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 neighbour 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”

Complete Guide To Mindfulness

Suja Johnkutty Hi there ! I’m Suja Johnkutty, MD a conscientious mom and neurologist . My one simple goal is to provide you honest, practical, simple action steps to experience better relaxation in your life. betterrelaxation.com

Four-Legged Physicians: How Dogs Can Aid Patient Therapy

Dogs and humans have shared a special bond for over 12,000 years.  Clinical research has shown that dogs increase quality of life, finding that those living alone with a dog have a 33% decreased risk of death.  A study published by the Complementary Health Practice Review also found that pet owners are likely to have lower blood pressure, better cognitive function, and decreased anxiety than their non-pet owning counterparts. For those fighting along term or chronic illness, spending time with a dog can have broad health benefits for both the body and the mind.

Mental Health

A long term hospital stay is difficult for patients, particularly those in critical care units.  Even physicians with exceptional bedside manner can only do so much to mitigate the clinical nature of a hospital room. A study published in Critical Care shows that animal therapy can help ICU patients overcome the mental health issues associated with an extended hospital stay.  Bringing in a dog to engage with patients breaks up the monotony of the hospital, and improves mood. 74% of pet owners report improvements in mental health, showing that dogs lessen feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Dementia And Alzheimer’s

Patients in nursing homes go through many of the same problems as those battling in an ICU.  Nursing homes pose a particularly great challenge for those with dementia and Alzheimers, as unfamiliar settings and faces can cause distress.  A promising study published in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias shows that dementia patients enrolled in animal-assisted therapy had decreased levels of agitation and greater social interaction than a control group.  Notably, many of the patients involved in the study had owned dogs in the past.  A key part of treating dementia-type disorders is involving patients in activities that they have enjoyed over the course of their life.  For animal lovers in nursing homes, playing with a dog for even a few hours a week can have a massive impact on their quality of life.

Exercise And Physical Fitness

Most dogs are seemingly boundless, furry balls of energy – particularly high energy, social breeds such as Black German Shepherds. Walking and playing with a high energy dog is necessary for their happiness, and comes with the obvious benefit of weight loss and a decreased chance of diabetes for people as well.  The benefits of playing with a dog can be much broader than weight loss. Exercise is a vital part of physical rehabilitation, and has shown to cause remission of major depressive disorder on par with antidepressants in clinical trials.  Coupled with the effort required to keep them healthy, a dog can give a person recovering from an illness a greater sense of purpose, which helps patients mentally as well as physically.

Registering a therapy dog requires a bit of work, but is a worthwhile vocation for both dog and owner.  While medications and in-patient care are necessary for many illnesses, a visit from a dog can help make the arduous process of getting healthy a little less taxing and far more rewarding.

The Restorative Power of Music

Music has always been a universal language with the power to heal, restore and challenge an individual. The history of music dates back to the beginning of civilization and music therapy came along a few thousand years later. Music therapy first became popular in the late 1940s, a few years after World War 2 and the beginning of what we now call “The Hippie Movement”. It has been proven to help patients self-sooth, reduce muscle tension, decrease anxiety while increasing self-awareness and self-confidence, increasing verbalization and the patient’s overall view of themselves and their future. In today’s world, there are many stories of how music has helped patients through their recovery period who suffered from a mental or physical illness.

Music Therapy and Mental Illness

One in five adults in the US suffer from mental illness in a given year, which is approximately 43.8 million Americans. Despite such a large percentage of Americans who suffer from mental illness there hasn’t been much progress in effectively treating the root cause instead of only the symptoms. Music therapy bridges the gap between medication and alternative therapy. The Nordoff-Robins approach to music therapy focuses on helping patients with autism, mental disorder, and emotional disturbances to increase their interaction with others while decreasing harmful tendencies and triggers.

Follow the Music

A recent study in 2017 discussed the methods in which music therapy helped to improve the emotional and rational tendencies of people with schizophrenia. The study went on to discuss the benefits of music therapy for other mental disorders like depression and anxiety.  There is now a close correlation to an improvement in social and emotional skills to the various types of music therapy available for treatment. Mental Illness advocates and patients alike have supported the growth and progress of some of the largest music concerts all over the world. These moments of music appreciation has established a greater understanding of the healing power of music.

The Results

Music Therapy works due to the release of dopamine in the brain causing you to feel a sense of reward thus increasing your mood and desire to engage with others. A randomized controlled study in 2008 on Music Therapy for Depression indicated the potential for music therapy to lower symptoms of depression while improving overall mood. Further studies in 2016 supported this claim and extended it to anxiety disorders and some personality disorders as well. Results show that patients who have been exposed to several sessions of music therapy showed a significant improvement with coping skills and their overall self-image.

Beyond the Study

Music therapy has long proven its ability to reduce the symptoms of certain mental illnesses like depression, schizophrenia, personality disorders and many more. Future studies hope to acquire more diverse data samples and cross-analysis them with studies on introducing music to children in negative environments. These studies hope to prove and expand the understanding of how music is able to alleviate certain symptoms in the brain.

Using Art Therapy To Cope With Cancer

Data from over 20,000 people with cancer found that one in ten patients were also affected by depression. Helping patients to deal with both the physical and psychological side effects of living with and recovering from cancer needs to be a necessary part of their treatment. Many studies have found that art therapy is a great way to help cancer patients deal with how they’re feeling, including reducing depressive symptoms and physical pain, while improving their outlook on the future and making them feel listened to.

Art therapy helps to reduce pain and depression

Many studies have looked into the positive effects art therapy has on mental health in cancer patients. 1,500 participants were involved in research by the National Institutes of Health and they found a very clear link. Art therapy helped to reduce anxiety, depression and physical pain in patients, and most patients also reported a general improvement in their quality of life. The research suggested that the emotional benefits lasted as long as the therapy, but a reduction in pain was seen in patients afterwards too. However, another study found that the improvements in anxiety and depression symptoms were long-term.

Art therapy without a professional

Unfortunately, not everyone gets the opportunity to work with a professional art therapist when they’re living with cancer or they wish to continue once they’re home. People can still benefit from the effects as it’s easy to do at home by yourself. Art therapy will vary depending on the individual’s preferences as some people prefer to make or listen to music, others like to draw, paint or write, and some like to make things, like sculptures. It really doesn’t matter which art medium is chosen as the person will still be expressing themselves. For example, drawing a person’s face can be therapeutic as it can help to think of a loved one, or it can be symbolic as the facial expressions can illustrate emotions that may be difficult to discuss.

Benefits during chemotherapy and radiation treatment

Art therapy has been found to be useful during chemotherapy in three main different ways. One study found that art therapy was a relaxing and creative outlet, patients felt they were listened to more and they had a way of expressing their emotions and the opportunity to find meaning in their life. Another study looked at how women receiving radiation treatment for breast cancer could benefit from art therapy. Their overall health improved, along with their quality of life, physical health and psychological health.They also had a better body image, coping with physical side effects from treatment improved and they felt hopeful about the future.

Art therapy has the potential to be a powerful tool for helping people to live and deal with cancer, both physically and psychologically. It’s worth discussing medical professionals involved in your treatment about the option of art therapy to see what they can offer, but you can always start your own creative projects at home to help you heal.

Non-Medical Remedies For Managing Cancer Pain

Treating cancer often involves treating multiple symptoms, both physical and emotional. The symptom of pain, however, has been highlighted as one of the most critical due to the effect it can have on recovery and overall mental well-being. Pain is seen in approximately 25% of newly diagnosed patients, 33% of those having active treatment and up to 75% of those with advanced disease according to The American Pain Society. The World Health Organization have also identified cancer pain to be a global health concern, and also mention that a large percentage of patients are not adequately treated for pain.

While the normal regimes of medication treatments are usually prescribed by a variety of healthcare professionals, some elements of the pain or personal circumstances can be overlooked. In some cases the clinical approach doesn’t always work, leading many patients to look for alternative or holistic approaches to managing their pain.

Acupuncture, Reflexology and Art Therapy

Known as a physical therapy, medical acupuncture is an evidence-based medicine. It involves inserting sterile needles into certain points in the body which then stimulates the nerve to release natural chemicals which in turn give you a feeling of well being. Acupuncture, used alongside established drug therapy, has been shown to be most effective.

Reflexology is a type of massage that focuses on applying pressure to the hands and feet. There is no scientific evidence to support its use, but many people have reported positive outcomes in managing their pain. The belief is that having your feet and hands massaged in a specific way stimulates certain organs in the body which allows for the natural release of the body’s healing process and energy pathways – similar to the way acupuncture works.

Art therapy is a type of mental therapy that helps channel your focus away from the pain itself. “Art therapy does not replace the need for pain medication, but it can be used as an effective complement and reduce perceptions of pain experiences,” says Kelsey A. Skerpan, an art therapist with Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

Furthermore, a study done in early 2018 and published inThe Arts in Psychotherapy looked at approximately 200 people who had been hospitalized for pain and found that just 50 minutes of art therapy significantly increased moods and lowered levels of pain.

The Benefits of Exercise

Depending on the stage of cancer you’re at and the treatment you’re having, exercise may be an option to help with chronic pain. Exercise regimes can be specifically tailored depending on your personal circumstances. Studies have shown that aerobic exercises like running, walking, cycling and swimming can have a positive influence on the way individuals react to their pain, resulting in effective pain management in the long-term.

The Importance of Sleep

Sleeping is the body’s natural way to rejuvenate and heal. If you’re living with chronic pain due to your cancer, a good night’s sleep may be difficult to achieve. Some medicines used in the treatment of cancer can also affect your sleep. To help get a better night’s sleep, try and be active during the day, avoid caffeine and carbonated drinks at night or sleep on a special mattress that curves to the shape of your body.

Pain can be difficult to manage if you have cancer. Speak openly and honestly about your symptoms with your doctor or nurse. If you’re planning on trying any therapies or alternative ways of managing your pain, always check with your healthcare team first.

Take the Plunge: How Swimming is Empowering Cancer Patients

People with cancer can stand to benefit from the many positive effects of indulging in swimming. It is one of the top 10 favorite physical activities according to the 2013 Recreation Survey. Swimming for fitness also grew in popularity, jumping to 2nd place behind walking according to PHIT America. It not only keeps you in a good shape but also offers many advantages empowering patients with cancer. From acquiring survival skills to enjoying the soothing effects of the water, swimming is a form of physical and recreational activity that provides immense advantages to everyone.

Swimming is An Empowering Exercise

There’s probably nothing better than swimming. Often dubbed as the perfect workout, it is a less weight-bearing form of exercise supporting your body in the water. It enhances muscle strength, improves endurance and keeps you in a good shape. In addition, research studies show that swimming has positive effects on the mental health. It improves moods, relaxes and calms the body.

For patients affected by cancer, swimming is a physical activity that offers benefits during and after treatment. Studies also show that even those with advanced stage cancer can take advantage of the gains offered by the activity. It helps combat the side effects of the disease by decreasing the intensity of symptoms such as pain, fatigue, and peripheral neuropathy. Through physical activity, people with cancer can relax relieving stress and reducing depression caused by the illness. Quality of life is, therefore, improved through physical activity such as swimming.

A Skill with A Lifetime Value

Swimming not only provides physical and mental advantages to cancer patients, it is also a skill that you can use throughout your lifetime. It equips you with the ability to judge situations in the water, find the best solutions and cope with challenges. Although over half of Americans or 56% know how to swim according to the Red Cross Society, the ability to swim is not merely judged by being able to tread or putting your head above the water. It is also the skill to find a way out of dangerous situations and preserve your life. Swimming teaches you how to stay safe in the water. Moreover, the physical activity enables you to know how to rescue others who are in trouble safely. It also trains you how to overcome any fear that you may have such as being in or near to water and even drowning.

For patients who are going through the cancer disease, swimming is a great form of exercise that offers physical and mental benefits. It helps in decreasing the uncomfortable symptoms of cancer and assists in improving overall wellbeing. Above all, it is a life skill that can save your life and that of others.

How To Cope With Cancer-Related Fatigue

We all know what it’s like to feel tired – physically, mentally and emotionally, but usually after some relaxation and a good night’s sleep, we are ready to take on the world again. When you have cancer, though, rest often isn’t enough. Fatigue caused by cancer and its treatments takes a toll on your stamina along with the emotional effects of cancer. Being diagnosed with cancer is highly stressful and we know that stress affects your state of mind, your sleep, and your energy levels too. Even after adequate sleep or rest, you still feel tired and unable to do the normal, everyday activities you did before with ease. You experience a persistent, whole-body exhaustion. You may find it hard to concentrate or to engage in your usual activities.

What is cancer-related fatigue?

Cancer-related fatigue (CRF) is increasingly recognised as one of the most common and distressing side effects of cancer and its treatments. It has a negative impact on work, social relationships, mood, and daily activities and causes significant impairment in overall quality of life.  It has been estimated that from one quarter to nearly all cancer patients experience fatigue during and after treatment. Although CRF generally improves after therapy is completed, some level of fatigue may persist for months or even years following treatment.  Studies of long-term breast cancer survivors suggest that approximately one-quarter to one-third experience persistent fatigue for up to 10 years after cancer diagnosis.

Some symptoms of cancer-related fatigue, according to the American Cancer Society are:

  • A constant feeling of tiredness that doesn’t ever go away or get better
  • Being more tired than usual before, during, or after activities
  • Feeling too tired to perform normal routine tasks
  • Feeling general weakness or lethargy
  • Lacking energy
  • Being tired even after a good night’s sleep
  • Inability to concentrate or focus
  • Inability to remember
  • Being sad, irritable or depressed
  • Easily frustrated or angered
  • Trouble sleeping/insomnia
  • Difficulty moving arms or legs

What medical help is available for cancer-related fatigue?

A lot of cancer patients do not report fatigue to their doctors because they think that nothing can be done for it. In fact, there are things that can be done to alleviate the debilitating effects of CRF.  If left untreated, fatigue may lead to depression and profoundly diminish your quality of life, so it’s important that you speak to your doctor if fatigue is an issue for you.

Before you can address CRF specifically, your doctor needs to determine if there are any underlying medical issues which may be contributing to your fatigue.  For example, if you are anaemic, you may need to take nutritional supplements like iron. Sometimes fatigue is confused with depression. It’s important, therefore, to be evaluated to distinguish between the two. You may experience one or the other, or both at once. But they are not the same. You may need treatment for depression before you can adequately deal with your fatigue.

6 Everyday Strategies To Cope With CRF

 

Making some adjustments to your everyday routines can also help you cope with CRF. Here are 6 ways to do this.

1. Make deposits in your ‘energy bank’

Don’t expect to be able to do what you could do before cancer. Know your limits and don’t expect too much of yourself. You may find it helpful to think of your energy reserves as your ‘energy bank’. Whenever you do an activity you make a withdrawal. And when you rest you make a deposit. It’s important to balance withdrawals with deposits. If you keep doing too much whenever you feel like you have energy, you’ll run out completely and not have any reserves left for the things that are important.

2. Plan your day

Planning is key when you have fatigue.  Write a ‘To Do’ list each evening so you can prioritize the things you need to do the next day.  By prioritizing in this way, you can use your energy on the activities most important to you. Spread your activities throughout the day during times when you feel best and take rest breaks in between activities.

3. Keep a fatigue diary

Keeping a fatigue diary – where you score your fatigue each day on a scale from 1 to 10, and record your activities – can help you think about patterns in your energy levels throughout the day.    This can make it easier to plan your activities for the times when you have more energy.

4. Do some regular light exercise

Although exercising may be the last thing you feel like doing, if you don’t exercise, you’re more likely to experience fatigue. In fact, a new study found that exercise and psychological interventions may be powerful tools in combatting cancer-related fatigue. Research has shown that there are many benefits to exercise. Not only does it help reduce the symptoms of fatigue, exercise encourages your body to release endorphins – often called ‘feel good hormones’. When released, endorphins can lift your mood and sense of well-being.

5. Eat healthily

When we are exhausted, we tend to gravitate towards processed, junk food which depletes our energy reserves further.  Follow a well-balanced diet (high in protein and carbohydrates, low in sugar) and drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.

6. Adjust your work schedule

Talk to your employer about making adjustments to your work schedule. Discuss the possibility of flexible working hours, reduced working hours or working from home.  Ask colleagues to help you with some of your work.  Talk to your occupational health adviser if you have one. They have a duty to support you doing your job and help you with any health problems that may affect your work.

Though fatigue is a common symptom when you have cancer, there are steps you can take to reduce or cope with it. There’s no one way to diagnose or treat cancer-related fatigue. Try some or all of these coping tips until you find what works for you.

How Your Lifestyle Can Affect Genes That Cause Cancer

There are two schools of thinking about cancer.  School one says that cancer is a hereditary disease, passed from generation to generation.  A good example of this are women who possess the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutation.  Women with this mutation have a 70% lifetime risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer.  Angelina Jolie, for example, lost her mother and aunt to cancer and was subsequently found to have the same mutation.

The second school says that cancer can occur due to lifestyle choices.  A good example of this is cigarette smoking. It is the number cause of lung cancer, linked to 80 – 90% of lung cancer cases.

Recently, researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine have introduced another theory about the development of cancer.  They proposed that there are processes within our cells that activate certain sequences of DNA.  Those processes act as on/off switches for the development of cancer.

This idea is based on the evolving science of epigenetics. Epigenetics looks at the way genes express or don’t express themselves as we age.  Those gene changes are thought to be influenced directly as a result of our nutrition and behavior, as well as exposure to toxins in our environment.  In a sense, it’s a hybrid of hereditary disease and lifestyle choices.

Epigenetics is a normal process in our bodies.  For example, all of our DNA is the same, yet cells develop into liver cells, brain cells, muscle cells, etc. because of the way epigenetics turns on and off different cell processes.  But our lifestyle choices can impact the way genes express themselves as well.

Perhaps you’ve heard the expression “Sitting is the new smoking.”  The reason for this is due to research on lifestyle and cancer.  The results of dozens of surveys found that a sedentary lifestyle increases the risks of cancer, specifically colon cancer.  Subjects who spent most of their day sitting were 24% more likely to get colon cancer.  People who watched the most television had a 54% greater risk than those who watched fewer hours.  Uterine cancer was also affected by sitting; women who were the most inactive experienced a 32% great risk.  The female T.V. watchers fared worse; those who watched the most television has a 66% risk of developing uterine cancer.

In all these cases, it’s not the inactivity per se that causes cancer to develop.  It’s the processes of epigenetics that are affected by inactivity that can cause cancer.

It’s a complicated and exciting time.  Next month, more on how unhealthy habits are incorporated into our DNA and passed onto our children.


Sources:

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/lifestyle-choices-could-affect-gene-sequences-that-code-for-cancer/

http://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/epigenetic-influences-and-disease-895

http://www.whatisepigenetics.com/fundamentals/2/

Reducing Your Risk of Cancer

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) estimates that approximately one-third of cases of the most common cancers in the U.S. could be prevented, which accounts for about 374,000 cases of cancer per year. Cancer prevention is action taken to lower the chance of getting cancer therefore reducing the burden and deaths from cancer each year. Since February is Cancer Prevention Month, we wanted to highlight some ways to reduce your risk and protect yourself from cancer.

1. Eat a healthy diet & Stay active

Eating a balanced plant-based diet filled with a variety of vegetables, fruits, soy, nuts, whole grains, and beans can help lower your risk for many types of cancer and will help you maintain a healthy weight.

Adults should get et at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each day (or a combination of these), preferably spread throughout the week. While children and teens are recommended to get at least 1 hour of moderate or vigorous intensity activity each day, with at least 2.5 hours of moderate intensity aerobic activity each week.

2. Protect yourself from the sun

Sun exposure at any age can cause skin cancer. Be especially careful in the sun if you burn easily, spend a lot of time outdoors, or have any of the following physical features:

  • Numerous, irregular, or large moles
  • Freckles
  • Fair skin
  • Blond, red, or light brown hair

To block UV rays try covering-up, wearing sunscreen, wearing a hat, using UV-absorbent shades, and limiting you exposure time.

3. Get immunized

The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine helps prevent most cervical cancers and several other kinds of cancer, and the hepatitis B vaccine can help lower liver cancer risk.

4. Avoid risky behavior

Another effective cancer prevention tactic is to avoid risky behaviors that can lead to infections that, in turn, might increase the risk of cancer. Some behaviors to avoid:

  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Tanning beds
  • Tobacco use
  • Unsafe sex
  • Sharing needles

5. Get regular medical care and screenings

Along with regular check-ups with your physician to maintain an open health dialogue, cancer screenings should also be scheduled. These include the following:

  • Pap smear – Most women ages 21 to 65 should get Pap tests as part of routine health care. Even if you are not currently sexually active, you should still have a Pap test
  • Colonoscopy – Colon cancer screening should begin at age 50 for most people. If a colonoscopy doesn’t find adenomas or cancer and you don’t have risk factors, the next test should be in ten years.
  • Mammogram – Women should should get mammograms every year starting at age 40, for as long as a woman is in good health
  • Checking skin for irregular moles, etc.

Sources:

https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/dcpc/prevention/

http://www.mcancer.org/cancer-prevention

http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/cancer-prevention/art-20044816

https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3166/osha3166.html

17 Tips For Patient Engagement

To kick off 2017 and new year of patient engagement and empowerment, we are showcasing 17 tips from patients, caregivers, and leaders throughout the industry. A special thanks to our partner, The Conference Forum and their Patients as Partners US program, for helping to obtain a few of these excellent testimonials. Their tips and advice are as follows.

 

1. Jack Aiello

“Patients and their care partners need to get educated about their disease and become their own best patient advocates.  The internet can be a great resource where disease specialists create videos on topics from disease overview to treatments and side effects.  And by getting 2nd and 3rd opinions from disease specialists, you put yourself in the best possible position to make good decisions with your doctor.”


2. Randy Broad

One very important aspect of treatment, especially at the time of diagnosis, is to understand what treatment options your oncology team is recommending and why.  Many providers have ‘pathways’ which determine how a specific cancer (and stage) be treated.  Be sure to fully understand what’s behind and underneath this directive.  Many times it can be determined based upon cost, not best options currently available.”


3. Matthew Zachary

“Patients have the right to survive with dignity and quality and we deserve to be treated age-appropriately. More so, they also have the right to be made aware of the relevant support resources they are entitled to so they can get busy living. This is what it means to face cancer.”


4. Cindy Chmielewski

“Knowledge is power. Educated patients are empowered. Educate yourself. Join a support community either in-person or online; follow the #mmsm hashtag on Twitter; subscribe to disease appropriate YouTube channels, listen to webcasts/podcasts presented by patient advocacy organizations and engage in meaningful discussions with your healthcare team.

Be a partner in your care. “


5. Jennifer Ahlstrom

“Don’t be afraid to speak up. Patients who ask their doctor questions, ask for explanations and treatment rationales get better outcomes. Myeloma is a very complicated disease and there are now an incredible number of treatment options available for patients. If you don’t feel comfortable asking your doctor questions, it’s time to find another doctor, preferably a myeloma specialist who treats hundreds of myeloma patients.”


6. Marie Ennis-O’Connor

“Becoming an empowered patient means taking personal responsibility for your health. You engage with health care providers and systems in ways that are proactive, rather than reactive. You take positive steps in the direction of the care that is right for you.”


7. Scott Riccio

“Remember that YOU get to define value for your own care.  Nobody can read your mind, though, so you have to share what you value, how it impacts you, and what tradeoffs you are willing to make to get the outcomes YOU want.”


8. Andrew Schorr

“Ask your doctor questions! How can we be sure my diagnosis is 100% accurate? How much experience do you have treating this illness? Are there other tests that can help me get the most on-target treatment for my case? What are all the approved medicines for my situation? Why would you recommend one over another? What clinical trials could be right for me, whether or not you have them at this clinic/hospital?”


9. Esther Schorr

“As a care partner, it really is a time to be hopeful as the advances in cancer treatment are moving very, very fast. As it is for the patient you love, it is key to stay educated about advances in treatment options that might be right, and be actively involved in discussions about genetic testing and clinical trials.  It’s also critical to lean on your personal community…friends, family, counselors…in order to “keep it in the road” and retain realistic optimism. As more and more survivors and care partners reach out to each other and share stories, we all gain insights and perspective – and you will hopefully feel supported along the cancer journey. We are all in it together, and we are here for each other.”


10. Amy Ohm

“Caregivers need self-care to effectively care for a loved one – always make sure to put on your oxygen mask first! It can be incredibly challenging to focus on ones health with the daily demands of care-giving. Make 2017 the year you assess your own health and strive to reduce daily stress. Connecting privately with those who relate and to share experience to learn from others can help. We want you to be health in the New Year!”


11. David Wallace

“It is imperative that you gain a solid understanding of your disease so you can become your own advocate.  Connecting with other knowledgeable patients via social media or online forums to learn what has worked or failed to work for them is a good start.  Understand the treatment options that are available to you.  See an MPN specialist who will work with your local hematologist.  If you are not being treated with care and respect, don’t hesitate to seek a 2nd opinion and change doctors until you receive the level of care you deserve.”


12. Carol Preston

“NEVER hesitate to ask questions.  In fact, write down your questions in advance, take them with you to your appointment and go through them one by one.  Be sure to write down the answers (or get your care partner to take notes) as a short pencil is far better than a long memory.  Better yet, record the QA on your smart phone so that you can listen later to the answers as you’ll retain only about 10% of what the doc tells you during your appointment.”


 13. T.J. Sharpe

“Patients and caregivers can be better engaged in 2017 by reaching out to their patient community and actively becoming involved in the support of fellow patients through person to person and group interaction.  Patients and their caregivers can raise the bar for everyone involved in healthcare so that the expectations of patients as a partner in their care is not just accepted, but standard and demanded by patients.”


14. Marilyn Metcalf

“Set our goals together in the New Year, and then work together on our plans and make them happen.”


15. Durhane Wong-Rieger

“Patients are basically a heterogeneous lot, coming with all types of experiences and talents, as well as desires and needs.  Some patients want to have a voice in high-level  policy and system decision-making; some want to extend a personal hand of support.  The more diverse the channels and opportunities for involvement, the more patients can take active and meaningful roles. Every person naturally wants to feel respected and empowered so it doesn’t take much to engage patients: provide a portal, support, information, acknowledgement and most important action.”


16. Deb Maskens

“Patients and caregivers get information from a wide variety of sources, from personal anecdote to television advertising to medical journals. Empowerment and engagement for patients and caregivers in 2017 needs to start by providing them with more information that is trusted, balanced, and objective. Information is power. Let’s give patients and caregivers the information they need as the first step for them to be empowered and engaged in treatment decisions that are right for them as individuals.”


17. Jeff Folloder

“Resource management.  I’m not talking about managing the funds to pay for treatment or care.  I’m talking about managing you.  I got great advice from a lady in a waiting room at MD Anderson.  She told me that every day we wake up with a bucket of energy that we can spend on anything we want and it’s gone at the end of the day.  We can spend that energy on quality things and be tired and fulfilled.  Or we can spend it on silly things like worry and regret and go to sleep tired and empty.  She’s right.  And I remember her words every day.”

The Benefits and Pitfalls of Blogging About Your Illness

In his book, The Wounded Storyteller, Arthur Frank, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Calgary, writes that when we are ill we are wounded not just in body, but in voice. He describes how illness can radically alter how a person relates to the world and how we need to find a way to restore our fractured identity. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer over a decade ago, writing a blog, Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer, helped me express myself, reconnect to a new sense of self, and find my voice again.

Throughout her life, the writer Virginia Woolf maintained that her work was incomplete until it was shared with readers. And I think this is also true of being part of a blogging community. When we share our writing, someone else has heard our voice. Someone else cares and understands. So often, illness causes us to feel isolated and cut off from others. Blogging is a way for us to find a shared sense of connection and community.

the-benefits-and-pitfalls-of-blogging-about-your-illnessYet sharing our story online is not without its pitfalls; the most obvious of which is a loss of privacy. You should consider how revealing your medical history online might have an impact on your family and professional circumstances. How will your employer, co-workers, or other family members view you? Do you risk being over-identified with your illness? For me, disclosure of my own story has evolved from initial anonymity to a point where I now choose to share more openly. However, the degree to which I share information still depends on the space where I share it and the degree of trust I have with the people I share with (for instance I consider my blog a safe space to tell my story, but I am more cautious on Twitter). But what happens if that safe space is violated and our expectations of trust are shattered? When our words are taken out of context or used for a purpose we didn’t intend? Is information shared publicly implicitly available to everyone just because it is in the public domain? What are the ethics of research that includes collecting and analyzing patient stories or observing online behaviour without individuals knowing they are being included in research? In an age when technology has outpaced the ethical underpinnings of research and the culture surrounding privacy has changed profoundly, these are questions we need to find answers to.

Although we understand that what we share online is in the public domain, we nevertheless trust each other to maintain a collective sense of privacy, which includes not having our words reproduced without our knowledge or taken out of context. The issue of maintaining privacy in the public domain was brought into sharp focus two years ago when blogger Lisa Adams became the subject of an online debate. Adams, who blogged and tweeted about her experience of living with end-stage cancer, came to the attention of two journalists who strongly criticised what they called “Adams dying out loud.” Their opinions ignited a firestorm of debate about the public disclosure of illness, and the sharing of personal choices surrounding treatment and death and dying.

Illness makes us vulnerable and learning to navigate the digital landscape while also managing our vulnerability is a skill that we need to master if we are to protect ourselves online. Think carefully about what the process of online disclosure entails. Weigh up what you expect to gain from it and what implications sharing this information might have on your career or family life. If you are a parent or carer who writes about a patient, do you have their permission to share this information? In the case of writing about a child, what future effect might this have on one who cannot give consent or understand the significance of their story being shared so widely?

People have always gathered together to share what they know about health and illness, hoping to help and learn from others. What’s new is that we now have the ability to expand the reach of our conversations at internet speed and at internet scale. What happens in real life happens on line, but faster. This has many benefits, but it also means there is a higher potential for unintended consequences when we have less control over who sees our stories. It’s a good idea to periodically review the privacy settings on your social media accounts to decide if you are comfortable with the level of control you have over the information you share. Ask yourself, if your intended audience were sitting in front of you now, how comfortable would you feel sharing this information? How do you think you’ll feel after sharing it? Are you ready for feedback (positive or negative)? Remember sharing your story online doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Go slowly at the beginning, allow trust to build over time, and share only when you feel ready to do so.

Above all, be courageous in sharing your story. I am filled with gratitude for those who bravely blazed the trail in opening the discussion and decreasing the isolation connected with serious illness. I continue to be in awe of the connections and communities forged in the digital space and I look forward to seeing how this will evolve over time.

 

 

Chronic Illness: Oh, the Stress of It All!

(Melissa is a patient, advocate, and runs her own website www.curegp.com)

Everyone must deal with stress from time to time, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Stress can actually be beneficial when it is short-term and low-level. It can boost your energy and memory, act as a motivator, and even enhance your physical strength. But those of us with chronic illness often battle prolonged stress, with few or no breaks, and this can be quite detrimental to our health. There is a growing body of evidence that indicates this type of stress can lead to serious health issues such as heart disease, migraines, stomach problems, high blood pressure, and depression. In order to avoid, or at least minimize these possible risks and effects, it is important to know how to recognize and manage potentially harmful stress.

Coping with stress can be particularly difficult for those of us living with chronic illness because of its long-term and serious nature. It comes with additional stressors that most other people do not face, and there is rarely a respite from these. Diagnosis is often accompanied by fear, confusion, and disbelief. Some of us experience apprehension because we feel we have not been given a proper initial explanation of our condition or enough information to manage it effectively. Conversely, there is commonly an overload of information to process regarding our numerous medications and the complex medical routines we must follow. We are often shocked by the overwhelmingly difficult lifestyle changes required of us. Upon initial diagnosis, many of us are confused and upset about the nature of our illness, its causes, its symptoms, our prospects for treatments or a cure, and the measures that will be required of us to accommodate the effects of our illness. We fear what the future holds.

There are other complications that concern us as well. It can be difficult to find a doctor who can (or will) treat us, and we must sometimes interact with several different physicians who manage our care. On occasion, we receive conflicting advice and recommendations from the medical professionals providing for our treatment. In times of medical crisis, we face decisions about whether it is appropriate to treat our illness at home, see our doctor, or perhaps visit the emergency room. Many of us struggle to find medications and treatments that work for us and must determine this through trial and error. Once we find helpful medications and treatments, we may face difficulty in gaining access to them and at times must battle with insurance companies who deny us coverage or physicians who hesitate to prescribe them. It can all be pretty overwhelming.

In addition to the hardship of dealing with the day-to-day management of the actual symptoms themselves, there are long-term concerns. Severe symptoms can eventually interfere with one’s social life and even jeopardize one’s career. Friends and family members may have unrealistic expectations about what a chronically ill person is capable of, and often, we ourselves have these same unrealistic expectations. We are regularly too sick to participate in social activities, and we feel much guilt over our withdrawal from social functions and gatherings we once found enjoyable. We may begin to feel increasingly cut off and isolated from the friends and family members we once knew. If serious enough, symptoms can result in missed days of work and eventual unemployment, which can lead to monetary woes. The loneliness, seclusion, and financial strain associated with these factors act as additional stressors and make it all the more difficult for those of us who are chronically ill to cope.

Indeed, life with chronic illness can be burdensome and stressful. Nonetheless, there are methods of averting or minimizing many of the factors that contribute to our stress. For starters, we can make an effort to prevent stress from occurring in the first place by educating ourselves. Searching the Internet, reading articles, asking questions of our doctors, and seeking out others with the same condition helps provide us with insight into our illness. It minimizes the fear of the unknown that accompanies our diagnosis and gives us an idea of what to expect in terms of symptoms, treatments, possible complications, and prognosis. It helps us recognize what is “normal” for our condition and what is cause for concern and aids us in preparing for what might be coming down the road.

We can also do our best to maintain a healthy lifestyle. (I am not suggesting we can attain perfect health; I am simply recommending doing whatever we can to be as healthy as possible given the limitations of our illnesses.) This might mean taking vitamins and supplements, exercising, making the most nutritious food/drink choices possible, getting adequate rest, and taking our medications as recommended.

In addition, we can work toward strong mental health. Rather than expecting “perfect” lives, we can focus on the good we have and be grateful for the small, joyful moments. Likewise, we can learn to manage the circumstances in our lives that can be governed and adapt to the ones beyond our command. (We may not be able to attend courses on a college campus, for example, but perhaps we can take online classes. Maybe we cannot make it to the movie theater, but we can view videos in the comfort of our own homes.) We can also forgive ourselves for our perceived shortcomings and pardon others for not acknowledging our limitations. We cannot control missing an event due to illness, but we can refuse to feel guilty and accept that we cannot “will” ourselves to be well. Our illnesses are real, and they come with genuine physical limitations.

Finally, we can learn to recognize the signs of harmful stress (i.e., mental confusion, anxiety, worry, depression, fatigue, altered sleep patterns) and seek help when we feel discouraged and defeated by joining support groups; talking to trusted friends, family members, and neighbors; or pursuing professional counseling. We can engage in pleasurable activities – such as reading, writing, listening to music, playing board games, etc. – that momentarily distract us from our debilitating symptoms. We can read encouraging books or practice relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation. We can ask loved ones for assistance or consider employing home helpers/aides to lend a hand with household chores or other tasks we have difficulty completing. Perhaps we can identify government and charitable programs (for prescription aid, low-income housing, reduced-cost medical care, and the like) that might ease our financial burdens.

We may not be able to entirely avoid the stress that results from our complicated and sometimes overwhelming circumstances, but we can learn to manage it. As chronic illness warriors, we face a constant, daunting battle against stress – but it is not one we must necessarily lose.

Mental Health & Cancer

Anxiety, fear and depression are commonly associated with life-changing events – especially cancer. People with cancer may find the physical, emotional and social side effects of the disease to be stressful. This stress may result from changes in body image, changes in family or work roles and physical symptoms due to treatment. Family members and caregivers often feel these same stressors, as they fear the loss of a loved one. They may feel angry because someone they love has cancer, frustrated that they “can’t do enough,” or stressed because they have to take on more at home. So many of these feelings are completely normal, but what is typical and when may outside help be needed?

According to The American Cancer Society, signs that the patient or a loved one may need help are the following:

  • Suicidal thoughts (or thoughts of hurting himself or herself)
  • Unable to eat or sleep
  • Lacks interest in usual activities for many days
  • Is unable to find pleasure in things they’ve enjoyed in the past
  • Has emotions that interfere with daily activities and last more than a few days
  • Is confused
  • Has trouble breathing
  • Is sweating more than usual
  • Is very restless
  • Has new or unusual symptoms that cause concern

If you or a loved one have experienced one or more of the above symptoms, there are many options for help.

Speak with your cancer team

If you find any of the above symptoms to be true, one of the first steps may be talking with your cancer team. Your team should be able to answer any questions, talk about your concerns, and, if needed, refer you to a mental health professional. Anxiety occasionally stems from the fear of uncertainty from treatment or medication side effects, so knowing what to expect may be the first step in coping.

Seek support

Once you have spoken with your cancer team and support system to determine a treatment plan, put it into action! Any of the below activities may supplement the treatment prescribed by your doctor in making both you and your loved ones feel less alone and anxious during this difficult time:

  • Training in relaxation, meditation, or stress management
  • Counseling or talk therapy
  • Cancer education sessions
  • Social support in a group setting
  • Online support groups
  • Medications for depression or anxiety

Get moving

Exercise has been proven to improve individuals’ quality of life and physical functionality. Though rest and relaxation are crucial to maintaining a healthy mind and body, regular exercise may help maintain and even improve your health. Exercise may help during treatment by improving balance and physical abilities, lowering the risk of osteoporosis and heart disease, and lessen nausea. Even more importantly than physical health, exercise may improve patients’ self-esteem, mental health and quality of life.

Every individuals’ physical needs and potential are different, so it is important to speak with your doctor about what exercises are best for you. Because the stage and treatment plan for cancer patients differ, so may each patients’ stamina and strength. Staying as active and fit as possible is essential to maintaining physical well-being during treatment, so tailoring an exercise program that fits your ability and preference is essential.


Resources:

cancer.org

cancer.gov

Seven Steps to a Successful Digital Advocacy Strategy

MEO SeptDigital advocacy concerns the ways in which you engage your audience online and inspire them to take action around your cause. Using digital tools and applications can amplify your issue, while giving you new opportunities to listen and engage with supporters, and monitor your progress.

Creating a digital strategy will help you focus on your goals more clearly, choose the right digital tools, promote key messages, and measure outcomes more effectively. Ultimately, the right strategy gives you the best chance of using digital channels (like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) to reach the right audiences with the right messages at the right times to advance your advocacy.

Step One: Set Your Communication Goals

The first step to any advocacy strategy is to establish clear objectives and goals that you hope to achieve. What are you trying to accomplish? For example, you might want to increase public understanding of the issues you advocate for, mobilize supporters to take action, or raise funds to support your cause. You will need to set SMART goals, which are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Timebound

Specific – define your goals as clearly as possible.

Measurable – put figures on what you want to achieve e.g. increase visits to the website by 40%; gain 100 new Twitter followers or Facebook Likes.

Attainable – make your goal attainable in terms of the resources and capabilities you have.

Realistic – to be realistic, a goal must represent an objective toward which you are both willing and able to work.

Timebound – your goal should be grounded within a time frame.

Step Two: Define Your Target Audience

Who does your message need to reach? Obviously, you want to reach as many people as possible, but by choosing which audience to prioritize in your digital communications you will improve your reach, enhance relevance and put your resources to the best possible use. Find answers to basic demographic questions about your audience, what issues they are concerned with, alongside which online communities inform, inspire, or influence them. You can then tailor your content more specifically to match your audience.

Step Three: Choose the Right Social Channels

Once you’ve identified your target audience, map this information to social media behavior to help determine which social channels to concentrate on. Publically available reports, like Pew Research Center The Demographics of Social Media Users, can help you with this step. Social media are dynamic and constantly changing. When you develop your digital advocacy strategy, be prepared to be flexible. As new networks emerge you might want to add them to your strategy, but it’s important to always relate this back to your goals and your audience to ensure it fits your plan.

Step Four: Create Compelling Content

What is the key message(s) you need to convey to your target audience? How will you communicate it? Sharing the stories of
real people affected by your cause will be the most powerful and compelling content you can create. Share this content via blogs, videos, podcasts, email, etc. Bear in mind the content that works best on the platforms you have chosen. The continuing growth of visual platforms, such as Pinterest, Snapchat and Instagram mean that incorporating visual content into your digital strategy is important. Whichever type of content you create include a clear call-to-action. Make it clear and unambiguous what the next step is after reading or viewing your content; for instance, sign a petition, share on Twitter and Facebook, or donate to your cause.

Step Five: Implementation

Time is probably the biggest challenge in implementing your strategy. To achieve results and credibility you have to be prepared to commit time regularly to producing and promoting content and engaging with your audience. Decide on how much time you can realistically devote to implementation. Do you have time to write regularly for a blog? Would it be better to make short videos instead? Create an editorial calendar and list the dates and times you intend to post blogs, Facebook posts, Twitter updates, etc. Use a scheduling tool, like HootSuite or Buffer, to schedule you social media updates in advance. There are numerous tools and applications, many of them free, which can help you spend your time more efficiently and productively on social media.

Step Six: Monitor Social Media

It’s important to monitor social media on a regular basis to keep on top of what people are saying about you, your organisation, campaign, or issue. It also gives you an opportunity to find relevant online discussions related to your cause, allows you to adjust your strategy in real time and guides you to key online influencers and opinion leaders who can help amplify your message. Setting up a simple Google Alert (email updates of the latest relevant Google results based on your queries) with relevant keywords is a good place to start. Use a tool like Hashtracking to monitor a particular hashtag, related hashtags, and the top influencers of that hashtag.

Step Seven: Measure and Evaluate

The final step is to measure and evaluate your progress, adjusting your strategy if necessary. Some key metrics to track are the number of followers you attract and retain, which social media channels drive the most traffic to your website, the number of comments you get, and how many times your updates have been shared. Google Analytics will provide you with detailed analytics to measure your website performance. Each of the main social platforms also has their own analytics built in. Other useful tools include:

  • TweetReach measures the reach and exposure data for your tweets
  • SumAll measures your Twitter follower growth, mentions, and engagement
  • Klout measures your online social influence via a “Klout Score”, which is a numerical value between 1 and 100.
  • Spredfast measures data gathered from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr, to show how many people you’ve reached and whether or not your target audience is engaging with you.

Final Thoughts

Digital advocacy helps amplify advocacy efforts by potentially reaching more people, in more places, faster than ever before. It works best when it is aligned with your existing offline tactics. Think about how you can integrate your everyday advocacy activities with your digital strategy to maximize impact. Don’t expect digital advocacy to work right away. It is a strategy that will succeed long-term, rather than be a quick success. If you want to see real results, you must be prepared to commit to it long-term. Finally, keep in mind that social media are constantly changing and evolving, and you will need to keep evaluating your strategy to ensure you are maximizing your opportunities to engage meaningfully with your supporters.