Getting diagnosed with cancer has a great impact on your life and the lives of your loved ones. It can cause feelings of anxiety, uncertainty, fear, or even depression.
Undergoing treatment for cancer is intense and will affect your work and social life. You may worry about your prognosis, the impact of treatment on your work, social life or financial situation. Most people who have been diagnosed with cancer will probably have these worries. You can ask the doctor about psychological support if you feel you need someone to talk to. A patient organisation can also offer support.
During treatment, you will be away from your work. Talk to your boss about the best way for you to get back to work. Perhaps you could work part-time or in a different function.
Discuss with your healthcare team the possible financial consequences of your treatment. They might be able to direct you to people or places where you can get advice about your economic situation or even financial help.
It is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle during treatment. Try to get physical exercise regularly. Find an activity that you enjoy doing. If you have doubts about what you can do, ask your doctor to refer you to a physiotherapist.
Try to eat a balanced diet with a mix of vegetables, fruit and dairy. Also include starchy food like bread and potatoes, rice or pasta, and protein-rich food like meat, fish, eggs, or legumes. Try to eat less sugar, salt, and fatty food. If you have any questions, ask your doctor to refer you to a dietician.
Cancer treatment and sexuality
Cancer treatment can affect your sexuality. You may experience erectile dysfunction after radical prostatectomy. Hormonal therapy can lower your sex drive (libido). Feelings of depression and fatigue can also have a negative effect on your sexual life. It is important that you talk to your partner about your feelings. There are many ways in which you can be intimate. If it is difficult to be sexually active, be near each other, touch each other, give and take hugs, and just sit or lay down close to each other.
A cancer diagnosis can make you look at life in a different way and you may realize you now have different priorities. This will affect your work or relationships and can make you feel disoriented and uncertain. Changes in your daily life as a result of the disease or the treatment can lead to isolation.
Talk to family, friends, or your spiritual advisor about your feelings and wishes. If you do not feel comfortable addressing these issues with those close to you, you can ask your health care team for a referral to a psychologist. The psychologist can give you the tools to deal with these feelings.
Support for partners
A cancer diagnosis can put pressure on your relationship. Often talking to each other becomes more difficult because of the time and energy spent on treatment. You could decide to discuss any difficulties with a therapist.
You may experience a similar degree of stress, anger, and depression as your partner. You could feel exhausted, both physically and emotionally. This can be a result of the responsibilities of caring for your partner and taking on extra tasks around the house.
Be sure to make time for yourself and think about your own needs and wishes.
Support for family and friends
A cancer diagnosis not only affects the patient, but also the people around them. As a loved one, you can offer support in many different ways. Sometimes you can help with practical things like laundry, gardening, or grocery shopping.
It may also be helpful to go to the doctor together. You could offer to drive to the visit or help formulate questions to ask during consultation. Being there for the consult can also be good. You may remember different things or focus on other details, which you can later discuss together. You could also ask the doctor how the treatment may impact your lives in terms of caregiving and psychological effects.
The diagnosis and treatment can be very emotional for everybody involved. Cancer treatment is intense and your life may change suddenly. Questions about prognosis, effects of the treatment, and death will come up. As a friend or loved one, you can be there and listen. You don’t need to have the answers.
If you feel you need somebody to talk to, approach your family doctor or the medical team to get support. Patient organisations also offer support for family members or friends of people who have been diagnosed with cancer.
Preparing for a consultation
Preparing for a consultation can be very useful. It will help you and your doctor better address your questions and concerns. It can also help you prepare for treatment and the possible side effects. Here are some things you can try:
- Write down the questions you would like to ask the doctor. This will help you remember things that you want to ask. Writing down questions can also help you organize your thoughts
- If you can, take someone with you to the visit. It is good to have someone to discuss what the doctor said and you probably remember different things
- Ask for information about your specific type of cancer
- If the doctor uses words you do not understand, ask for an explanation
- Tell your doctor what medicine you take and if you take any alternative medicine. Some of these medicines can affect the treatment
After the consultation you can:
- Search the Internet or go to the library for more information about your type of cancer. Be aware that not all the information you see online is of good quality. Your doctor or healthcare team can point you to reliable websites
- Contact a patient organisation, they can offer support and information
- Discuss with your healthcare team the possible financial consequences of your treatment. They might be able to direct you to people or places where you can get advice about your economic situation or even financial help
- If you want, you should ask for a second opinion from another specialist
Cancer treatments and side-effects
About side effects
The side effects you might have vary from person to person and depend on the cancer drugs you are having.
Different drugs have different side effects
Not all cancer drugs cause hair loss or sickness for example. And the side effects of each drug vary for different people.
You might get only very mild side effects. You might get one or a few side effects of a particular drug. It is not possible to say beforehand whether you will have a particular side effect, when the effect will start or stop, or how bad it will be for you.
Side effects depend on many factors including:
- which drugs you are having
- how long you have been taking the drug
- your general health
- the dose (amount of drug)
- the way you have the drug (for example, as a tablet or injection)
- other drugs or cancer treatments that you are having
Ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist to write down the names of your drugs so that you can look each one up.
Sometimes recovery from cancer is not possible. When treatment is no longer successful you may be offered palliative care to make you more comfortable.
Palliative care is a concept of care with the goal to optimise your quality of life if you cannot recover from your illness. During palliative care you and your loved ones are supported by a multidisciplinary team. Together, you address physical, psychological, social, and spiritual questions. Palliative care includes controlling your symptoms and medical treatment for pain management.
The palliative care team can provide care in the hospital or at your home. Another option is hospice care. A hospice is an institution which provides care during the final phase of your life.
Talk to the palliative care team and your family about your feelings and your wishes. It is important to discuss:
- Your symptoms and how much bother they cause
- The possibility of getting help with cleaning, washing, or cooking if you need it
- Financial matters
- Legal issues such as your will
- If there is something you want to do or somewhere you would like to go. The palliative care team can help you with practical things such as a wheelchair, if you need it
- Where you want to spend the final phase of your life: at home or in a hospice. If you want to be at home, the palliative care team will look into whether this is possible
- If you would like to talk to somebody who can give you support, such as a psychologist or a spiritual advisor
Palliative Care – The role of family, friends, and partner
As a loved one or a close friend, you play an important role in palliative care. You can help with practical things such as cleaning, washing, or cooking. You may also support the palliative care team in caring for your partner, family member, or friend. Ask the palliative care team about the possibility of getting professional home care if you feel you need it.
If you feel you need somebody to talk to, approach the palliative care team, your family doctor, or your spiritual advisor. The palliative care team can also point you to people who can help you deal with your feelings.
Patient organisations also offer support for partners, family members, or friends.
How to find a patient organisation nearby
Patient organisations can be very helpful. To find one close to you, ask your family doctor, nurse, or doctor at the hospital. You can also search the Internet for a patient group.