A cancer diagnosis forces you to focus on issues such as your financial straits, personal responsibilities, relationships, quality of life, spirituality, your dreams and plans for the future and, in some cases, survival.
The burden of these challenges can be daunting, and the effects on the patient are frequently unrecognized or underappreciated.
The same goes for caregivers and family.
Fortunately, this lapse in the continuum of care has been recognized by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, by cancer-center-accrediting programs such as the Commission on Cancer and by government agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control, which support cancer-control programs including the Survivorship Task Force. The result is that supportive services are increasingly available with cancer treatment.
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There are also support organizations that provide a broad range of services including educational classes, support groups, financial counseling and support, 24-hour telephone support lines, art and music therapy and more. Plus, they are mostly free.
Organizations include Cancer Lifeline (cancerlifeline.org), Gilda’s Club (gildasclubseattle.org), Komen for the Cure (komenpugetsound.org), Team Survivor Northwest (teamsurvivornw.org), the American Cancer Society (cancer.org) and NW Hope and Healing (nwhopeandhealing.org).
(By way of full disclosure, I serve on the board of directors of Cancer Lifeline, medical advisory committees for Gilda’s and Komen, as co-chair the Survivorship Task Force and have been on the speaker’s bureau and leadership council for the American Cancer Society.)
At the treatment level, services are available for managing side effects of the disease and treatment, dealing with anxiety, depression and stress; weight management; physical rehabilitation; and prevention.
The American Cancer Society estimates that at least one-third of cancers are preventable and those same prevention strategies may help avoid a recurrence.
Cancer patients might find themselves receiving care and services from a number of providers, including licensed naturopathic physicians, medical doctors, doctors of osteopathic medicine, nurses, physician assistants, physiatrists (nerve, muscle, and bone experts who treat injuries or illnesses that affect how you move), social workers, acupuncturists, massage therapists, chiropractors, dietitians, psycho-oncologists and other mental health professionals.
To access these services start with the patient navigator or social worker at your doctor’s office and check out the organization websites.
Done correctly, supportive treatments are safe and effective. Applied incorrectly, they can interfere with treatment or create new problems. So choose a provider who is trusted by and coordinates care with your oncology doctor or institution.
Board certifications in complementary and alternative medicine are unfortunately not always a reliable indicator of skill or training.
My patients have taught me that making cancer a spiritual journey, emphasizing the positive, taking advantage of support services and accepting help from those who love you, including strangers, will create a better experience and a better outcome.
Cancer is not fair and frequently not easy, but most cancer patients — that is, anyone diagnosed with cancer at any time — will be cured or outlive the disease. And the quality of care is improving every day.
For more information see my blog at www.nwnaturalhealth.com/blog/category/cancer-treatment.
Dan Labriola, N.D., is director of the Northwest Natural Health Specialty Care Clinic and medical director for naturopathic services, Swedish Medical Center’s Cancer Institute.