Of course, many patients will begin their search for more information via the Internet. Most hospitals, research clinics and treatment providers offer news and resources through their web sites. Also, organizations such as the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute give visitors access to a wealth of information on how to manage the various aspects of their treatment.
One aspect of Internet research of which patients should be aware is the prevalence of misinformation, lies and outright scams that some unscrupulous people can perpetrate on someone desperate for a “miracle cure”. Many websites that promote themselves as resources for cancer patients often contain misleading information, either as a result of incomplete or inaccurate research or as an attempt to sell their product. These books, pills and diet plans, in the best cases, are as effective as placebos or, in the worst instances, can cause great harm to a cancer patient’s sensitive metabolism.
Telling the Family
After patients receive their diagnosis and their treatment information, the next step often involves telling their spouses and families. For many patients, this step may be as emotionally difficult as when they first heard the news themselves. Spouses may often feel the same sense of helplessness as patients; they may feel that this disease will take away their partner and that they can do nothing to stop it. Young children may not entirely comprehend all of the physical ramifications of what could happen to their parent, but they will pick up on the emotional distress and become depressed, sad or angry.
Most experts agree that the best way to combat these feelings is to keep the lines of communication open throughout the treatment schedule. The patient should answer any questions, especially from younger children, as openly and honestly as possible. One of the best ways to combat the feelings of helplessness that family members may experience is to include them in the therapeutic process. Simple actions, such as organizing task lists and completing simple chores, can both alleviate the mental stress and add to the family’s feelings of contribution to the patient’s well being.
The patient’s relationship with their spouse will undergo many of the more serious changes during treatment. The patient may experience both physical and mental exhaustion during this time, so the spouse may have to take care of their normal household duties (taking out the trash, cooking dinner, dressing the children for school). In addition, the nature of the couple’s physical relationship will also change. Along with the lack of energy, the patient may have either lost their desire for sex or may be physically unable to perform. These changes could cause resentment and anger to disrupt the relationship and add more stress onto their situation. The spouse may then feel a measure of guilt for harboring these feelings against their ill partner.
Many psychologists, counselors and mental health professionals specialize in therapy for cancer patients and their families. Even with the technology available to modern medicine, the idea of cancer is still very traumatic for both the patient and their loved ones. These specialists can offer outlets for all the members of the family affected by the disease, the treatment and the consequences. With the opportunities to alleviate much of the emotional stress caused by the illness, the patient and the family can focus on the other aspects of cancer therapy and potential recovery.
Fertility or reproductive health may be an issue with patients and their spouses during treatment, especially if the reproductive organs are the ones affected by the cancer. Doctors can give information on potential risks and outline options for couples that still hope to have children either during or after treatment. Some techniques include protection of the reproductive organs during radiation treatment, tissue preservation of the organs for later reimplantation, hormone therapy and sperm/egg banking.