Originally published in April 2003 icon
Patricia Peat is a registered nurse who has combined vast experience of working in oncology with years of research into natural approaches to dealing with cancer.
Patricia runs Cancer Options a private Integrative Cancer Consultancy.
You can send your questions to Patricia c/o Health Issues Ltd. or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cancer Options is a specialised team of practitioners providing individual consultancy and coaching into treatment and making decisions for all approaches to cancer.
Q: I have been caring for my wife who has had cancer for the last five years. Though things seem to be fairly stable, she is deteriorating slowly, and has been less able to look after herself over the last year. While I would never object to caring for her, I find I am getting more and more tired, and am giving up most of the social things which I used to enjoy. I feel terrible about complaining, but feel I will struggle to carry on long term.
A: I am sorry that you are feeling guilty because you are taking a very sensible approach in identifying your needs before things turn into a crisis. You will be able to help and support your wife much better now that you have seen that you need some care too. The amount of support varies depending on what is available to you locally. You should be able to access specialist care via your local hospital, or a hospice. Most people mistakenly think hospices just provide end stage care, when in fact they can provide many support services which will help someone being cared for at home for long periods of time. Your wife doesn't have to be an in-patient to receive many forms of support. Some have support groups, home sitters to let you go shopping, have a break, or provide someone to help get our wife to hospital appointments. If you are in need of a full break, respite care for your wife at a hospice or nursing home can be arranged. Knowing this is coming up can make a tremendous difference to being able to carry on when things get tiring. If you are of working age, there is an excellent organisation called 2Higher Ground. They provide free telephone coaching sessions to allow carers to talk through the difficulties, and look at ways of organising, and coping with caring. You should get in touch with a Macmillan nurse; they will know all the local support available to you, and help you access it. Your GP surgery will be able to put you in touch with one. 2Higher Ground: 07977 444130
Q: I have been having chemotherapy for cancer. Although it finished two months ago, I still feel tired and unwell. I thought I would go back to my old self once it was over, but now my chemotherapy has finished, nobody seems bothered about me at the hospital. I asked my oncologist about taking minerals and vitamins to help my immune system, but he said I was fine and that was just a load of nonsense. I am not sure what to do now.
A: It is not uncommon to feel a bit abandoned after all the attention and focus on you when you are having chemotherapy. Many people feel it is a little scary when hospital visits start to become more widely spaced. Have you thought about a local cancer support group; talking to other people who have already been there can be invaluable. Many doctors in cancer care in the west take a very mechanistic view of the human body. Focus is on shrinking the tumour, with little attention paid to the person attached to it. Much can be done to care for and nurture your physical and emotional side during treatments. Ideally this should start prior to chemo, but there is much you can do to help your body and spirit return to a state of health. A combination of mind and body therapy, supporting your body to detoxify using natural remedies and using massage, acupuncture, shiatsu etc. to help heal your mind and spirit after all you have been through. There is good advice available from books such as Chris Woollams' book (see Page 9), or The Chemotherapy and Radiation Therapy Survival Guide by Judith McKay. If you feel unsure about choosing a personal strategy, you might consider seeing an holistic doctor, homeopath or nutritionist, who will advise you on the best things to take, and how to stay well in the future.
Q: I have a friend who had non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. I have had a swelling in my neck for some weeks which isn't going away. Is it possible I might have it?
A: With non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, symptoms may appear suddenly or develop gradually over a long period of time. Because lymph nodes and lymphatic tissue occur throughout the body, lymphomas can occur in many places and in many forms. Because of this, the list of potential symptoms is very long and can easily be mistaken for other problems. We commonly develop swollen lymphatic nodes due to infection. Because there is proliferation of white cells, the body will carry infection to them, wherever the body has its greatest resistance to infection. It is very important to get any lymphatic swelling that shows no sign of change, checked out. Your GP will be able to check you out to establish if there is any need for concern and further investigation, or if you are indeed just suffering from an innocuous but persistent infection. The most important thing is to have it seen to immediately.