When learning that a friend has cancer, most people will offer to help. But as heartfelt as their friend’s offer of aid may be, cancer patients are often reluctant to call and ask for help. A friend’s vague offer of “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help” may be heartfelt; but it’s a hollow promise if not backed by action.
The best way to help a friend with cancer is to consider the type of help you can realistically provide. This will allow you to make a specific offer of help; such as: ”I can shop for groceries on Tuesday evening” or “I’m free on Fridays to drive you to chemo.” Then follow through by calling a few days beforehand to pick up her grocery list or get her chemo appointment on your calendar. By specifically defining your offer to help, you reassure your friend that accepting your offer will not place an uncomfortable burden on your other responsibilities and allow her to accept your offer without guilt.
If you want to help a friend with cancer, offer to do things that will make life easier for your friend or will make life feel more normal for her family. Consider these additional ways to help:
• Take children to music lessons and soccer practices
• Babysit young children one or two mornings or afternoons a week
• Pick up prescriptions
• Mow the lawn, rake leaves, shovel snow or weed the garden
Researchers working on the Cancer Genome Atlas have identified a number of genetic mutations that commonly occur in 12 different types of cancer. The discovery supports other recent findings on the nature of cancer tumors and the importance of the tumor microenvironment. As scientists expand our knowledge of cancer tumors, there is increasing evidence that tumors are defined less by where they occur within the human body than by their own biology and the microenvironment that contributes to their growth. Issels alternative cancer treatment center is unique in using immunotherapy to treat both cancer tumors and the tumor microenvironment.
As research into the cancer genome continues, scientists expect to discover additional commonalities between tumors located in disparate areas of the body. Scientists believe an estimated 200 to 400 gene mutations could govern all cancers. Eventually, cancers may be identified by tumor type rather than body location; for example, squamous cell cancer rather than uterine cancer or breast cancer. Such a change in our approach to cancer holds promise for the development of common therapeutic strategies that could be used to treat multiple types of cancer.
The search for tumor commonalities is just beginning. A recent report published in Nature, identified genetic mutations that trigger tumor development and progression that are shared by 12 distinctly different types of cancer. For example, breast, head and neck and ovarian cancer were found to share the same cluster of mutated genes. In most cases, tumors contained just two to six genetic mutations, leading researchers to believe that only a small number of genetic abnormalities are necessary to provoke cancer development.
Call it chemotherapy’s double-edged sword: the same powerful drugs that kill malignant cancer cells also wreak havoc on the rest of your body’s systems. The side effects go beyond hair loss, nausea and fatigue – you may be at risk for a compromised immune system.
In fact, according to Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine, 14th edition, “Autopsy studies show that most deaths from acute leukemia and half of deaths from lymphoma are caused directly by infection. With more intensive chemotherapy, patients with solid tumors have become more likely to die of infection rather than underlying disease.”
If you are undergoing or have recently completed a course of chemotherapy and radiation, you can take two important steps to boost your immune system and aid recovery.
Diet. A well-balanced diet rich in iron is a natural way to enrich your immune system. Maximize iron absorption by drinking orange or grapefruit juice and adding sliced tomatoes or salsa to your entrée, and avoiding coffee, tea and milk with your meals. Herbs that boost immunity include astragalus, andrographis and ginseng. And a recent study pointed to fish oil as possibly beneficial to people with compromised immune systems.
Exercise. Getting your strength back after cancer treatment is a long process, but exercise can help you feel like your old self again. Harvard Medical School notes that “even though a direct beneficial link hasn’t been established, it’s reasonable to consider moderate regular exercise to be a beneficial arrow in the quiver of healthy living, a potentially important means for keeping your immune system healthy along with the rest of your body.”
For any medical ailment, the more information you can give your healthcare provider, the easier it may be for your physician to diagnose and treat what ails you. Patients are frequently encouraged to keep a daily diary of their symptoms before visiting the doctor to aid in diagnosis or to make a record of their physical and emotional reactions after beginning a new drug therapy to determine its effectiveness.
In such records, doctors frequently find useful and sometimes vital clues that allow them to provide the best possible health care for their patients. Keeping a personal record of your cancer history can provide vital information to your Issels treatment team that may not be included in your medical records. In all medical treatments, including cancer treatments, symptoms and patient reactions are open to interpretation guided by the doctor’s experience, training and medical bias.
Medical bias may be a product of a physician’s personal experience, local medical culture, federal regulation or even national sensibilities. For example, many drugs and treatment therapies that are highly respected and even commonplace in Europe are not accepted in the U.S. because they have not yet been approved by the FDA. Acupuncture is an excellent example of changing medical attitudes.
Part of Chinese medical culture for centuries, many Western physicians looked upon acupuncture as snake oil medicine; but today the National Institutes of Health endorses acupuncture as a valid alternative medicine and 43 states license, register or certify acupuncturists. Many aspects of cancer remain a mystery. The same data reviewed by a different cancer expert can point the way to new and possibly beneficial cancer treatments.