That’s the thing with cancer, you never think it’s gonna hit you or someone you love. But if it does, it’s shattering. More so for the person who has been diagnosed – but also for their loved ones. For a good few moments (be it days or weeks), you think less about caregiving and more about whether they’re gonna make it. (Our featured picture is of two of the mental health counselors on the paediactric oncology ward at Indus Hospital in Karachi)
Understand the diagnosis
Often times, we’re so overwhelmed after hearing the diagnosis – the word “cancer” itself is scary – that we aren’t able to comprehend the intensity of the damage it has caused. Do your research. Talk to as many oncologists as you can. Take your patient for second opinions, form a cumulative summary of each doctor’s diagnosis and then work your way forward into deciding the mode of treatment – for some, it’s chemotherapy before surgery, others can only have chemotherapy because their cancer has spread too far for surgery.
Cancer is not be something you can control but you can control the of care you give. Here’s how to make someone’s cancer journey easier:
Keep their spirits high
Cancer isn’t just a physical battle. It’s a willpower battle too. So no matter what the odds are, always try to keep your diagnosed loved one’s spirits high. Yes, it’s tough when you have monthly chemotherapy injections. It’ll be tough for them. You just see them go through it. They’re the ones bearing the pain. It’ll be tough for them to see their nails turn black with ridges. It’ll be even tougher when their hair falls out.
“Losing your hair can be very traumatic for a patient and we work to help them see that they are still the same person no matter how their appearance has changed, and try to help them see that one day Insha’Allah, when their treatment is complete, their hair will be back,” says Tooba Akhtar, a mental health counselor who works with children with cancer at the Indus Hospital in Karachi.
Pay close attention to dietary requirements
Chemotherapy leaves the tongue swollen, bruised and cracked. Even the slightest amount of spice makes your tongue seem like it’s on fire.
Take extra caution when preparing meals. Make sure the food is prepped under extremely hygienic conditions as chemotherapy lowers the immune system a great deal – you body becomes infection prone.
Try foods like:
Yakhni (Bone broth)
Bone broth helps reduce inflammation and heals the gut. It also promotes sleep, which is something chemotherapy is notorious for taking away. There are also vegan recipes available online.
Cold pressed juices in minimal, clean looking bottles are attractive but you never know what actually is going in them – sometimes labels lie. Whip out a good, old-fashioned juicer and make your juices at home with organic ingredients.
Pomegranate, apple and carrot are all great options.
It cannot be stressed enough as to how important post-op physiotherapy is. Especially, after surgeries like mastectomy, in which the breast is removed. Not following the physiotherapy protocol can result in the swelling of the arm or worse, the arm can get locked. The patient is already in a great deal of discomfort so they’re likely to overlook physio. It’s the caregiver who needs to keep on top of things like this.
Providing physical care
Some patients may need you to provide physical care such as bathing, dressing, feeding, using the toilet, and grooming. For help, talk with the health care team, watch health care videos, or read manuals or books that explain how to do these tasks. You may also want to hire professional help for these tasks, if possible.
However, not all patients have that level of dependency. For some, physical care can mean involving them as much as possible. Allow them to continue with day-to-day care and activities if they feel up to it. Let them know that you’re there to help, but let them decide when they need help.
Keep the person company. Encourage them to express fears and concerns about what is going to happen. Listen when they want to talk, and respect their need for privacy when they don’t feel like talking. Make sure they know you’ll be there when they’re ready. Talking with them, watching movies together, listening to music, playing cards or just being with the person can be comforting. Sometimes when you can’t find words, a squeeze of the hand or a gentle hug can say just as much. Touch is a powerful way to communicate and can show how much you care.