After I was diagnosed with cancer, I entered a world that was unfamiliar to me. I quickly discovered cancer treatment systems were large and complex. Many different kinds of health care facilities and institutions are involved, and the system is populated by a bewildering array of professionals.
Many times I felt that I was being processed, moved from one professional to another for tests and procedures I didn’t always understand. So many times I had to repeat the same information about my condition over and over again, I couldn’t help but find myself feeling frustrated, angry tired and disorientated.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Treating cancer today is very much like fighting a war. You need a highly trained attack team to defeat your enemy. Being angry or frustrated with me and others wasn’t going to kill my tumor; I was going to need a great team of people on my side to help me accomplish that objective.
Who makes the team?
- The Medical Team:
Treating cancer is very much a team effort that emphasizes total care. There will be a wide range of medical specialists, therapists, technicians and others who will become involved in your treatment and rehabilitation.
For me, selecting my medical team was based on who I felt understood me the best and were including me in weighing the pro’s and con’s of all my options. For example, surgery offered no guarantee that my life would be extended and included significant risks of losing the ability to see, walk or talk. Up to that point I had lived a very active, vital lifestyle. Maintaining my quality of life was so important to me and I wanted that to continue for as long as possible. I didn’t want to die, but I didn’t want to risk irreversible brain damage that would render me helpless for the rest of my life. I wanted to be aggressive with treatment, but I chose quality of life over lifespan and my medical team was 100% on board with that decision.
- · The Home Team:
Caregivers at home are so important. The people close to you are going to be instrumental in your battle, your treatment and your quality of life. You may be surprised that people you don’t know that well are more than willing to rally behind you and provide care and support in ways you didn’t expect. The power of the human heart and the willingness to give, love and support others in need is an endearing quality that never ceases to amaze me.
My family reside in England, and were not in a position to leave everything to care for me once I was released from the hospital. Fortunately I had friends and neighbors willing to lend assistance in my time of need. My ex-spouse was attending nursing school at the time and he stepped in to help me navigate through the list of specialists and the variety of treatment options that each specialist recommended and also made sure our children were cared for. Because I was unable to care for myself at home, friends organized a rotating team where someone was always at my house to provide personal assistance 24/7. I wasn’t able to walk or get out of bed by myself for several days so without this help I really would have been in trouble. My former sister-in-law moved in with me for a few days to take care of my home, my personal, and financial needs. Others would drive me to medical appointments, make sure I had (and took) all my prescriptions, my little dog was walked every night, friends of friends would clean my house, do my laundry or just stay for a chat and cheer me up. Every night for about two weeks, home cooked meals were delivered. Somehow a small army of caregivers came together to take care of absolutely everything! I was completely overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support, care and concern for me and my children. Despite my circumstances during those first few weeks of treatment, it was and still is one of the most moving and uplifting times of my life.
So if you live alone, don’t assume you are alone. The important lesson for me was not to be afraid to communicate with others and to let them know how they could help. When someone offers help it’s an expression of their love and concern for you. Accept their love and let them help you. It’s a rewarding experience for everyone.