Tag Archive for: anxiety

8 Tips For Coping With Christmas When You Have Cancer

Christmas is traditionally a time of celebration, feasting on festive foods and drinks and gathering with family and friends. However, if you have cancer, this may also be a time of overwhelming emotions, exhaustion, or physical discomfort. Add in concerns about the current coronavirus pandemic, and you’ve got a recipe for a stressful holiday.  “As our second COVID Christmas is fast approaching and with our world so desperately wanting to return to normal comes a lot of holiday festivities, says Marissa Holzer, who has been living with metastatic breast cancer since 2014.  “Some of these parties and gatherings may bring unnecessary stress and anxiety, even during normal times, or they may make an immunocompromised individual feel unsafe.”

Let’s take a look at some ways we might reduce the stress of the festive season.

1. Plan Ahead

Consider what aspects of Christmas may be difficult for you, and plan ahead of time for what will help you cope.  You may find it useful to write a list. For example, keep snacks, hand sanitizer, and masks in your bag when traveling away from home.

2. Listen to Holiday Music

This tip comes from two-time breast cancer survivor, Terri Coutee, who finds listening to holiday music lifts her spirits. “It can be in the form of quiet instrumental when I am feeling peaceful and reading or resting,” she explains. “When I am cooking or decorating I might put on a favorite artist with a little jazz or swing to it and dance a bit while preparing for the holidays.

3. Ask for Help

The run-up to Christmas is a hectic time filled with food shopping, gift wrapping, decorating, and extra household jobs. Now is the time to call on the assistance of those who offered to help when you were first diagnosed.  Reach out to them and ask for practical help with Christmas chores. Also, do as much of your grocery and gift shopping online as possible.

4. Schedule Rest Time

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.

Cathy Leman, who works with post-treatment survivors of hormone-positive breast cancer, says that “one thing that helps my clients cope during the holidays is being deliberate in creating space for themselves; ideally before they start their day. As little as ten minutes devoted to setting an intention, doing deep breathing or journaling can help you feel grounded and balanced.”

5. Adjust Your Expectations

Arising out of the previous tip, Jennifer Douglas, who was diagnosed with DCIS, suggests keeping expectations flexible. “Since our energy fluctuates so much during and after treatment it can be really difficult to know how much to put on one day,” she explains. “I found that giving myself grace to do a lot, or a little, with regards to holiday preparations, enabled me to feel more at peace. Some days I felt good and could do a lot, and other days I didn’t have the energy. Either way, I listened to my body and did what I could. Having flexible expectations of myself helped me get through the busy season while preserving my precious energy.”

6. Set Firm Boundaries

When you visit with friends and family the subject of your diagnosis and treatment may come up at some point. It’s perfectly acceptable to tell someone that you don’t want to talk about cancer if you don’t. It can be helpful to plan ahead of time how you will respond to these questions.

Rod Ritchie who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014 (followed in 2016 with a diagnosis of prostate cancer), steers clear of cancer conversations as much as he can. “Because I don’t want to turn a Christmas party into a pity party, I don’t mention the ‘C word’ unless it comes up for discussion,” he says. “ It doesn’t hurt me to have a day off the topic as well!”

7. Feel What You Feel

Christmas is a time of high expectations and the reality of our experience doesn’t always match these expectations. Tell yourself that’s ok. Let yourself feel whatever it is that you are feeling. Even if how you feel doesn’t correspond to what others expect, your feelings are still real and valid.

Breast cancer survivor, Nancy Stordahl, still grieves the death of her mother from breast cancer and finds Christmas can be a challenging time. “There is nothing wrong with honoring your grief by feeling it,” she says. “No one should feel guilty about grieving during the holidays or during any time of year, for that matter.”

Prostate cancer survivor, Gogs Gagnon, who lost his sister to ovarian cancer says he finds “comfort in sharing stories at family gatherings. Reliving my favorite memories and allowing myself to cry without fear of judgment is incredibly healing and therapeutic.”

8. Prioritize What is Best For You

You get to decide the kind of Christmas you want. It’s ok to say no to certain things, such as not visiting friends or family. Discuss your needs with friends and family, but remember that it’s ok to prioritize what’s best for you, even if others don’t seem to understand. In the words of Marissa, “My motto this season:  If it doesn’t bring peace, joy and love to your heart it is absolutely okay to say no.”

My wish for you this holiday season is that it will be a time filled with an abundance of peace, joy and love, and that the new year will bring good health and happiness to us all.

Merry Christmas.

Should All MPN Patients Undergo Molecular Testing?

Should All MPN Patients Undergo Molecular Testing? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Gabriela Hobbs discusses the necessity of molecular testing for myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) patients, including the pros and cons of this in-depth testing for patients with polycythemia vera (PV) and essential thrombocythemia (ET).

Dr. Gabriela Hobbs is a hematology-oncology physician specializing in the care of patients with myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN), chronic myeloid leukemia, and leukemia. Dr. Hobbs serves as clinical director of the adult leukemia service at Massachusetts General Hospital. Learn more about Dr. Hobbs.

See More From MPN Clinical Trials 201

Related Programs:

How Driver Mutation Research Is Advancing MPN Treatments

How Driver Mutation Research Is Advancing MPN Treatments

Advancing MPN Research: How Clinical Trials Work

Advancing MPN Research: How Clinical Trials Work

Advances in Myelofibrosis Research

Advances in Myelofibrosis Research


Transcript:

Katherine:

How useful is having a genetic panel done? Should all patients get molecular or genetic testing? 

Dr. Hobbs:

Great question. And I think that it is very important to have genetic testing.   

And genetic testing involves more than just testing the JAK2 mutation. So, we know that the JAK2 mutation is the most common mutation in patients with MPN. But that being said, there are other mutations that also occur such as the calreticulin mutation and the MPL mutation.   

And so, I think having genetic testing that at least tests for those three mutations is very important so that we can actually help a patient know that they have an MPN. In addition to those three main mutations, many clinicians now have access to what’s called extended next-generation sequencing, where there’s a panel that tests for many different genes at the same time and can test for a variety of other mutations.  

And this is particularly relevant for patients with myelofibrosis. As we know that having other mutations, like, for example, mutations in IDH or ASXL1 and others, can increase the risk of that disease in terms of its risk of transforming to leukemia or how long a patient may live with their myelofibrosis. 

And so, I do recommend having extended next-generation sequencing done at least at diagnosis.  

When I generally think about repeating that, if there’s something that looks like it’s changing within the patient’s disease, to be honest, also on the flipside of that argument, sometimes this next-generation sequencing will mostly contribute to adding anxiety and will not necessarily directly impact how a patient is treated. And this is particularly true in patients with PV and ET, where we’ll sometimes order these tests, and we get a bunch of mutations back, but we don’t know what to do with that information yet.  

And so, as a researcher – not a clinician – as a researcher, I think it’s very important to have that information so that we can then do studies and understand the patterns of mutations and how that affects outcome. But as a clinician, and you as a patient, you need to really be aware of how that’s going to impact the patient in front of you and how that may impact you as a patient. Do you want to know if you have these mutations if nothing can be done about it? So, I would say, take a moment to reflect upon what I said and also to ask your clinician, how is this information going to help me? Do I need to have this information?  

Maybe you want to have it done so that it’s in your record. But maybe you don’t necessarily want to know those results. And everybody’s very different. And I think it’s absolutely wonderful to talk to my patients about all the information. But there may be some patients that really are just, like, do the test but don’t tell me the results, because I know that I’m just going to be very anxious knowing that I have something that I can’t do anything about. So, just take a minute to talk about it with your doctors. I think that’s really important.  

Tips for Managing Lung Cancer Anxiety and Worry

Tips for Managing Lung Cancer Anxiety and Worry from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Lung cancer expert Dr. Jyoti Patel shares support resources to help ease anxiety and explains how multidisciplinary care teams, including palliative care, can support patients and family members.

Jyoti Patel, MD, is Medical Director of Thoracic Oncology and Assistant Director for Clinical Research at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. She is also Associate Vice-Chair for Clinical Research and a Professor in the Division of Hematology and Oncology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Dr. Patel is a leader in thoracic oncology, focusing her efforts on the development and evaluation of novel molecular markers and therapeutics in patients battling non-small cell lung cancer. Learn more about Dr. Patel.

See More from Thrive Lung Cancer

Related Resources:

Advice for Managing Lung Cancer Symptoms and Treatment Side Effects

Why Lung Cancer Patient Advocacy Is Essential

Collaborating on Lung Cancer Treatment Decisions With Your Team


Transcript:

Katherine:

Managing the worry associated with a diagnosis or concerns about progression can lead to anxiety and fear in some patients. So, why is it important for patients to share how they’re feeling with their healthcare team? And who all is in the healthcare team who would be able to help a patient?  

Dr. Patel:

So, the anxiety of cancer therapies, of CT scans, of tumor assessments, can be overpowering. And then the longer-term anxieties. Who’s going to care for me, who’s going to care for my family, am I doing the things that are important to me, are ones that weigh heavily on all of us.  

So, certainly, again, carrying these anxieties over a long time have adverse impacts. So, people who are more anxious may not sleep as well. They may lose weight. They may not be as robust. And so, all of those things weigh into our ability to give more treatment. So, we want people to be psychologically well. We have, generally now in our healthcare teams, a number of people who are there to help.  

And so, we have nurse navigators. Most cancer centers have a number of psychologists and psychiatrists that work with our teams. But more than that, even things like nutritionists and social workers make a significant impact. And then I’m surely lucky to work with a world-class palliative care team.  

So, these are doctors that really focus on symptoms of cancer, the toxicities of treatment. And we work together to ensure the best outcome for our patients.  

How Does CLL Affect the Immune System?

How Does CLL Affect the Immune System? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) expert Dr. Seema Bhat explains how a patient’s immunity is affected by the disease and strategies for management.  

Seema Bhat, MD is a hematologist at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Learn more about Dr. Bhat.

See More from Thrive CLL

Related Resources:

Educational Resources for CLL Patients

Educational Resources for CLL Patients

CLL and Anxiety: How Your Healthcare Team Can Help

Setting CLL Treatment Goals WITH Your Team

Transcript:

Katherine:

Finally, our last question. One audience member would like to know more about how CLL affects the immune system, including wound healing, and how does CLL impact this? 

Dr. Bhat:

So, patients with CLL usually have a weaker immune system. The lymphocyte, which is the white cell, which is affected in CLL, is an important part for an immune system, and due to the presence of disease, these lymphocytes – although there are lots of them in patients with CLL, they tend to be non-functional. 

“Functionally incompetent,” that’s what they’re called. And it leaves the patient’s immune deficient and susceptible to a variety of infections. Also, the lymphocyte is component – the B lymphocyte is one component of immune system. There are other components like T lymphocyte, antibody, NK cells. There’s cross-dock between the B cells and what we call, the “microenvironment,” which is made of the T cells. This cross-dock is deficient in patients with CLL, again making them immune-deficient and susceptible to infection. So, that’s one impact on their immune system. 

Sometimes, there’s something else happening in the immune system where the immune system can go crazy, or wacky, and start attacking the patient’s own blood cells leading to, for example, decrease of hemoglobin or platelets, because these are immune complications. And also, due to a weak immune system, patients with CLL can have delayed wound healing, which also predisposes them to infection. 

So, being aware of these complications is important and using appropriate precautions can be very helpful. Again, because they have a weakened immune system, vaccines are very important. Using all measures to avoid infection, hand washing, staying away from patients, from people who are obviously sick, is very important. Sometimes, patients where we see they’re’ getting frequent infections, we can use what’s called, “IVIG,” intravenous immunoglobulin. These are pre-farmed antibodies which are injected into or infused into the patient at regular intervals every 4 to six weeks, which reduce the chance of these infections. 

Addressing Anxiety About CLL and COVID

Addressing Anxiety About CLL and COVID from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Many patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) worry about how they may be impacted by COVID. Dr. Seema Bhat shares advice for CLL patients who are anxious about being immunocompromised and what they can do to protect themselves

Seema Bhat, MD is a hematologist at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Learn more about Dr. Bhat.

See More from Thrive CLL

Related Resources:

What Happens During CLL “Watch and Wait”

What Happens During CLL “Watch and Wait”?

Where Can CLL Patients Access Financial Support

CLL and Anxiety: How Your Healthcare Team Can Help

Transcript:

Katherine:

What about worry and anxiety related to COVID and compromised immunity? What would you like patients to know? 

Dr. Bhat:

So, COVID has become another source of anxiety, unfortunately, for many of our patients, and rightly so. Our patients with CLL are considered immunocompromised, meaning that their immune systems do not work that well, which makes these patients very susceptible to different kinds of infections, COVID being one of them. And this was actually shown by some of the early COVID-related studies that showed a very high mortality in patients with CLL. 

This has improved now, mostly because now we are better equipped to handle COVID. We have COVID-directed medications available, but the major impact has been made by the vaccines. So, we highly encourage our patients to get vaccinated against COVID and keep up to date with the latest CDC guidelines. Also, we have Evusheld available, which is under emergency use authorization, and our patients with CLL, due to their weaker immune system, are eligible to get this, which adds an extra layer of protection for our patients. 

Also, it’s important to know that our test – if our patients test do test positive for COVID, they should let their team of doctors know immediately, since now we have monoclonal antibodies and pills that can be used to treat symptomatic COVID. 

Katherine:

That’s great information, thank you.  

CLL and Anxiety: How Your Healthcare Team Can Help

CLL and Anxiety: How Your Healthcare Team Can Help from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Many people with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) experience fear and anxiety after a diagnosis. Dr. Seema Bhat explains why it’s important for patients to share how they are feeling with their healthcare team.

Seema Bhat, MD is a hematologist at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Learn more about Dr. Bhat.

See More from Thrive CLL

Related Resources:

What Happens During CLL “Watch and Wait”

What Happens During CLL “Watch and Wait”?

Addressing Anxiety About CLL and COVID

Where Can CLL Patients Access Financial Support

Transcript:

Katherine:

Many people with CLL will experience fear and anxiety, whether it’s the stress of being in “watch and wait” or worrying about regression. Why do you feel it’s important for patients to share how they’re feeling with their healthcare team? 

Dr. Bhat:

So, one of the important things to know about CLL is that CLL, at this point of time, it’s not a curable disease. It is a lifelong disease. Patients will have to deal with CLL for the rest of their life in some form or other, either on watchful waiting, or on active treatment, or if they’ll complete a treatment, they’ll have this lurking fear of relapse at any time. A large part of what I do is to help my patients understand what it means to live with CLL. And, of course, anxiety is a big part of that living with CLL. 

Although at this time, we’re unable to cure our patients with CLL, I want my patients to understand that it’s very treatable, treatments are very well-tolerated with low toxicity, and patients live a long life. They can have good, productive, and active life. They should ask their care team about resources for social, emotional, and physical support. They should let them know about their concerns, talk about their feelings.  

Katherine:

How can a social worker provide support, and are there other healthcare team members who might be able to help? 

Dr. Bhat:

So, yes, patients are on a rollercoaster – emotional rollercoaster with this diagnosis. With this diagnosis come lots of unknowns. Worries about possible shortened life span, anxiety over treatment, and effects of treatment. So, there’s lots to deal with, and lot of uncertainty, which causes a feeling of hopelessness for these patients. So, psychological support is very important. That’s where the role of social worker comes in. 

We get them involved to help patients deal with the diagnosis, and social workers – they can provide patients with tools to cope with this life-changing event. They use life tools like encouraging positive thinking, mindfulness, being aware of what the patient can control involving faith and family, and also involving self-care. 

That’s where we see the role of the whole team as such. If patients are having more difficulties, we can have other members of a team, like a mental health provider, connect with our patients. Social workers and other members of the team can help our patients get connected to support groups, or even to other patients who have had similar experiences. 

Thriving With an MPN | Tips for Managing Worry and Anxiety

Thriving With an MPN | Tips for Managing Worry and Anxiety  from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Joseph Scandura explains the role of shared decision-making when deciding on an MPN treatment, and why it’s so important for patients to take an active role in their care.

Dr. Joseph Scandura is an Associate Professor of Medicine and Scientific Director of the Silver MPN Center at Weill Cornell Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Scandura.

 

Related Programs:

 
Finding an MPN Treatment Approach That Is Right for You

Finding an MPN Treatment Approach That Is Right for You

How to Access Financial Support for MPN Patients

How to Access Financial Support for MPN Patients

Advice for Choosing MPN Therapy: What’s Right for You?

Advice for Choosing MPN Therapy: What’s Right for You?


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:

Can you talk about shared decision-making? Why is it so important for patients to work closely with their healthcare team on choosing a therapy? 

Dr. Scandura:

Because these are therapies that last for a long time. And, hopefully, the patients and the relationship last for a long time. And so, I think that everybody has to be comfortable with the decision about a therapy. And my personal goal is to try to make sure that everybody understands the rationale for a therapy, the potential ups and downs with the therapy, which every drug has, every approach has, and what I’m kind of watching and monitoring. I’m a very – I think that communication relieves a lot of anxiety. I think that the unknown is far scarier than the known, even if it’s not perfect. And so, I think shared decision-making has a role in relieving some of the scariness of unknown.  

If we’re discussing to come to a decision, that means that my job is to give you the knowledge that I have so that you can tell me the knowledge about you and what you’re feeling and what you want back. And that back and forth is what helps me do a better job of taking care of the patient and helps the patient understand what’s going on and relieve some of the stress of the unknown. So, I think it’s a very synergistic approach. I don’t think I could practice medicine in another way.  

Katherine:

Managing the worry associated with a diagnosis or concerns even about progression can lead to a lot of anxiety and fear amongst patients. Why is it important for them to share what they’re feeling with their healthcare team? 

Dr. Scandura:

I would say this. If our goals are to have people – I mean, this is what I say to patients – I want you to think about this disease when you’re here. And, then, when you’re not here, my goal is to have you not thinking about this disease because you’re feeling okay and you’re comfortable and confident in what’s going on.  

So, I want to make it a clinic visit disease. That’s not always possible. But, for many patients, it is. I don’t want somebody to become – to start thinking like a sick person when they’re not. I don’t want the diagnosis to be the disease, right? I want the person if they’re feeling well, to recognize that. Live your life; move on with things. But, at the same time, these kinds of diagnoses are scary.  

Katherine:

Yeah. 

Dr. Scandura:

And so, it is normal with a new diagnosis or a change in the diagnosis to go through a period of time where you have to adjust. And so, that’s normal, and you have to work your way through it. Some people want to work that all out internally, and that’s good to a certain extent as long as they have good supports at home. But I often want to know how they’re doing, how they’re working through that so I can get a gauge of how it’s affecting their life and the duration where this adjustment is going on.  

So, somebody who’s still adjusting to a new diagnosis two years after the diagnosis, and they’re otherwise clinically well, that’s getting into the range where it’s not normal. You might need additional help. You might need counseling. And, in some patients, that might include some medications for a short period of time. The goal is to have the disease affecting you only in so far as it’s affecting you, not the idea of the disease. 

So, that’s a – again, it’s a conversation. There are lots of resources. People, being individuals, deal with things in their own way, and I just try to help understand with them how it’s affecting their life. And, if it seems to be more than I would expect, I’ll tell them that.  

And then we can discuss that. It doesn’t mean we have to do something today, but I will tell them, “I think this is maybe a little bit more. Why are you so worried? I think you’re doing great.” 

Katherine:

Yeah. Yeah. Can a social worker or somebody else on the healthcare team help with these emotional needs that patients have? 

Dr. Scandura:

Absolutely. We have great social workers. I tap into them all the time. We also have a group of psychiatrists who are really interested in kind of psychiatry that’s related to oncology and the diagnoses and how it impacts care. I mean, this is New York City, so everybody has a therapist. But a lot of patients have preexisting connections to healthcare providers or support systems. I think, for some patients, groups are helpful.  

Anxious From CLL Watch & Wait? How to Cope.

Anxious From CLL Watch & Wait? How to Cope. from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Many CLL patients who are put on “watch and wait” following a diagnosis. Dr. Catherine Coombs explains this approach and provides advice on how patients can cope with the emotional impact of waiting to treat their disease. 

Dr. Catherine Coombs is an Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology at The UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Coombs here.

See More from Thrive CLL

Related Resources:

CLL Treatment Approaches: What Are the Types?

Signs It Is Time to Treat Your CLL

Signs It Is Time to Treat Your CLL

Refractory vs Relapsed CLL: What’s the Difference?

Transcript:

Katherine:

What would you say to a patient who has a lot of anxiety about having to wait for treatment? 

Dr. Coombs:

The first thing I would say is that anxiety is normal. More often patients are anxious than not because it’s really hard to be told you have a leukemia and that we’re not going to do anything about it. I think that’s really hard to hear. The way that I try to counsel people is that my role as the doctor is to do no harm. If you have a leukemia and there’s no proven way to make you live longer by giving therapy early on, if you’re in that early stage of CLL where you’re asymptomatic, by offering therapy, all I could do is make you worse.  

I could give you a new side effect, I could add a new cost burden. Until I have data to prove that that’s going to make your life longer, which we do not have yet (maybe that will be different five to 10 years from now, but we do not have that yet), I could only hurt you. So, that’s not what I want to do. I want to have you live and thrive.  

The better thing to do, based on what we know now and what we know our therapies can and can’t do is to do the watchful waiting. But the anxiety is normal. Depending on how severe the anxiety is, I have had patients meet with – at least at UNC we have something called the Cancer Center Support Program, which is a group of psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists that can help talk over what it means to have a cancer diagnosis and not necessarily need therapy.  

Then I also provide education on the other health issues that can come up as part of being a CLL patient even on that watchful waiting program. The thing that we talk about the most is the increased risk for infections, which in the era of the COVID pandemic is a major concern. Luckily, we have a lot of ways to decrease the health risk for COVID, whether it’s due to the administration of vaccines, or monoclonal antibodies, which I think we’ll talk about more later.  

There’re a lot of ways that people can live with it. I do think the anxiety is normal. At least in my own practice, I’ve found that most of the time the anxiety lessens with time. Because it becomes a part of who you are. It doesn’t have to be all of who you are: people can live their lives largely the way they did before with a bit of extra knowledge about things that can come up in the future but may never come up at all.  

How Does Stress Correlate to Our Physical Ailments?

How Does Stress Correlate to Our Physical Ailments? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What are the effects of stress, anxiety, and depression on physical health? Dr. Nicole Rochester and Dr. Broderick Rodell discuss how personal experiences and environmental conditions can impact patient health and a prostate cancer study that examined prostate cancer cells in Black patients.

See More From Rx for Community Wellness

Related Resources:

Advice From Cancer Survivor to Better Whole Person Care

Why Is It Important to Address Whole Person Care?

Why Is It Important to Address Whole Person Care?


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

We know that stress and anxiety and depression and all of those things impact your physical health, and as I said earlier, I think traditionally, there’s been this ridiculous disconnection between our minds and our bodies, and we know a lot more now, in fact, there’s a study, there are many studies, but there’s a study specifically looking at prostate cancer by Dr. Burnham, a researcher. And what they found in this study is that they looked at prostate cancer cells from African American patients and white patients, and when they treated these cells with stress hormones, they saw that the Black patient’s prostate cells would begin to up-regulate the genes and the proteins that are known to make that cancer more resistant to therapy. And so it starts to look at the role of stress and stress hormones, and we know that there’s increased stress among minority communities, among… sorry, urban communities, those who are otherwise disenfranchised, so from your perspective, can you just share a little bit about the connection between stress and physical illness and maybe how you approach that in the work that you do?

Dr. Broderick Rodell:

So, these various patterns we don’t operate, we have a framework that we all operate from, and it’s beneath the surface of our conscious awareness. And so our subconscious mind operating system is there, but that operating system comes from our conditioning, we’re conditioned by our families, by our local communities, our societies. And so, the various structures that are in place are facilitating our conditioning and from our conditioning we…that our conditioning creates our perspective, the framework that we operate from, that’s determine…that’s going to determine how we relate to our experiences. And how we relate to our experiences can be gracefully, or it can be stressfully, just to put it in those two different terms, and so that stress that is created based on how we’re relating to our experiences has a historical perspective, and so we have to address those issues. We can address our familial issues that has a historical relationship and say that maybe the relationship that my mother and father or grandparents had towards their own health is not necessarily to be the most optimal way to do that. And they may have had those ways of relating to their experience, based on their conditioning, based on the suffering that they’ve experienced, environmental conditions that were conducive for that mental framework that they’re operating from, and so we have to work towards transforming that, and again, the place where we have the most power in ourselves, “How can I change myself?”

I have to advocate for myself, and so how do we increase that by increasing our education and learning about ourselves and learning about our mental models that we’re using to relate to our experiences and transforming those mental models to reduce unnecessary stress and tension? Because when we’re under unnecessary stress, we have our epinephrine cortisol, these hormones that are increasing in our body, that’s going to suppress our immune system. It’s going to cause damage in our blood vessels, organs are not going to function optimally, and I think that we’re going to keep finding out more and more about this. I was interested, as you hear that about the prostate, prostate cells in African Americans, why would that be the case? You’ve got generations of hyper-vigilance for historical reasons, cultural reasons, or social reasons. Then, of course, that’s going to get passed on from generation to generation, a sense of hyper-vigilance, a sense excessive amount of stress hormones was floating around in the bloodstream, and it’s going to have a significant influence on how the body is capable of dealing with various illnesses – be it cancer, be it cardiovascular disease, or any other disease that’s associated with, or probably all disease that’s associated with stress these days.

In particular, with cancer it’s very interesting, that relationship and why are these cells dividing and rapidly producing in the way that they’re doing, and how is that related to stress? I don’t think it’s…no, simple relationship there. You can’t just say, “Stress causes cancer.” I’m not saying that at all. But there is a correlation, there is a relationship, and if the thing that we can tackle, we can’t change our genes, but what we can do is change our relationship to our experience. Transform that to reduce the amount of stress or suffering and maximize well-being, and that’s the kind of work that I try to focus my attention on and what comes out of that is, “Okay, I need to work on how I relate to my experience,’ but also “How do I create favorable conditions in my internal system, in my body through the food, in through the exercise that I do, through the literature and I expose myself to, etcetera?”

MPN Patient Shares Importance of Understanding Benefits of Professional Therapy

MPN Patient Shares Importance of Understanding Benefits of Professional Therapy from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myelofibrosis patient Julia Olff shares her experience with seeing a professional therapist via telemedicine as part of her MPN care.

See More From the MPN TelemEDucation Resource Center

Related Resource:


Transcript:

Julia Olff:

When I was diagnosed with myelofibrosis, I learned how important it was to continue therapy, so I had already started to see a therapist several years before that for a set of long-term issues in my life. But what I found over time, and I continue to find is the therapy has really helped me cope with not just some of the parts of my personal life that I’m still working through, but really helps me having a chronic illness, and I know from attending patient conferences, reading about myelofibrosis that there is…for one, a significant population of folks who suffer from anxiety with myelofibrosis. And that’s true for other blood cancers and chronic cancers, where there’s this, that there are ups and downs where you’re going through a period of stressful treatments, possibly followed by periods of monitoring or less treatment, and there’s always that fear of or worry about what may happen next, when might I develop a more serious mutation that will affect my prognosis, could I progress any time? Or there’s a smaller percentage of folks with myelofibrosis who can develop acute myelogenous leukemia, that’s always there. And I think therapy really helps for those sorts of outlook, long-term mindfulness, living in the present and gaining perspective about some of those fears. And I think the other part of therapy that’s so beneficial as it relates to having myelofibrosis is kind of learning to cope on a day-to-day basis, learning to think about yourself and your self-esteem that can get lost when you are feeling unwell for long periods of time. I’ve had months where I was deeply fatigued in terrible pain and doing a lot less and having to say no to my kids, I can’t do that, I can’t go here.

I remember going to back-to-school nights for my kids when they’re in high school, and I’m moving so slowly that I’m getting a teacher asking me, “Are you okay, do you need help?” And that can affect your sense of self, especially as you give up activities or work. I’ve reduced my workload significantly, and all to say is there is this dynamic of who you are as a person, that therapy I’ve found can help me get through so that I don’t lose who I am that helps really sustain my mental outlook.

MPN Patient Q&A: How Did You Avoid Obstacles to Receiving the Best Myeloproliferative Neoplasm Care

MPN Patient Q&A: How Did You Avoid Obstacles to Receiving the Best Myeloproliferative Neoplasm Care from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 In 1991, there were few myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) experts. Many MF, ET, and PV patients were misdiagnosed and often received dismissive care. MPN patient Nona Baker shares how her diagnosis with two MPNs – essential thrombocythemia (ET) and polycythemia vera (PV) changed her life.

This program provides one patient’s perspective. Please talk to your own doctor to make healthcare decisions that are right for you. 

See More from Best MPN Care No Matter Where You Live

Related Resources:

How Do I Best Communicate My Concerns Without Feeling Dismissed


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Hello and welcome. I’m Dr. Nicole Rochester, I’m a physician, a health advocate, the CEO of your GPS Doc, and the host for today’s Patient Empowerment Network program. I’d like to start by thanking our partners, MPN Alliance Australia and MPN Voice for their support. Today we’ll be doing an MPN patient question and answer session, talking directly to a patient living with an MPN for over 30 years. The goal is to help learn how to avoid obstacles to the best MPN care. Following this program, you will receive a survey and we’d be delighted to get your feedback, this helps inform future programs that we produce, please remember that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical care, so please be sure to connect with your healthcare team on what the best options may be for your medical care. I am proud and honored to introduce Nona Baker. Nona was diagnosed in 1991 with essential thrombocythemia, also known as ET, and then in 2004 with polycythemia vera also known as PV. Nona is a staunch patient advocate and the co-chair of MPN Voice where she counsels MPN patients around the world on how to connect to the best care. We are so happy that you have tuned in to learn about Nona’s journey and tips that she has for you and your family as you face an MPN diagnosis as well as how to navigate your care and gain clarity on your path to empowerment. Thanks for joining us, Nona.

Nona Baker:

Thank you and thank you to Patient Empowerment Network for giving me this opportunity to share my experience and hope for other patients as they navigate their way through the MPN diagnosis and treatments.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Wonderful, so Nona in 1991, when you were first diagnosed, there were very few experts in MPN. Many MF, ET, and PV patients were misdiagnosed, and they often received dismissive care, because there were just so many unknowns at the time, and sadly, this was part of your journey and we’re going to learn a little bit more about that shortly. We received a number of questions about how you navigate treatment early in the course of your diagnosis, your initial diagnosis was actually more of an assumption, and I’d love for you to briefly speak more about that.

Nona Baker:

Thank you. It was a fairly scary time, I have to admit because so little was known about MPNs or MPDs in those days, myeloproliferative disorders, blood disorders, and my journey was very much a checkered journey, starting with being sent to an orthopedic surgeon, who I then had to go into physiotherapy for painful feet and insoles in my shoes. I was sent to a rheumatologist who took one look at my blood work and that’s when he said, I think you’ve got an alcohol problem. My husband actually was sitting beside me and he said to him, he said, I think you’ve got that wrong, she doesn’t really drink. And the doctor then turned around, they said, Well, maybe the machines have got it wrong, so that was quite a scary thing, it was…I knew there was something wrong, but I’d been what we call here around the hoses, and it wasn’t until I…the rheumatologist asked for a new set of blood work that he called me two days later that I’ve made an appointment for you to see a hematologist and his call was on a Saturday morning on Monday, two days later, and then I can tell you I was really scared.

Nona Baker:

Really, really scared. The other thing it did is I kind of didn’t trust what I was being told, the one thing I was told was there were only 12,000 known patients in the country, I’m not sure that gave me a great deal of confidence, but yeah, it wasn’t an easy start it was very scary.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Wow, I appreciate you sharing that, and I’m sure that many people with MPNs and other rare diagnoses can relate to that journey. Well, let’s take a look at your brief vignette that sheds a little more light on your unconventional path to care…let’s watch.

Wow, well, the good news is Nona, we have come a long way, but of course, we still have a ways to go. Would you agree with that?

Nona Baker:

I couldn’t agree with that more. I hear so many patients through my work with caring forums that we do from London, that go out around the world who go and don’t get the right information and get quite scared still by what’s going on, and I think things like we’re doing now today help empower people to know that they can actually claim ownership of their MPN and ask for and have a right… Well, certainly in this country to ask for a second opinion and get to the right care to meet their needs.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Absolutely, and you are speaking my language as a health advocate, I am always talking with people about the importance of using their voice, standing up for themselves and seeking information, and asking questions, so I love that you have opened our program with that. So with that, let’s go ahead and get our questions, the first question comes from Susan, and Susan asks, “After the initial shock of your diagnosis, were you worried about limited treatment options and specialists, and then what was your next step?”

Nona Baker:

Was I worried? Well, I was just generally anxious because it’s this thing of not being in control of one’s body and having to surrender that control to another person, so that’s the scary bit for me, and then I did something a little bit stupid in hindsight because it was the early days of the internet, man, I did Dr. Google, not a good plan, because particularly in the very early days, there was some really, really sort of dreadful prognosis is almost sort of go from right, you will…which, of course, here I am, 30 years on. And so, I think that I would be very cautious even now in using Dr. Google, I would go to safe sites where they are medically monitored because I think a little knowledge can be very dangerous.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

That is so true. And I just want to highlight that because in medicine, we often kind of jokingly talk about Dr. Google, but it really is a phenomenon, and while there’s this balance of patients with rare diseases being able to find information and empower themselves, but then as you mentioned, known a lot of the information on the internet has not been vetted, some of it is not scientifically accurate, and it can literally have you pulling your hair out as you read these accounts and start to really create more worry as opposed to creating action stuff. So, I appreciate you sharing that.

Our next question is from Alice and Alice says, “I’ve noticed among women, minority groups and underserved communities, that there’s often a dismissive tone or atmosphere when you speak up and share your concerns,” and she wants to know, “Nona, do you feel that being a woman played a role in your initial diagnosis?” And she also like to understand how to communicate concerns with the care team when you feel that you’re being dismissed.

Nona Baker:

That’s an interesting question, I have to be honest and say I didn’t experience that, but I’m well aware of that. And it goes on, and it’s really disempowering to feel that, so I have huge empathy to hear that. I think if I had experienced it, which I obviously didn’t experience it, my key tip here would be when going for an appointment with a clinician, take a notebook and a pen and write down what you want to ask them, and write down their answers, and preferably if you can take somebody with you, because then you have that opportunity afterwards to digest what you’ve been told, and that in itself is empowering because you can then make further choices.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I love that, Nona. Also, advice that I always give to clients, and you’re right, having someone with you and writing things down is so important, especially in these situations where you’re getting a diagnosis, there’s a lot of uncertainty. We know that a lot of the information that’s shared in medical appointments goes in one ear and out of the other, particularly if we’re anxious or concerned or worried, so having that second person in the room is so incredibly important. I appreciate that advice. All right, our next question comes from Charles. He says, some patients living with two MPNs have said that they’re living with two cancers,” and he goes on to say that he’s been confused as to whether MPNs are cancers or blood disorders. Do you feel comfortable speaking to that and setting the record straight based on how you counsel other advocates in this space, he also mentions that his wife is living with ET and PV as well, and that sometimes the language can be very confusing.

Nona Baker:

I absolutely agree. And interestingly, we did a virtual forum for…at the weekend and one of the research projects, there has been only impacting on families, and it’s very interesting that the language can be very…again, disempowering the word cancer, I think the conventional word cancer is almost…it’s a deaf nail, but actually, when I challenged on the medication, I had the word cancer was used, I went to my primary GP physician, and I asked him,” nobody’s told me I’ve got cancer. What’s this?” Because at the time, it was a blood disorder and it said cancer, and he said,” Do you know what cancer means, Nona?” He said, “It means a proliferation of cells, but these are confined to the bone marrow.” But what happened for us as patients, as we started off, or certainly I did with a blood disorder, and then the World Health Organization, because of this perforation of cells re-classified that as a neoplasm, a neoplasm is just another word for cancer. So, it hasn’t changed since I was diagnosed, but the words have changed. And the scariest is in the word neoplasm suddenly here in the UK, it’s been an advantage, because we have access to much better drugs than we would have had if we’ve just been a disorder. I can’t speak for other health authorities or other countries, because each country is different, but I think it’s just simplifying it.  Simplifying the language. That’s empowering in itself.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I agree, and language is everything, and I think the key is what you said, that while there is a proliferation and while some may use the word cancer that it is confined, and I think that that provides a lot of clarity. Alright, we also have a question from Julie. Julie says, “I was given the run-around early on in my journey and wasted valuable time,” and she wants to know, what are some questions or actions to take at the outset when ruling out MPNs?”

Nona Baker:

That’s a difficult question because I think everybody is different and every health service is different. I think if you’re in an area where the clinicians don’t necessarily know too much about MPNs, that can be problematic. We’re a small country here and we have access to some really good hospitals that specialize in MPNs. I think, again, it’s going back with your piece of paper saying, can we rule out that I’ve got an MPN and I’ve read about MPNs, I have the symptoms, whether it’s fatigue or whether it’s itch for PV or whatever the symptoms are, and I’ve seen that that can be a symptom of an MPN. And again, take a piece of paper, and say can we rule that out? You know, I think that’s empowering.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I agree. Nona and I think when counseling patients who have had misdiagnosis or long road to accurate diagnoses, what you just said is key, and a lot of times it’s a matter of opening up the minds of your physicians and your healthcare team, and like you said, if they’re not familiar with MPNs, then they may go down a path of giving you a different diagnosis, but if you’ve done a little research or if you have some concerns, just saying, could it be this…I know that you think I have this condition, but based on what I’ve read, based on what I’ve learned, could it be an MPN? And a lot of times just that suggestion is enough to kind of shift the conversation, so I think that’s wonderful advice. Alright, our next question comes from Edna. And Edna says that in your in yet you stated that you were diagnosed at 41 and that you are a busy mom and that you were working, and she wants to know, “How did you share this diagnosis with your children and how did it impact your work in your career?”

Nona Baker:

It’s a very interesting question, and I think my children, because I had sort of my mom’s painful feet and I have packets of mushy peas that used to be put on my feet because they were painful because of the obviously thick blood, and my younger son has done a lot of fundraising for MPN Voice, and he talked about how as an 8-year-old, he’d grown up with me having these symptoms that I haven’t done much about, and I know I’ve always taken the view for me, and this is only for me, that I don’t let my MPN define who I am. You know, I think it’s part of my life. It isn’t my life, because my fear would be after that initial anxiety and fear that if I allowed it to take over my life, it would actually really impact my younger…my young children…in terms of my work, I only work part-time. You know, the other thing is, yes, I got a lot of fatigue, but I think what I’ve learned over the years is to put your hands up and say, you know, I’ve hit a wall whereas I just take five minutes.

Nona Baker:

Just take that time. Whereas sometimes it’s difficult when you’re a mom with young children, and I think now, people tend to explain it a bit to their young children, when mom’s tired, it’s not because it’s anything you’ve done it, because I remember patients describing it to have children is…it’s like a car, when the oil in the car gets too thick, the car slows down and sometimes the car needs to stop, and she equated her blood as the oil in the car that sometimes it just slows down and then has to stop gets a bit of refueling, I thought that was a good definition for young children.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I love that, I love that, and I’m a pediatrician by training, so I love putting things in clear terms for kids, and I think that’s really important to just make it simple for them. I also really like what you said, Nona about the self-care part, I think that can be really difficult sometimes for even women who may not have chronic diseases, but certainly for women and moms who have chronic diseases and feeling that, feeling guilty when they take time for themselves, even if it’s in the context of their illness, and so needing to rest and explaining that and normalizing that mom needs to take a nap, I think is incredible, and I love that your son is involved in the advocacy work that you do for MPN. All right, we have a question from James. James says, “Are there specific lifestyle changes that you may, following your diagnosis that brought relief to any symptoms that you were having?”

Nona Baker:

Well, the first change I had to make was I used to smoke, and then my hematologist said to me that affects the red cell count, and that was the incentive to absolutely give up smoking there, and then that was my first lifestyle change, and I haven’t regretted it for a single day. Other lifestyle changes, not really, other than just becoming aware that you know to fight fatigue doesn’t help, sometimes you have to surrender to it, but definitely give up smoking and I… you know, I think that…well, nowadays people don’t smoke, but we’re talking 30 years ago, so…yeah, 30 years is pretty well since I’ve had a cigarette…

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Well, kudos to you for giving up smoking that…that is a challenge. So that’s wonderful. All right, we have a question from Janet. Janet says, I have noticed that many MPN patients develop a second MPN over time, and she wants to know. She wants to know, “Were you surprised about your PV diagnosis over a decade after your first diagnosis, or is this something that you were perhaps prepared for by your medical team?”

Nona Baker:

Well, my second diagnosis came by chance because I had a problem with fibroids, which necessitated having a hysterectomy, which so, the natural venesection was taken away, and then it evolved to a… I don’t know whether that’s the reason, but then I was diagnosed with PV, which means that I have PV with high platelets now is I think the way in my hematologist describes it, but it’s certainly under control with the medication and with venesection from time to time. So, was I surprised? I don’t think after my journey, I don’t think anything surprised me really, I sort of…I think, again, I took ownership of it and just got on with it, really.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Excellent, thank you, Nona. As we prepare to close, is there one tip or one piece of advice that you would like to give to individuals with MPN?

Nona Baker:

Don’t be afraid to ask a question, because I think living with a fear of something is really not good for one’s general health because fear and anxiety can, I think, impact a physical illness if you’re living with a lot of fear in a lot of anxiety, and I know this is easy for me to say because I’ve had a relatively easy journey, and I’ve met patients who’ve had a really, really tough time and I know through Pan-voice, people that were diagnosed either shortly after me or some before who had a bone marrow transplant, you know, their life is obviously better, but my goodness…what they went through to get where they are now. But I think the whole thing that we’ve been talking about really is just find that voice, and even if it’s not with the clinician, share it with a friend, you don’t sit on fear, share it with a friend, have a body, have an ally, and one of the things we do at MPN Voice, which actually I think has helped enormously, is we have a buddy program there where you would be…you will be matched with somebody who has been diagnosed for at least two years that can buddy you along emotionally, because I don’t underestimate the emotional impact that that affects a lot of us.

Nona Baker:

And I think we need to have that voice to say, yes, it is a bit of a shock, but I’m not going to let it define me and wreck my life. If you can do that, I think life will be easier.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

That is awesome. Don’t sit on fear. I’m going to carry that with me. Nona, I appreciate that. Well, that’s all the time that we have for questions. Nona, I want to thank you for taking this time to share your story with me and for everyone watching, and just to recap, we’ve learned that avoiding obstacles to the best MPN care means remembering that everyone’s journey is going to be different. We learned the importance of not allowing your disease to consume your life, and we’ve also learned the importance of using your voice because we are truly our own best advocates, it’s these actions that are key to staying on your path to empowerment. Thank you so much again for joining us, Nona, this has been amazing.

Nona Baker:

Thank you for giving me the time to speak to the patient community.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I’m Dr. Nicole Rochester, thank you again for joining this Patient Empowerment Network program. 

MPN Patient Q&A: How Do I Best Communicate My Concerns Without Feeling Dismissed?

MPN Patient Q&A: How Do I Best Communicate My Concerns Without Feeling Dismissed? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What can myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) patients do to improve communication when the feel like their concerns aren’t being heard? Watch as MPN patient Nona shares her advice for preparing for appointments, and health advocate Dr. Nicole Rochester offers advice on how to help calm anxiety at appointments.

This program provides one patient’s perspective. Please talk to your own doctor to make healthcare decisions that are right for you. 

See More from Best MPN Care No Matter Where You Live

Related Resources:

 


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Our next question is from Alice and Alice says, “I’ve noticed among women, minority groups and underserved communities, that there’s often a dismissive tone or atmosphere when you speak up and share your concerns,” and she wants to know, “Nona, do you feel that being a woman played a role in your initial diagnosis?” And she also likes to understand how to communicate concerns with the care team when you feel that you’re being dismissed.

Nona Baker:

That’s an interesting question, I have to be honest and say I didn’t experience that, but I’m well aware of that. And it goes on, and it’s really disempowering to feel that, so I have huge empathy to hear that. I think if I had experienced it, which I obviously didn’t experience it, my key tip here would be when going for an appointment with a clinician, take a notebook and a pen and write down what you want to ask them and write down their answers. And preferably if you can take somebody with you, because then you have that opportunity afterwards to digest what you’ve been told, and that in itself is empowering because you can then make further choices.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I love that, Nona. Also, advice that I always give to clients, and you’re right, having someone with you and writing things down is so important, especially in these situations where you’re getting a diagnosis, there’s a lot of uncertainty. We know that a lot of the information that’s shared in medical appointments goes in one ear and out of the other, particularly if we’re anxious or concerned or worried, so having that second person in the room is so incredibly important. I appreciate that advice.  

How to Regain Self-Esteem and Body Confidence After Cancer Treatment

Getting through cancer treatment is a huge accomplishment. The moment you’re finished with your final session, it can feel like you’re on cloud nine. You’ve done something incredible.

Unfortunately, it may not take long for those positive feelings to waver.

Cancer treatments are often intense and can cause noticeable changes to your body. While those changes are necessary to fight back against the disease, many can linger once treatment is done. That can leave you with low self-esteem. You might even start to struggle with mental health conditions like depression or anxiety1.

Whether it’s healing from major surgery, dealing with hair loss, weight fluctuations, or a change in your sex drive, it’s not uncommon for the after-effects of cancer treatment to make you see yourself differently.

So, how can you regain confidence in your body after your treatment journey is over?

Common Body Image Issues

Going through cancer treatment can make you feel strong on the inside, but lose confidence in your external appearance. Because both the disease and treatment can cause your body to change, it’s not uncommon for your physical appearance to affect your self-esteem.

If you’re feeling “off” after your treatment or you’re struggling with your self-confidence, it could be the result of how you see yourself when you look in the mirror. Some of the most common signs of body image issues are:

  • Your feelings about your body are affecting other areas of your life
  • You speak negatively/harshly about your image
  • You avoid seeing your own image as much as possible
  • You obsessively try to change your image with makeup/grooming

Unfortunately, we’re currently living in a period that makes it harder than ever to avoid your own image. If you’re working remotely, for example, you might be one of the 300 million people logging into Zoom meetings every day2.

The current remote culture has created some self-esteem issues of its own. Working from home can be beneficial for patients going through treatment or those in recovery. But, it’s not without its potential drawbacks.

Problems like Zoom fatigue and Zoom dysmorphia have come to the forefront for many people. Zoom dysmorphia, for example, is a condition that causes someone to develop self-image issues from looking at themselves on a screen. When you’re on Zoom meetings all day, it’s easy to start nitpicking your flaws or seeing things that others wouldn’t even notice. If you’ve recently gone through cancer treatment and are already dealing with body image issues, seeing a pixelated version of yourself on a screen can make matters worse.

So, what can you do if you’re struggling with any of these problems?

Explore Your Emotions

You might feel negative about having a negative image of yourself. After all, you just went through something life-changing and came out on the other side. But, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is ignoring how you really feel. By shoving your feelings aside, you’re putting yourself at risk for them to “bubble up” and explode later.

Instead, accept how you’re feeling. Accept the loss you’ve experienced when it comes to the way you used to look. It’s okay to feel sad or frustrated. It’s okay to grieve.

Once you’ve worked through those feelings, you can attempt to shift your mindset. Focus on the things you’ve been through and how they have made you stronger. What have you gained from this experience, and how have you changed positively?

If you’re having a difficult time focusing on the brighter side, lean on your support system. That can include:

  • Family members
  • Friends
  • Doctors
  • Support groups
  • Online forums

You can even talk to other cancer patients for advice about self-image3. The important thing is to remember you’re not alone. You undoubtedly had support with you throughout your treatment. That doesn’t just disappear because you’re cancer-free. Keep leaning on that support for help with your mental health and advice on how to keep moving forward.

Focus On What You Can Change

When it comes to your physical appearance, there are things you can and can’t control.  For example, if you lost your hair during treatment, you can’t make it grow back any faster. But, you can opt for a wig, or choose to wear hats when out in public. If your skin became dull and dry, you can’t change it overnight. But, you can use creams and lotions to bring back hydration and elasticity. If you experienced weight loss, you can purchase clothes that fit better for now, and work on slowly regaining the weight over time.

By focusing on the things you can control, you’re less likely to get frustrated. Most image issues you’ll face after cancer treatment are temporary. It may take a long time to get back to normal. But, you can take comfort in knowing most of them aren’t permanent.

When it comes to physical issues like surgery scars, they will typically fade over time, too. You can help that process with different creams and body butter. But, it’s okay to accept the fact that you may always have a scar or two. Instead of looking at those scars as something “ugly” or embarrassing, consider the fact that you get to stand there and see them. You made it through something that not everyone else gets to. A surgery scar is a sign of strength and victory.

In addition to changing what you can and accepting what you can’t, regaining confidence can come from leading a healthy life. Practice self-care every day. Develop healthy habits that make you feel good about yourself, inside and out. Get enough sleep, work out if you feel strong enough, and take time to relax each day.

Your body has been through a lot. While it’s understandable to feel self-conscious at first, realizing what it’s done for you can make you more accepting and willing to love yourself again.


Sources:

  1. Cancer patients left to cope with mental health problems alone
  2. Zoom User Stats: How Many People Use Zoom in 2021?
  3. Self-Image, Sexuality, and Cancer

Ways to Stay Connected with Loved Ones During Hospital Stays

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed so many things about the healthcare industry, including the way patients, providers, and visiting loved ones stay safe. Luckily, since January 2021, hospital admissions due to COVID-19 have decreased by 67%1.

But, for people with cancer who often deal with a weakened immune system and longer-term hospital stays, the threat of COVID is still very real, very scary, and very dangerous. Whether you’re in a long-term care facility or you’re able to be at home with the help of a caretaker, it’s crucial to be vigilant when it comes to keeping yourself safe and social distancing.

Unfortunately, that can lead to issues with your emotional and mental health. Isolation and loneliness have become real problems throughout this pandemic, and isolation has been shown to negatively affect the immune system and can cause mental health issues like depression or anxiety. A lack of interaction can even negatively impact how you respond to treatment in the hospital2.

So, what can you do to socialize with your loved ones while keeping yourself safe and socially distanced?

Take Advantage of Technology

While the pandemic hasn’t been easy on anyone, there is one silver lining to the fact that it came in 2020 — we have highly advanced technology to help us through it. Thanks to that technology, it’s easier than ever to stay connected virtually to the people you love.

Everything from scheduling daily FaceTime calls with your family members to having larger Zoom gatherings once in a while can help you feel more connected with everyone you care about. While video chatting isn’t the same as being with someone in person, it’s the next best thing. Thankfully, it still allows you to see expressions and feel a sense of “belonging” when you’re talking.

Technology also gives you the power to send text messages, make phone calls, and even find unique ways to connect with loved ones. You can play games together online, chat in messaging apps, or even watch a movie together, thanks to platforms like Teleparty.

By getting creative with your technology use, you can make the most of what you’re given and find unique ways to stay in touch, even when you can’t be together.

Be a Part of Big Events

Life goes on, whether you’re dealing with an extended hospital stay or you’re in a care facility that is unsafe to leave right now. Unfortunately, that might mean you have to miss out on some major events with your family and friends.

Again, technology comes to the rescue to make sure you can still be a part of big family moments. For example, if you want to go to your young relative’s birthday party but you can’t leave the hospital, consider talking with their parents about a virtual party. If your child is the one fighting cancer and has to stay in the hospital, a virtual party is an even better idea. It allows them to be celebrated while staying safe. Just make sure to:

  • Plan ahead
  • Choose a digital platform
  • Install the right software
  • Pick a theme
  • Send out invitations
  • Create a fun schedule

Other life moments shouldn’t be missed just because you’re in the hospital. Many couples have held “virtual weddings” or vow renewals over the last year, allowing family members and friends to “tune in” to their special event. Encourage your loved ones to utilize technology as much as possible, especially when they have an event planned. It will allow you to remain involved and be a part of everything while staying safe and healthy.

Seek Support

If you’re feeling lost and alone because you can’t be with your loved ones in person, it’s important to know that you’re certainly not alone in how you feel. But, letting stress and anxiety overwhelm you due to loneliness will only make matters worse. Additionally, it can impact your treatment and change your outlook in a negative way.

One of the best things you can try to do for yourself in times of isolation is to reduce your stress levels. Find things that relax you or utilize practices that are known to reduce anxiety, like:

  • Breathing exercises
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Exercising
  • Practicing mindfulness

Once you’re better able to manage your stress, don’t be afraid to seek out support in different or unique ways. Talk to your doctors and nurses that you see on a daily basis. Connect with other patients you might regularly see. If you’re in a care facility, take part in different activities that are offered.

You can also take advantage of technology once more by considering teletherapy3. If you’re truly struggling with loneliness and isolation, talking with a mental health professional can help. Telehealth has become increasingly popular throughout the pandemic, and online therapy is no exception. You can connect with a therapist from anywhere in the country without having to leave your bed. Or, consider joining an online support group for cancer patients. It’s a convenient and effective way to manage your mental health and combat feelings of loneliness while understanding that this pandemic won’t last forever.  Already, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Take comfort in knowing that it may not be long before you can see your loved ones face-to-face again. Until then, keep these ideas in mind to stay connected and to fight back against isolation.


Sources

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-data/covidview/index.html
  2. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/social-interaction-affects-cancer-patients-response-treatment
  3. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2017/02/online-therapy

Newly Diagnosed with Prostate Cancer? Consider These Key Steps

Newly Diagnosed with Prostate Cancer? Consider These Key Steps from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

For those who are newly diagnosed with prostate cancer, figuring out what to do next can be overwhelming. Prostate cancer survivor Jim Schraidt outlines advice for patients to encourage self-advocacy and to access resources and support.

Jim Schraidt is a prostate cancer survivor and Chairman of the Board of Directors for Us TOO International. Learn more about Jim Schraidt here.

Related Resources

How Does Us TOO International Support Prostate Cancer Patients and Their Loved Ones?

How Does Us TOO International Support Prostate Cancer Patients and Their Loved Ones?

How Could You Benefit from Joining a Prostate Cancer Support Group?

How Can You Insist on Better Prostate Cancer Care?


Transcript:

Jim Schraidt:

If you’re newly diagnosed, get a second opinion on your biopsy slides. Because reading those slides is as much an art as it is a science. And we’ve had people who will come to our support groups who then went on to have their slides reviewed on a secondary basis. And it’s changed their diagnosis. In one case, a guy discovered that he actually did not have prostate cancer.

And in other cases, it’s changed the grading of the cancer that’s identified in the biopsy, which of course then impacts treatment decisions, whether it’s active surveillance, surgery, radiation, or systemic therapy. So, that would be the first thing. I think the other thing, and I that think this is true for most medical issues, is to get a second opinion, take the time to get a second opinion.

And in the case of prostate cancer, try to do it at a medical center that takes a multi-disciplinary approach to the disease. So, you would be meeting at the outset with a urologist, a radiation specialist, and perhaps a medical oncologist who can really take you through the options, the treatment options for your situation.

And then I guess the final of three items that I would say is find a support group. And even if you want to just join one of the virtual groups and listen and learn, that’s perfectly fine. But learn about the disease you have, and learn about the treatment options, and learn the things that you need to ask your medical practitioners to help you get the best outcome.

Because the happy patient is going to be the one that knows what he’s getting into and makes and accepts that as part of his decision and can focus after treatment on healing and not on treatment regret.