefine your life. 

If you weren’t, try finding a new skill or going job-seeking. This gives you a sense of normalcy, but even better, it occupies your time! Remember, one of the most important ways to thrive after a battle with cancer is to not dwell on the past and simply enjoy the moment. 

5. Find intimacy with your loved ones 

There is nothing better than speaking to people who genuinely love you. Such emotional talks are sure to renew your confidence and help you build strong emotional support. If you are dating or married, it’ll help a great deal to bear your thoughts before your partner. Keeping it all inside won’t help and may even make you distant from them. 

6. If possible, start exercising

Numerous benefits accompany exercise. These range between boosting your physical endurance to giving your mental health a much-needed boost. 

Aside from that, nothing beats that sense of accomplishment that comes with completing an exercise session every day. Before starting an exercise regime, tell your doctor; and you may have him refer you to a physical therapist with knowledge of care for cancer survivors like you. 

If you are strong enough to exercise independently, start small with home workouts and build your way up to going for a walk at the park and then the gym. 

7. Make A List of Your Fears

This is on emotional terrain. Write down your deepest fears about life after cancer or what you think may prevent you from enjoying this new phase. This may include fear of the cancer returning, fears about your health overall, concerns of satisfying your partner in bed like you once did, fears of losing your job or doing poorly at it, and many more others. 

No matter how many they are, penning these fears down on paper can help you tackle them. After writing, you may even discover that some of these are so insignificant and shouldn’t be any trouble. Either way, you are tackling these problems head-on. 

8. Let go of the past 

This is an essential task if you want to thrive following a battle with cancer. Letting go of the past may be harder for people who have been fighting bouts of cancer over a significant number of years, but there is indeed nothing better than finding a new you. 

Cancer puts a dent in your mental health, so it may pose a challenge to let go of your history. If this is you, speaking to a counselor or even your doctor will be beneficial. 

9. Accept that there are going to be bad days 

It is a part of living to have good and bad days. As a cancer survivor, you can’t escape this, and you may even be more vulnerable, having battled one of the world’s deadliest diseases. As you strive to get back to normalcy, you have to realize that not every day will be good and that the process may be a lot harder than you expect. 

An optimistic attitude and never giving up are crucial to overcoming the dismay or depression that may set in when you’re not successful at something you try to do. You can also create a backup plan for such days e.g., take a walk with your partner, go to the cinema, etc. 

10. Share your experience with support groups 

There is nothing like working closely with people who have had similar experiences with you. Whether they are still battling cancer or not, speaking to others about your own experience surviving the disease will give them a ray of hope. It will equally do you a lot of good. 


Resource links: www.aicr.org, www.curetoday.com, www.inovanewsroom.org

PEN-Powered Activity Guide

Empowered! Podcast: Meet Andrea Conners

Today, we’re extremely proud to introduce our first-ever Empowered! podcast. Empowered! will bring you conversations around topics that are important to patients and care partners.

For our first episode, we meet Andrea Conners. Andrea is Patient Empowerment Network’s Executive Director. Andrea shares a little bit about herself, about PEN, and her inspiration in getting involved.

 


How Can You Best Support A Friend With Cancer?

What happens when someone close to you has been diagnosed with cancer?

How do you find the right words to say?

What is the best way to support them?

And how do you cope with your own emotions and feelings at the same time?

In this month’s article, I am sharing advice that comes directly from those who have personal experience of cancer – either as a patient themselves or as a friend or family member to someone with cancer.  The following tips are some of the things that friends said and did that were most helpful to cancer patients at the time of diagnosis and treatment.

Firstly, acknowledge that this can be a hard time for you too

Hearing that a friend has been diagnosed with cancer may impact you in ways that you might not be prepared for.  You may have many different emotions to cope with. You may feel angry, sad, and scared that this is happening to your friend. You may even find the news hard to take in and feel numb.   Breast cancer survivor, Nicole McClean[1] describes her feelings of numbness on hearing the news that her best friend was diagnosed with the same disease:  “I didn’t know what to feel. I didn’t know what to say. Everything I had said to other people didn’t really apply because this was MY friend. Not a stranger that I was comforting. Not even myself that I had to give a pep talk to.”

But don’t make it about you

In the shock of hearing about a friend’s diagnosis, it can be tempting to slip into a place of dwelling on your own fears and anxieties.  Nicole cautions others not to make this about themselves. “Please don’t be a friend like me. Don’t be the friend who makes the person with the diagnosis have to stop her own grieving to console you,” she says. “This is her moment. Her time to BE consoled. I don’t ever want her to feel like she needs to console me or comfort me during this time. That’s no longer her role. It is now mine.”

Just ask what’s needed

“My number one tip,” says radiation oncologist, Dr Matthew Katz (@subatomicdoc),  is “just ask what you can do to help. It can be hard to predict and may vary at different times in the cancer experience.”  Breast  surgeon, Dr Deanna Attai (@DrAttai) agrees: “Ask the patient what do you need, ask if they just want some company to sit, listen and be present.”

Above all, advises author and advocate, Nancy Stordahl (@NancysPoint) “don’t try to be a fixer and please, avoid using platitudes. Don’t tell her she’s strong, brave or courageous. Don’t add to her burden by making her feel she must live up to some gold standard of “doing cancer right”. Let her be real. Witness her pain. Listen. Just be there.”

Listen, hear and do

“The steps to being a good friend and supporter are simple”, says Nicole, “Listen and do.”  The first part is listening. “Listen to her. Or just sit with her silently. But either way, give her space where she’s comfortable sharing with you what’s in her heart without that moment becoming about you.“  

John Moore (@john_chilmark), founder of Chilmark Research, echoes this when he says: “Listen, truly listen and they will open up in time to the fear they hold within – just how scary it can be at times.”

Julia, co-founder of online breast cancer support community @BCCWW agrees. “Listen and hear,” she advises,  “if they have bad days let them, cancer isn’t fun times. Flip side: if they feel good, believe them.”

And it’s ok to not know what to say sometimes.

“Something that I think is helpful is for friends and family to remember that it’s okay if you don’t know what to say to the person with cancer,” explains Lisa Valentine (@HabitgratLisa), ·who blogs at habitualgratitude.com. “Show up, say “I don’t know what to say, but I am here for you.” Take it from there. Showing up and listening usually takes care of what can happen next.”

HER2 breast cancer patient, Tracy (@tracyintenbury) suggests offering to go to “chemo sessions if the person with cancer would otherwise be attending alone.”  Metastatic breast cancer patient, Ilene Kaminsky (@ilenealizah) appreciated those who attended medical appointments with her “especially during the first months when everything seemed to proceed at the pace of tar, and again during critical appointments/ chemo days.”

Do what needs to be done

Don’t ask her what she needs, just do something that she needs,”  recommends Nicole. “Show up, and help out.” Chair of Cardiomyopathy, CR UK patient board and NCRI rep for kidney and bladder cancer, Alison Fielding (@alisonfielding) agrees: “Make specific offers of help such as lifts, company or chores rather than waiting to be asked.”

“Anyone who said let me know if you need anything wasn’t going to get an answer,” explains Ilene “so during difficult times, one or two of my friends would do my wash, change the sheets and put the clothes away. She’d bring me smoothies while I’d be knocked out from my pre-taxol Benadryl and knew exactly what I’d like.”

Clinical Professor of Pathology, Dr David Grenache (@ClinChemDoc), cautions following through with offers of help. “From experience: when you tell them you will do what you can to help, then follow through with that when you are asked for help.  You may have to drop a high priority task but when the call for help comes. Go!” 

Victoria (@terrortoria), founder and community manager of @YBCN_UK (which supports young women with breast cancer), recalls a friend who “made home made soup for me when I told her I couldn’t bring myself to eat things. She left them on my doorstep as I couldn’t bring myself to see people either for a time. It was a 90-minute round trip for her. She’d listened to how I felt and then helped me within my limits.”

This theme of cooked meals comes up again and again. 

“Cook meals so the person with cancer has something warm and nutritious,” recommends Tracy.  Maureen Kenny (@MaureenKenny1), a patient living with secondary breast cancer, agrees, saying “you can never go wrong with a cooked meal.”

After a long day in hospital, breast cancer patient advocate, Siobhan Feeney (@BreastDense)  recalls the day she came home to find “in the porch, cooked dinner, homemade bread, marmalade and fresh eggs.” A gift she says she’ll never forget. 

Alleviating the pressure of cooking and housework is a super practical way to help a friend with cancer. Sarah Connor (@sacosw), shares a story about her neighbor who “came once a week, took away a basket of dirty clothes, brought them back washed, dried, ready to put away. She didn’t know me very well. Still makes me tingle.”

Give thoughtful gifts

From warm socks and soft blankets to body lotion and lip balm, there are many gifts you can bring a friend who is going through treatment. Beverly A. Zavaleta MD[2], author of Braving Chemo, writes:  “Each time someone sent me a gift I felt a connectedness to the giver and to the “outside world,” which was a welcome escape from the cancer world that I was living in… when I received a gift, I appreciated the time that that person took to remember me, to think of what I might need and to choose, assemble or make the gift.”

Breast cancer survivor, Karen Murray (@murraykaren) recommends practical gifts like “hand cream (skin very dry after chemo), gel for mouth ulcers (also common), some nice sweets/fruit.”

Male breast cancer survivor, Dennis Keim (@denniskeim) suggests “a jar of Aquaphor might be a nice gift. Especially if their skin is getting hammered by chemo.”

“Help the cancer patient pamper themselves,” proposes Lisa Valentine. “You know your friend or family member well enough–get them something they wouldn’t get themselves because they would think it’s extravagant–i.e. the expensive chocolate or a pedicure.” What may seem like an indulgence can also be extremely practical. “Taking me for gel nails protected my ever softening nails,” explains Ilene Kaminsky.

Although be mindful that not everyone appreciates the same things. 

“I wasn’t interested in toiletries, candles. Wine gums – they mask the taste of a nasty pre-chemo antiemetic,” says Syliva (@SylviaB_). “People often think buying flowers is naff. I adored it when people bought me flowers. A couple of people bought spectacular flowering plants.”  Breast cancer blogger, Sheri[3] received the fabulous gift of a monthly subscription to in-home flower deliveries during treatment.

Help with treatment decisions

If you have already been through cancer yourself, your friend may turn to you for treatment advice. You can guide them to helpful resources  and share your own experience, but ultimately the final decision is theirs alone. Sometimes you may not agree about treatment decisions. This can be hard for both of you. Try to accept this and support their decision. “I think not being critical with someone’s choices is very important. Support should not be in spite of circumstances,” says Ilene Kaminsky.

Offer compassion and kindness

Two-times breast cancer survivor and patient advocate Terri Coutee[4] believes the best gifts you can offer a friend is compassion and kindness. “Hold a hand if you are with a friend or loved one in person,” she advises. “You don’t even have to say anything. Perhaps your warm, human touch is enough. Tell them you have no idea how they are feeling at the moment but want to support them in any way you can. Be sensitive to the fact they may only need someone to listen, not advise.”

John Hanley (@ChemoCookery) considers “small practical actions and warm, soothing, short reassuring words are perfect.” Words like “I’m going nowhere and I’ll be here shoulder to shoulder when you need me. A little note/text/card “Here for you 24/7 anytime.”A HUG, an Embrace, a hand, eye contact.”

Sara Liyanage, author of Ticking Off Breast Cancer [5]  reminds us that “a cancer diagnosis turns your world upside down and overnight you can become scared, emotional, vulnerable and anxious. Having friends and family step up and show kindness is a lifeline which can carry you through from diagnosis to the end of treatment (and importantly, beyond).”

Treat your friend like you normally would

Researcher, Caroline Lloyd (@TheGriefGeek), cautions us not to “make it all about the cancer, they are still a person.”  Writer and metastatic breast cancer patient, Julia Barnickle (@JuliaBarnickle) agrees. “I prefer to keep conversation as normal as possible for my own sake – I don’t want cancer to take over my life.”

Stage 4 melanoma patient advocate, Kay Curtin (@kaycurtin1) suggests you talk to your friend “like you would any friend. We haven’t suddenly become aliens who require a different style of language,”  she points out.  Sherry Reynolds (@Cascadia), whose Mom is a 15-year metastatic breast cancer patient, talks about how her mother “really appreciated it when people talked to her about regular things vs always talking about her cancer or asking how she was doing. She was living with her cancer, it wasn’t who she is.”

Know when to back off

“What I didn’t want, which is equally important, was people trying to encourage me to go anywhere or do anything,” says Syliva (@SylviaB_).“ I spent a lot of time on my sofa and felt guilty saying no to people who wanted me to go out.”

Knowing when to be there for your friend, and when to give them space isn’t always easy.  but it’s an important balancing act as a good friend.  In Tips for Being A Great Cancer Friend, Steve Rubin,[6] points out that “sometimes, the overstimulation from nurses popping in, PT sessions, and all the tests/drug schedules can become so exhausting that you just want to be left alone. Other times, the loneliness kicks in and you could really use a friendly face.”

It may take time to find the right balance, so let your friend guide you.   Nicole McClean shares her experience with her friend: “I haven’t spoken to her a lot. I didn’t want to become that sort of pesky, well-intentioned friend who searched for every little thing that might show how she was feeling at any particular moment.  Because I know that her feelings would change from moment to moment and sometimes… sometimes it’s just too much to have someone repeatedly ask you… “how are you really feeling?” even when you know they mean well. At this point, I am letting her guide me into how much she needs me and where she wants me to be.”  

At the same time, Terri Coutee advises gentle persistence:  “Don’t give up if you offer help and they don’t respond. Revisit your offer to do something for them with gentle persistence. One day they may decide they need your help,”  she says.  Maureen Kenny recalls “a friend who texted me every time she was about to go shopping to see if I needed/wanted anything while she was out. I rarely did but I always really appreciated her asking.”

Make your support ongoing

Support is not just one and done.  In the shock and drama of a crisis, friends rally round, but once the shock has worn off many disappear. True friends stick around long after the initial days, weeks and months of a cancer diagnosis. Ilene asks that friends continue to“remember birthdays, cancerversaries, and remember me on holidays. A card means a lot even to just say hi.”

Final thoughts

Many studies have found that cancer survivors with strong emotional support tend to better adjust to the changes cancer brings to their lives, have a more positive outlook, and often report a better quality of life. Research has shown that people with cancer need support from friends. You can make a big difference in the life of someone with cancer. [7]

“I personally loved just knowing I was cared for, says lobular breast cancer campaigner, Claire Turner (@ClaireTTweets). “A number of friends didn’t contact me or come and see me and that hurt, so simply be there in whatever way means something,” she advises.

“The truth is basic,” says Nicole McClean, “nobody wants somebody they love to go through cancer. Especially if they’ve been through it themselves. You want people you love to be spared this type of hardship. But you can’t protect them from it. You can only help them through it. Be there for them in the ways that they need.”

Tailoring your help to what your friend needs and enjoys most is the best way to be a friend to them. As four-times cancer survivor Sarah Dow (@he4dgirl) points out “the answers will surely be as varied as we are, both in life generally, our experience of cancer, and our connection with our friend.”


[1] Nicole McClean. My Fabulous Boobies.

[2] Beverly A. Zavaleta MD, The Best Gifts For Chemotherapy Patients

[3] Life After Why

[4] Terri Coutee, DiepCJourney

[5] Sara Liyanage, “What To Do (And What Not To Do) For Someone With Breast Cancer”

[6] Steve Rubin, The (Other) C Word

[7] American Cancer Society, “How to Be a Friend to Someone With Cancer”

Diana’s Story: How Connecting with Another Head and Neck Cancer Patient Saved My Life

Diana’s Story: How Connecting with Another Head and Neck Cancer Patient Saved My Life from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

After Diana’s cancer diagnosis, she was told that she had only months to live. But, after meeting fellow head and neck cancer patient Sajjad Iqbal online, Diana’s path changed dramatically and she is now cancer-free. Hear their inspiring story about the power of connecting with other patients.


Transcript:

Sajjad:                        

My name is Sajjad Iqbal. I am a physician and also a cancer patient. I have the honor of serving on the board of Patient Empowerment Network.

Diana:                         

I’m Diana Craig from Auckland, New Zealand.

Sajjad:                        

I was diagnosed with a gland cancer, which is a salivary gland, on the left side of the face. The actual histology was a salivary duct carcinoma. It was diagnosed in February of 2002.

Diana:                         

In January of 2018. I was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma HPV 16 on my tonsil and soft palate.

Sajjad:                        

I do a lot of counseling for the cancer patients and mentoring and advocating and all that. And as a part of that, I have joined a head and neck cancer support group, which is based in New Zealand. It’s on Facebook. And there are some great people there who advise together cancer patients. Diana posted a cry for help back in May of this year, May of 2019, where she was just given the news that her cancer had recurred in her lungs and near her trachea. And her oncologist gave her a very grim prognosis and he thought that the medication had a very small chance of success.  

And he told Diana she had a few months to two years to live. Diana was devastated. She posted on that Facebook group, and I reached out to her to introduce myself, to tell her how I have managed my own cancer, and I told her that I could try to help her if she would be willing to share the information with me.

Diana:                         

Initially, I hadn’t heard of him before.

And I felt I needed to do some research, and I was told by everybody what a good guy he is, and to absolutely go down that road. So, I happily gave my information and certainly after the first conversation or interaction with him, I knew I was in good hands. Very much so. It was, to me, I used to call him my angel, my guardian angel, because I really felt safe and informed and encouraged. And his mantrais hope and determination and that is such a valid mantra when you go through cancer.

And it’s something that I said to myself oftentimes because it was so poignant, and it’s everything that you have to be and do to empower yourself and to be proactive, to find the best possible outcome for yourself.

Sajjad:                        

You know, as you know, I have written a book about my amazing cancer journey. The book is called Swimming Upstream. And a lot of other people have found it very inspirational. So, my story was not a whole lot different from Diana in this respect: that I was given a very grim prognosis back in 2002.

I was told that I had less than 30% chance of surviving for two years and I was also told that there was no five-year survivors with this cancer. And I made it my goal to beat the odds. And I used to say that in that case, I’ll be among the 30% and if no one has survived five years, well, I’ll be the first one. So, the hope and determination that Diana just mentioned, that’s my motto. Hope and determination. And I tried to instill that in Diana.

Diana: 

It certainly empowered me or put me in the right direction as to, I mean, I like to be moving, I like to be able to fight the fight if I know where to fight to. And also, know what questions to ask. I mean, when you’re in that situation, you are told how it is. And you don’t know what you don’t know. And unless you’ve been informed by somebody else or do the research yourself, and even then, that’s pretty dubious, because you stumble across information that you don’t want to know, and a lot of it’s scare tactics. But with his knowledge, with his background, with his first-hand experience of going through what we have gone through, gave me the confidence to do everything that he said.

Sajjad:                        

And I always recommend to my friends, other patients, that going to your oncologist about the cancer treatment is so much different than going to a doctor for your blood pressure or your bronchitis or so on.

This is an area where we need to be fully prepared. We need to go in and have a dialogue with our doctors who are treating our cancer and this is a matter of life and death. Literally, life and death. So, there is no room for just sitting there passively and just listening to everything and agreeing to everything. We must ask a lot of questions to our doctor. They should be, not only willing to answer our questions, but they should be welcoming our questions. So, if a doctor does not welcome your questions, does not give you plenty of time, does not explain everything that he or she wants to do, then that’s not the right doctor for you. And you’ve got to move on, and quickly.

Diana:                         

Where would I be without meeting Sajjad? I would have no hair at this point. I would be in the middle of chemo and probably K-truda. I don’t believe that I would have such a radical improvement so quickly. Because mine had gone after three infusions, which is nine weeks. So, I floundered the first time because I felt like I needed the help and I couldn’t get any. And the last time, I felt so much more in control, and anybody would think I’m a control freak. And let me tell you, I’m not. At all.

And also, being on my own, as well, I didn’t have a partner there to talk to. It was heaven-sent. And I said to him, “If I come out okay, I’m going to come and see you.” And here I am. Coming to see you. Because it meant so much to me. It really meant so much to me. It really did.

Sajjad:

Yes, it did.

The medical science is moving at an astonishing pace to find new medicine, new modalities, to treat cancer. We cannot be  – the patient must not get bogged down in the statistics of, oh you have this percent chance of survival, or this percent chance of death. Because those numbers don’t mean anything anymore. They’re old numbers. And to fight the cancer, we need our immune system to be involved in the fight.

If we get depressed, if we lose all the hope, the immune system shuts itself down, and that helps the cancer. So, number one thing is to always have hope. Always remain optimistic. And number two is determination. You determine that you are going to fight this and you are going to survive. And then, having those two tools at your disposal, become the empowered patient. Learn as much as you can about your cancer. Talk to other people, go to the support groups. And, again, let me plug Patient Empowerment Network. Go to our website, learn about the cancer. Then go to your doctor and question them and find out how you can improve your treatment. And that’s the way you fight cancer.

Confused About Immunotherapy and Its Side Effects? You Aren’t Alone

“You don’t look like you have cancer.”

More than one patient undergoing immunotherapy to treat cancer has reported hearing statements like that. Immunotherapy is one of the recent advances in cancer treatment that belie the stereotypes about the effects of cancer treatment. 

The side effects of immunotherapy are different from those associated with chemotherapy and radiation. However, that does not mean immunotherapy does not have side effects. Patients and care partners need to be aware of these potential side effects and to be vigilant in addressing them with their oncologists because they can signal more serious complications if left untreated.

What is Immunotherapy?

Despite the increase of immunotherapy treatment options in recent years and considerable media attention paid to advancements in this field, there remains confusion about immunotherapy and its side effects. Many cancer patients are unaware of whether immunotherapy treatments are available for their specific diagnosis. Others don’t know that genetic profiling of their tumors is usually required to determine if immunotherapy is an option and not all treatment centers routinely conduct genetic profiles of tumors. A  survey by The Cancer Support Community found that the majority of patients who received immunotherapy knew little to nothing about it prior to treatment and were unfamiliar with what to expect.

Immunotherapy works by manipulating the patient’s immune system to attack cancer cells. It is perceived as gentler and more natural than chemotherapy and radiation, without the same destructive effect on the body’s healthy tissues.  This, combined with a lack of prior understanding of immunotherapy, can lead patients and care partners ill-prepared for possible side effects.

Furthermore, immunotherapy is a category of therapies, not a single type of treatment. There are a variety of immunotherapy drugs, most of which are administered via infusion.  Side effects will vary by drug, the cancer and its location, treatment dose, and the patient’s overall health.

The following are the most common types of immunotherapy.

  • Checkpoint inhibitors use drugs to block proteins in the patient’s immune system that would otherwise restrain the immune system, often referred to as taking the “brakes” off the immune system.
  • CAR-T therapy modifies the patient’s T-cells in a lab to enhance their ability to bind to cancer cells and attack and kill them.
  • Oncolytic virus therapy uses genetically modified viruses to kill cancer cells.
  • Another therapy uses cytokines (small proteins that carry messages between cells) to stimulate the immune cells to attack cancer.

Immunotherapy can be part of combination therapy. It might be combined with chemotherapy. It might be used to shrink a tumor that is then surgically removed.  Or multiple immunotherapy drugs might be used simultaneously.

What Are The Side Effects?

With immunotherapies, side effects typically occur when the immune system gets too revved up from the treatment. The most common side effects for immunotherapy treatments are fatigue, headache, and fever with flu-like symptoms. Some people also experience general inflammation often in the form of a rash. Many melanoma patients report blotchy skin discoloration, called vitiligo, during treatment. These milder side effects can usually be managed with over-the-counter remedies and adjustments to daily activities.

For checkpoint inhibitors, the fastest growing segment of immunotherapy treatments, mild side effects occur in 30% – 50% of patients. Serious side effects typically occur in less than 5% of patients. (See “Understanding Immunotherapy Side Effects” from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network and the American Society of Clinical Oncology.)

Less common side effects are blisters, joint pain, thyroid inflammation, and colitis (inflamed colon resulting in diarrhea with cramping). Some patients who receive CAR T-cell therapy develop a condition known as cytokine release syndrome, which causes fever, elevated heart rate, low blood pressure, and rash. 

In rare cases, immunotherapy has resulted in lung inflammation, hepatitis, inflammation of the pituitary, and detrimental effects on the nervous and endocrine systems. In most cases, the conditions clear up when treatment ends.  However, there have been outcomes in which immunotherapy caused diabetes or tuberculosis.

“Overall there are fewer side effects [with immunotherapy],” explained Dr. Justin Gainor, a lung and esophageal cancer specialist at Mass General during an Immunotherapy Patient Summit hosted by the Cancer Research Institute. “But the immune system can affect anything from the top of the head down to the toes. Any organ has the potential to be affected.”

As the application of immunotherapy has expanded, so has our understanding of the potential side effects. Like most medical treatments, how one person responds to immunotherapy can be different from another even when the cancer diagnosis and drug therapy are the same.

The essential thing patients and care partners need to know about side effects is they should always be reported to their oncologist or nurse oncologist.

Why Patients Should Talk to Their Provider About Immunotherapy Side Effects

Because immunotherapy has created newer therapy options, there isn’t the volume of experiences as with older treatments. The infinite number of variables that patients provide once a treatment moves beyond clinical trials and into the general patient population generate more diverse outcomes.  And, as most therapies are less than 10 years old, there hasn’t been an opportunity to study the long-term effect of these therapies. This is why oncologists advise patients and their caregivers to be extra vigilant in noting any changes experienced during and after treatment.

Many side effects are easy to treat but medical providers want patients to be forthcoming in discussing any and all side effects. This is in part to improve understanding of side effects, but also because a mild cough or a case of diarrhea might be harbingers of a more systemic issue that will grow worse if left untreated.

Patients should not be hesitant to discuss side effects because they fear they will be taken off immunotherapy.  Sometimes a pause in treatment might be necessary, but the earlier the oncologist is made aware of a side effect, the less likely that will be necessary.

In addition, patients undergoing immunotherapy should always take the name(s) of their immunotherapy drugs and the name of their oncologist when seeing medical professionals outside of their cancer treatment team. This is especially important when visiting the ER.  Because immunotherapy drugs are newer and highly targeted to certain cancers, many medical professionals remain unfamiliar with drug interactions and treating related side effects.

Immunotherapy On The Rise

Immunotherapy treatments have resulted in reports of remission in cases that would’ve been deemed hopeless just five or 10 years ago.  The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has approved various immunotherapy treatments for melanoma, lung cancer, head and neck cancer, bladder cancer, cervical cancer, liver cancer, stomach cancer, lymphoma, breast cancer, and most recently bladder cancer.  (Here is a list of  immunotherapies by cancer type from the Cancer Research Institute.)

“It’s revolutionized how we treat our patients,” says Dr. Gainor of Mass General about immunotherapy’s impact on lung and esophageal cancer.

Advances in immunotherapy research and trials continue to generate optimism and excitement. A clinical study in Houston is looking at using immunotherapy to prevent a recurrence. Researchers in Britain recently announced a discovery that might lead to advances in immunotherapy treatments to a much broader array of cancers.

While there is excitement around the field of immunotherapy and it has resulted in unprecedented success in treating some previously hard-to-treat cancers, it remains an option for a minority of cancer diagnoses.  It works best on solid tumors with more mutations, often referred to as having a high-mutational load or microsatellite instability (MSI) high. And it is not universally successful for every patient.

With hundreds of clinical trials involving immunotherapy alone or in combination with other therapies, it is certain more treatment options are on the horizon. As more therapies are developed and more patients with a greater variety of conditions undergo immunotherapy, we will also increase our understanding of potential side effects.

Side effects should not dissuade patients and care partners from considering immunotherapy if it is available or from advocating for genetic tests to deteimine if it is an option. Many patients undergoing immunotherapy have previously undergone chemotherapy and report that the side effects are fewer and milder by comparison.  The important thing is that patients and their partners know what to expect and communicate with their treatment team.

If the next 10 years in immunotherapy research and development are anything link eth elast 10, we can expect more exciting advancements in the battle against cancer. For more perspective on what’s ahead for immunotherapy see the Cancer Research Institute’s article: Cancer Immunotherapy in 2020 and Beyond.