Survivorship

7 Tips to Peacefully Celebrate the Holidays When You are Not Feeling Jolly

It is the time of the year to feel happy…time to be generous…time to spend time with loved ones… and sing festively? Are you not in the mood this season? Don’t worry; you are not alone. Many people find the holidays very stressful and sometimes even sad. Social engagements and family gatherings add another time commitment to already busy days. Gift giving puts pressure on already strapped budgets. Expectations of how you should be enjoying this time of year only make you feel worse. All of these feelings are magnified and complicated by cancer treatment during the holidays.

There are things you can do to help yourself get through the holidays and maybe even enjoy them a bit. Self care is important throughout the year, but during a stressful period it must be a priority.

1) Get Adequate Rest

Making sure you get adequate sleep nightly is key!

  • Adults need 7-9 hours every night and children need 10 – 12 hours of sleep each night.
  • Set a bedtime, and get out of bed every morning at the same time.
  • Don’t drink caffeine after lunch.
  • Limit alcohol to one drink at dinner.
  • Avoid stressful conversations after dinner.
  • Enjoy a relaxation routine in the hour before bed.

Relaxation routines depend on what works best for you, but consider stretching, breathing slowly, writing in a gratitude journal or listening to gentle music. For more information on the importance of adequate sleep and rest, visit the National Sleep Foundation’s website.

2) Pay Close Attention To Your Diet

Another key aspect of self-care is attention to diet and exercise.

  • Fill your plate with colorful foods, mostly fruits and vegetables.
  • Eat only one plate of food at each meal.
  • Enjoy a holiday dessert, but a small serving is enough.
  • Cook with family, enjoy the conversation in the kitchen, but wait to put food in your mouth until you sit down to the meal.
  • Instead of soda, drink warm tea or cider.
  • After the meal, take a walk. Take a walk 3 times a day. Bring someone on the walk whose company you enjoy.

3) Listen To Music You Like

If elevator carols make you crazy, actively search for music you actually like, maybe Celtic  tunes, old country or Jamaican steel drums, and turn that on whenever you can.

4) Try Alternative Gifts This Year

  • If your budget is tight, make gifts this year. Paint on canvas, write a poem, organize a scrapbook of old pictures, and cook a new dish. Or offer a service, such as walking a dog, watching children, delivering meals, organizing a closet.
  • If wrapping presents makes you grumpy, spend time finding wrapping paper you like. Design your own paper. Make your own cloth bags that can be reused. Wrap in plain paper and finger paint it.

5) Turn Your Hospital Experience Around

If going to the hospital or clinic during the holidays brings you down, try to turn the experience around. The staff is always asking you questions, how about you ask them a couple? Ask  the front desk, the valet, the nurse what they like about the holidays, what music they like, and what time of year they prefer.

6) Take Time Out Each Day to Be Positive, Relax and Breathe!

  • Every day, take time to breathe. Turn off the TV and computer. Sit down, stretch your head to the sky, softly close your eyes, relax your shoulders, breath in through your nose slowly and out slowly through your mouth. Say to yourself “I can breathe, I can do it.”
  • Every day remind yourself, “I am here today, I am going to find one thing I like today to make this day worthwhile.” Small things count. Notice a tree, feel the cool air, smile at someone.

7) Treat Yourself to an Alternative Therapy

Get a massage, try a Tai Chi or yoga class, consider acupuncture, drink green tea, or add turmeric to your favorite vegetable stir-fry. Many health benefits of alternative and complementary medicine are described at http://nccam.nih.gov. Be sure to check with your physician before you begin any new exercise programs, and let your physician know about any supplements you take.

To truly make a difference in the way you feel, daily make the effort to do some of the things mentioned above. You don’t need to do them all, but pick three things and make the commitment to do them every day!

Best wishes for a healthy and happy New Year!
Wendy Baer, MD

About Wendy Baer, MD

Wendy Baer, MD, is Medical Director of Psychiatric Oncology with appointments in the Department of Psychiatry and the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology at the Winship Cancer Institute.

Clinical Specialties In her work at the Winship Cancer Institute, Dr. Baer helps patients and their families deal with the stress of receiving a cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment. As a Psychiatrist she has expertise in treating clinical depression and anxiety both with medications and psychotherapy to help people manage emotions, behaviors and relationships. The fundamental goal of Dr. Baer’s practice is to promote wellness and maximize patients’ quality of life as much as possible. She believes strongly in the team approach to patient care and collaborates regularly with patients’ doctors, nurses and social workers.

Education Dr. Baer attended medical school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she graduated with honors. From UNC she went to the University of Pennsylvania where she completed her residency in Psychiatry and served as the Chief Resident in her senior year. Prior to moving to Atlanta, Dr Baer worked in with patients dealing with cancer at the Swedish Cancer Institute in Seattle, WA.

Colorectal Cancer Awareness

Dr. Seth Rosen Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer in both men and women in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates there will be 95,520 new cases of colon cancer and 39,910 new cases of rectal cancer in 2017.

What is Colorectal Cancer?

Most colorectal cancers start as a growth, called a polyp, in the inner lining of the colon or rectum and slowly progresses through the other layers. Removing a noncancerous polyp early can keep it from becoming a cancerous tumor, which is why screening is such an important tool for preventing this disease.

Colorectal Cancer Symptoms

Colorectal cancer doesn’t always cause symptoms. It’s important to get screened regularly.

If you do have symptoms, they may include:

  • Stomach pain, aches, or cramps that don’t go away
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Blood in stool
  • Unintended weight loss

If you develop symptoms, it’s important to talk to your doctor immediately.

Colorectal Cancer Risk Factors

Your risk for developing colorectal cancer increases as you get older. Younger adults can get colorectal cancer, but more than 90% of cases occur in people who are 50 years old or older.

Other risk factors include:

  • Inflammatory bowel diseases
  • Personal or Family History of colorectal cancer or colorectal polyps
  • Tobacco use
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Your racial and ethnic background
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Lack of regular physical activity
  • A diet low in fruits and vegetables
  • A low-fiber and high-fat diet
  • Overweight and obesity

Colorectal Cancer Screenings

Several tests are used to detect colorectal cancers, one of the most commonly used tests is a colonoscopy. During this test, the doctor uses a colonoscope (a thin tube with a small video camera on the end) to look at the entire length of the colon and rectum. Special instruments can be passed through the colonoscope to biopsy or remove any suspicious-looking polyps.

Other tests include:

  • Double-contrast barium enema (DCBE)
  • CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy)
  • Guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT)
  • Fecal immunochemical test (FIT)
  • Stool DNA test

When should I get screened? 

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that adults age 50 to 75 get screened for colorectal cancer. Adults age 76 to 85 should ask their doctor if they should be tested. However, you may need to get screened earlier than 50 if you meet certain risk factors.

If you believe you are at an increased risk for colorectal cancer, talk with your doctor to determine how often you should be tested and what screening is right for you.

Colorectal Cancer Treatments

There are many ways to treat colorectal cancer depending on its type and stage.

  • Some treatments may include local therapies such as: surgery, radiation therapy, ablation or embolization
    • These treatments are often used for earlier stage cancers
  • Systematic treatments including chemotherapy and targeted therapy may be used because they can reach cancer cells anywhere in the body

Next Steps

If you have been diagnosed with colorectal cancer, please call 404-778-1900 or 888-946-7447 to make an appointment or request an appointment online.

Winship Cancer Care

Your Winship multidisciplinary care team includes oncology surgeons, colorectal surgeons, radiologists, pathologists, pharmacists, nutritionists, social workers and advanced practice nurses with expertise in colorectal and gastrointestinal cancers. The benefits of our multidisciplinary and highly experienced teams include:

  • Access to doctors and surgeons who rank among the top colorectal cancer experts in the world
  • Weekly review of patient cases by the full team of experts
  • Coordinated scheduling for appointments among various specialties
  • Access to a nurse navigator to assist you throughout the treatment process
  • Access to support groups and education classes for you and your caregivers
  • Availability of new treatment options within our clinical trials program

Bio – Dr. Seth Rosen

Dr. Seth Rosen is a board certified colon and rectal surgeon. He’s an Assistant Professor in the Department of Surgery at Emory University School of Medicine. As chair of Emory Healthcare’s Robotic Institute Committee, Dr. Rosen leads a team that is tracking utilization of robotic surgery throughout Emory Healthcare, including outcomes, quality, cost, and efficiency; identifying areas for improvement; and initiating plans based on its recommendations.

Dr. Rosen is a Fellow of The American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons and a current member of the Medical Association of Georgia.

He’s also a member of the Cancer Prevention and Control Research Program at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University.

Life After Breast Cancer

supportive-friendsBreast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in women according to the American Cancer Society. This year alone, more than 234,000 cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in the United States. Most women with breast cancer do quite well and have long lives after completing treatment. One of the hardest things for survivors is living with the worry that the cancer may come back. We recommend scheduling regular follow-up appointments with an oncologist and following the screening and/or prevention guidelines that your provider recommends. I also tell my patients to try, as best as they can, not to worry.

It is easy to see how breast surgery, radiation, and some of the side effects from systemic therapy (which, depending on treatment, can include hair loss, nausea, fatigue, weight gain, hot flashes, joint aches, or other unpleasant symptoms) can wreak havoc on a woman’s self esteem. In addition, many women are used to serving as a support system for their spouse, children, parents, or other loved ones; and to being responsible for important matters at work and at home. Learning to accept help and support rather than giving it can be very challenging. I always recommend honest conversations with family and loved ones, and involving a social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist if patients are interested and willing to pursue this. Sometimes it can be helpful to talk with someone outside of one’s immediate network of family and friends to try to sort through some of the feelings surrounding the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. Support groups can also be helpful; hearing from others who are going through the same thing (perhaps at similar points in life and/or stages of the disease), can help normalize the experience.

Physical changes to the breast – scars from lumpectomy or mastectomy, getting used to the look and feel of reconstructed breasts (if this approach is chosen), and radiation-related changes – can make women less comfortable with their bodies and therefore less comfortable being intimate. These changes can also make them worry about whether a partner will still find them attractive. In addition, some of the systemic treatments used in breast cancer, such as chemotherapy or anti-estrogen therapy, can change hormone levels and decrease interest in intimacy. I always recommend sharing these concerns with your doctor or health care team. Talking with a social worker, psychologist, or even sex therapist can be helpful in dealing with some of the complicated feelings surrounding the look and feel of the breasts after treatment for breast cancer. There are also a number of options for managing symptoms like vaginal dryness, which can be a result of chemotherapy or anti-estrogen therapy and can make intimacy uncomfortable. Finally, open communication with significant others is critical, as they too may be struggling to find the best way to show affection in this new situation. I have actually seen many situations where the diagnosis of breast cancer actually brings couples closer together, as they navigate the path from diagnosis to treatment and finally to recovery together.

About Dr. Meisel

jane lowe meiselJane Lowe Meisel, MD, joined the Glenn Family Breast Center at Winship Cancer Institute as a practicing physician in January 2015. Prior to her arrival, she was Chief Fellow at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Dr. Meisel is a medical oncologist with a special interest in women’s health and in cancers that affect women, including breast, cervical, endometrial, and ovarian cancers. Her goal is to provide exceptional, state-of-the-art individualized care to patients fighting these diseases and to conduct research that improves treatment options for these patients.

 

RELATED RESOURCES:
Exercise, Diet and Breast Cancer
Take-Aways from Breast Cancer Chat with Heather Pinkerton, BSN
Advancements in Imaging for Early Breast Cancer Detection
Latest in Breast Cancer Research
Breast cancer care at Winship
Social services at Winship
Support groups at Winship

Cancer Survivor Exercises for Health

Winship at the Y was established to provide cancer survivors with better access to specialized exercise programs. This program, which is unlike any other in the country, is open to any cancer survivor, not just patients at the Winship Cancer Institute.  In addition to physical benefits, exercise may provide a psychological and emotional benefit during and after cancer treatment. Breast cancer survivor, Janel Green, who was treated at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University, talks about how the special exercise program has helped her regain her health.

RELATED RESOURCES:
Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University
Bringing Survivorship Tools Closer to Home

Massage Therapy Used to Combat Breast Cancer-Related Fatigue

cancer and massage therapyFatigue is the most common side effect of cancer treatment according to the National Cancer Institute. Many breast cancer survivors describe their fatigue as more intense than the feelings of being tired that we all experience from time to time. Reported characteristics include feeling tired, weak, worn-out, heavy, slow, or lack of energy and difficulty getting-up-and-going.

Currently, researchers from Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University are investigating the benefits of massage therapy on breast cancer survivors with extreme fatigue.

“We decided to look at massage therapy for cancer fatigue because cancer-related fatigue is one of the most prevalent and debilitating symptoms experienced by people with cancer,” explains Mark Rapaport, MD, principle investigator for this study. “Many studies investigating massage for patients with cancer have been focused on depression, anxiety or pain.”

“We already know that frequent massage can enhance the immune system and reduce anxiety, and it has been reported that massage therapy can stimulate energy, and reduce symptoms such as nausea and pain,” says Mylin Torres, MD, associate professor in Emory’s Department of Radiation Oncology, serves as a co-investigator on the study. “We believe that there are many positive effects to be gained by therapeutic massage and we hope to prove that, among other biological advantages, massage may diminish the incapacitation that cancer-related fatigue can cause for our patients.”

Participants in the six-week study are post-surgery breast cancer patients, between the ages of 18 and 65, who have been treated with standard chemotherapy, chemoprevention and/or radiation, and are suffering with breast cancer-related fatigue. They are broken into three groups.

  • Group one receives a typical Swedish-type massage
  • Group two does not receive a massage
  • Group three receives a light touch massage.

Throughout the clinical trial, participants’ vital signs are taken and blood drawn to check for immune markers. The study staff also regularly checks in with each participant to record any changes in their life or their health. So far, the findings are promising.

View this Fox21 news clip to learn more about recent findings from the cancer fatigue trial!

 

Related Resources:

Coping with Survivor’s Guilt After Cancer

cancer survivor guiltBeing diagnosed with cancer can bring on many different types of emotions from fear to sadness to relief; however, many patients don’t think about how they might feel after they complete their treatment. Many are surprised when they begin to feel guilty. This is known as survivor’s guilt. It is a feeling that is often experienced by those who have survived a major or traumatic event such as being diagnosed with cancer. The feelings may come from a sense of guilt that they survived the disease and another patient did not or they did well with treatment while another had a very difficult time recovering.

Here are some things to keep in mind if you think you might be suffering from survivor’s guilt:

  • You are not alone. Survivor’s guilt is very common. It is a natural response for many cancer patients. It often feels like sadness, depression or even grief.
  • Tell someone about how you’re feeling. Talk with a friend or family member you trust. You can always reach out to a social worker to help you process these feelings. Acknowledging those feelings can be help you process them and ultimately overcome them.
  • Consider keeping a journal. Sometimes it is helpful to write down how we are feeling in order to help us manage those emotions. Starting an art project is another creative way to cope with survivor’s guilt.
  • Remind yourself that every patient’s cancer journey is different and that’s okay. It is unrealistic to compare your treatment outcomes to someone else’s because everyone is different.
  • Be supportive. If you know someone who is going through treatment and having a difficult time, it is important to provide them with as much support as possible. As a cancer survivor, you offer a unique type of support because you have been there.
  • Attend a cancer survivor’s support group. Reaching out to other survivors can be helpful.

Don’t wait to get help if you think you are experiencing survivor guilt. It is important to acknowledge and address the issue sooner rather than later. Patients can talk directly to oncology social workers through the following community organizations: www.livestrong.org, www.cancer.org and www.cancercare.org.

About Joy McCall, LCSW

Joy McCallJoy McCall is a Winship social worker with bone marrow transplant, hematology and gynecologic teams and their patients. She started her professional career at Winship as an intern, working with breast, gynecologic, brain and melanoma cancer patients. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Kennesaw State University and a Master of Social Work from the University of Georgia. As part of her education she completed an internship with the Marcus Institute working on the pediatric feeding unit, and an internship counseling individuals and couples at Families First, supporting families and children facing challenges to build strong family bonds and stability for their future. She had previously worked with individuals with developmental disabilities for over 4 years, providing support to families and caregivers.

Related Resources

 

With a Little Help from Friends

lex gilbert cancer survivorI always assumed that cancer would catch up with me one day. After all, my mother and two of my aunts had breast cancer so I figured I must be next in line. Yet it never occurred to me that the rectal bleeding I’d been experiencing could be colon cancer. Surely the sigmoidoscopy ordered by my doctor would lead me to a quick fix and that would be that. Surprise! When I woke up after the procedure, she came to my bedside and told me I had colon cancer.

When I heard those words I went numb. The world looked as it might if viewed through a funhouse mirror. I remember someone standing nearby handing me a box of Kleenex. I didn’t need the Kleenex. I didn’t cry until many weeks later and boy did I need Kleenex then. I think my soul just closed up shop so it could absorb the gravity of my situation at its own pace, and when it was ready to let go of the emotions, it let go.

Believe me, I am not one of those survivors who talk about what a gift it was to have cancer! I certainly would have preferred to learn the lessons taught by cancer in a less painful way, but all things being equal, there were important lessons learned and I think they are clearly worth passing along. Here’s one.

I pride myself on being self-sufficient and independent. One of the most difficult aspects of being a patient was accepting help from friends. When they offered, I’d say that we didn’t need anything even though that was utterly and completely false. Husbands come in handy sometimes and mine immediately jumped on my reluctance to let folks “in.” At the same time, a dear friend and colleague set up an on-line calendar where I could post what I needed and friends could sign up to help. I could ask for someone to buy me groceries on Wednesday, or help me get the house in order on Saturday, or mow the lawn, drive me to an appointment, or just plain keep me company.

The overwhelming response to the calendar and the ensuing discussions made me realize that when people offer help, they want to help! What a revelation! Too many of us deny our friends the satisfaction and fulfillment that helping someone in need gives them. Allowing folks to help also brings them into our lives in a deeper way, resulting in even more satisfying friendships. The Jedi mind-trick is that letting people help is a gift to them, as well as a gift to you.

About Lex Gilbert

Lex Gilbert is a cancer survivor and very active volunteer with Winship Cancer Institute. She originally comes from southern California, where she ran her own marketing and promotions company serving major corporate clients from throughout the U.S. She has been a life-long volunteer and was awarded “top volunteer” by the County of San Diego for her work mentoring a child in foster care. She moved to Atlanta in 2007 and now works in the Office of Health Promotion at Emory. She was awarded the CLASS Distinguished Service Honor in the Division of Campus Life. Bruce Gilbert, her husband of 32 years, is a musician fighting Parkinson’s disease and also volunteers at Winship as a pianist.

Related Resources

Colon Cancer Chat Transcript

An Intro to Colorectal Cancer Part I: Risk Factors, Symptoms & Diagnosis

An Intro to Colorectal Cancer Part II: Prevention, Diagnosis & Treatment

Winship Cancer Institute – Colon Cancer Resources

Find a primary physician through our Emory Healthcare Network or call Health Connection at 404-778-7777 to learn more from a registered nurse.

When Your Partner Fails You

Cancer Support(This blog was originally posted on Friday, February 20, 2015 on the WebMD website)

Along with the worries, sadness and frustrations of dealing with cancer, many patients experience the heartbreak of their loved one failing to support them. How could a life partner or spouse fail you during cancer? There are many ways, some more obvious than others.

Jan’s husband never came to any appointments, ever. He never learned about her diagnosis, her treatment plan, the side effects of the medicines or the recommendations for how she might improve her energy and strength. He blamed the lymphedema in her arm after her surgery on her “lazy lifestyle.” He told her that support groups were for “wimps” and even took some of her pain medicine for himself.

Sally’s partner came to every appointment – he would never let anyone else bring her. He kept a medical notebook with her test results and argued with every doctor about each treatment plan. He would not let her eat any ice cream or cookies because he thought the sugar would make her tumor grow, even though Sally was at a very healthy weight and ate a very balanced diet.

Gary’s girlfriend would never stop talking about herself. At appointments with the oncologist she would ask questions about breast cancer even though Gary had lymphoma. She repeatedly complained about Gary being at home instead of work, “having him around the house all day is making me crazy, I need my space!” She had no understanding of cancer fatigue: “he looks fine, no vomiting or fever – he should be able to do more!” In the past Gary had been able to participate in his girlfriend’s extremely busy social schedule, but after lymphoma, he asked his girlfriend about limiting their social time to just close friends. His girlfriend insisted on accepting every invitation, and started leaving Gary at home, alone.

Some spouses and partners don’t get it, but they want to, which is huge. If a loved one wants to do better, there is hope for the relationship. If you’re the partner — not the patient — in this scenario, and you’re wondering how to recover from your initial missteps, here’s what I would suggest: Start by setting aside time when there are not any children yelling or bills to be paid or dishes to be done. Begin with a question, “so how are things going for you?“ Wait for an answer. Listen. Then ask “Anything I can do to help?” Breathe, pause, listen. Maybe put your hand on your partner’s shoulder, gently, in order to emphasize you are listening. If you start getting yelled at for being late once 6 months ago, breathe deeply, and respond simply, “I am sorry I was late, but now I really want to help, and do better. Let’s keep talking, but no yelling please.” Make eye contact and smile.

Sally’s partner took the advice above, he set aside the time, took several deep breaths, and listened. He listened closely because he really did love her, and wanted to know how she was doing. He admitted that he had hoped to stop the cancer by controlling everything about her medical care and diet. Sally was able to explain she did appreciate the help with scheduling and tracking her medicines, but she did not want to be treated as an invalid or a small child. Sally’s partner was eventually able to become the partner she needed – a partner interested in caring for her but also respectful of her autonomy.

Gary spent a lot of time after cancer treatment thinking about what kind of life partner he wanted. Reflecting back over the years, he was able to see that his girlfriend had always been self-absorbed. Friday nights, she chose the restaurant; Sunday morning she picked the breakfast; and during the week she rarely asked how Gary was doing at work. Gary realized that he would rather be alone than in a relationship with someone who only cared about herself. “After everything I have been through, I deserve real love.”

Jan always knew that her husband drank too much, but she had hoped he would stop on his own. Through her cancer treatment Jan was terribly embarrassed that her husband was not at appointments. On the day Jan came home to tell her husband that the oncologist told her she was cancer free, he was passed out on the couch. Not being able to share the journey, or the joy in the recovery, pushed Jan to tell her husband that she wanted a divorce. When he realized Jan was actually planning to leave him, he knew he had to get sober. The addiction to alcohol had robbed Jan’s husband of the chance to be a support when his wife really needed him. The only hope for the marriage was for him to get completely sober, and with medical care, Jan’s husband finally stopped drinking. Once sober, he returned to being the kind of husband Jan remembered from when they were first married. He cooked pasta dinners, rubbed her feet in the evening, and actively listened when she talked about her health concerns and hope for the future.

We all hope that our partner will step up and be there for us if we need them, but sometimes they don’t support us as we’d hoped. There are a variety of reasons why a loved one may fail during cancer treatment, and the psychological work is to realize the failure is about their issues, not about you or your self worth. If there is genuine caring, and a real desire for a loving relationship, a couple may get through the challenge of cancer. And if not, there may be grieving process if the relationship fails, but there is great beauty in a cancer survivor taking steps to be in the healthiest, most loving relationship possible. After cancer, you deserve it.

About Dr. Baer

Wendy Baer, MDWendy Baer, MD, is medical director of psychiatric oncology at the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University, with appointments in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences in the Emory School of Medicine, and the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Winship.

In her work at the Winship Cancer Institute, Dr. Baer helps patients and their families deal with the stress of receiving a cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment. As a psychiatrist, she has expertise in treating clinical depression and anxiety both with medications and with psychotherapy to help people manage emotions, behaviors, and relationships. The fundamental goal of Dr. Baer’s practice is to promote wellness and maximize patients’ quality of life as much as possible. She believes strongly in the team approach to patient care and collaborates regularly with the doctors, nurses, and social workers that make up a patient’s care team.

Dr. Baer attended medical school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she graduated with honors. From UNC she went to the University of Pennsylvania, where she completed her residency in psychiatry and served as the chief resident in her senior year. Prior to moving to Atlanta, Dr. Baer worked with patients dealing with cancer at the Swedish Cancer Institute in Seattle, WA.

Related Resources

Key Steps for Coping with Cancer-Related Fatigue

cancer fatigueFatigue is one of the most common side effects reported by cancer patients, and symptoms of cancer- related fatigue differ significantly from the fatigue patients experienced before cancer diagnosis.

Cancer-related fatigue is not only caused by the disease itself, but cancer treatment as well as the emotional and psychological effects of fighting cancer can also contribute. Described by patients as more pronounced during treatment, cancer-related fatigue can leave patients feeling wiped out by simple and small activities. It can also last years after treatment.

According to the American Cancer Society, characteristics of cancer-related fatigue include:

  • Extreme tiredness that may vary in severity from day to day
  • Weakness, weariness or lethargy even after sleep
  • Feeling worn out after simple tasks like standing up from a chair or getting out of bed
  • Heaviness in arms and legs
  • Trouble with concentration and memory

Kay Halbert, Director of Outpatient Services at Emory Johns Creek Hospital, works with cancer patients undergoing cancer treatment on energy conservation. “Energy conservation is coming up with ways to decrease the amount of energy patients use to complete a task while still achieving similar end results so they continue to function in their day-to-day lives.” One energy-conserving technique is using a rolling cart to move heavy dishes rather than carrying them. Another example is prior to getting up from a chair, scoot to the edge, lean forward and push off with the arms and then straighten the legs.

“It’s important for patients and survivors to understand their bodies aren’t the same after cancer treatment,” Halbert explains. “It’s okay for them to modify how they accomplish daily tasks and learn to let go of some things completely.”

Some specific energy-conserving tips are:

  • Keep items within easy reach to limit how often you have to get up.
  • Avoid reaching for items overhead and/or below your knees; keep needed items and work surfaces at a comfortable height.
  • Decide which tasks are absolutely necessary. Let the rest go.
  • Share your workload with family and friends. Remember to delegate.
  • Complete tasks that require the most energy during times throughout the day when you have the most energy. Journaling can help you keep track of these high-energy vs. low-energy periods of time.
  • Alternate between easy and difficult tasks and rest 10 to 15 minutes every hour.
  • Stop before you feel worn out.

“Think about your energy levels as if it were a gas tank. Be economical about the how much energy you use, and make sure you refuel before you’re completely out of gas,” adds Halbert.

It’s very important to note that not all patients experience the same after affects of cancer, such as fatigue, but knowing about ways to help you cope may limit the severity of these after effects with early intervention and modification.

Related Resources

Prepare for Life after a Diagnosis of Cancer

Coping After Cancer Treatment is Finished

Cancer TherapyA cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. In fact, many patients have told me that cancer can easily define your life with on-going treatment lasting months and even years. Many patients stop working, limit their social interactions and even change roles within their household as a way to focus on completing treatment. You might think that once chemotherapy, radiation and surgery are over a patient would celebrate and move on, but that’s not always the case. Many patients feel lost and can find themselves asking what now? The intense focus on treatment often overshadows the future.

Here are five tips to help you cope after your treatment is finished:

  1. Consider attending a local support group. They are a great way to connect with others who have a similar diagnosis and have completed treatment. Support groups are a safe place to discuss the feelings that go along with being done with treatment and handling post treatment life.
  2. Reach out to a social worker or counselor. They are often available to provide individual counseling. This is helpful in allowing you an opportunity to identify your strengths and appropriate ways to move forward now that you’re better.
  3. Think of what helped you cope before treatment. Make a list of things that made you feel better when you were having a difficult time before you were diagnosed or treated. Some of those same healthy techniques such as exercise, yoga, or talking to a friend could be useful post treatment.
  4. Don’t rush yourself. Be realistic about your expectations of how you should feel after treatment. Be sure to ask your medical team how you should feel both physically and emotionally post treatment. Remember, you have been through a lot, and it will take time for you to fully recover. Putting additional stress and pressure on yourself to “feel better” because you are finished with treatment can only make this more difficult.
  5. Remind yourself you are a survivor! You have survived your diagnosis and treatment. Positive self-talk is beneficial in reducing stress and decreasing depressive symptoms.

More than 14 million Americans are cancer survivors. No matter what the type or stage of the disease, reaching out for additional support and assistance is just as important after treatment as it is during treatment.

About Joy McCall, LCSW

Joy McCallJoy McCall is a Winship social worker with bone marrow transplant, hematology and gynecologic teams and their patients. She started her professional career at Winship as an intern, working with breast, gynecologic, brain and melanoma cancer patients. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Kennesaw State University and a Master of Social Work from the University of Georgia. As part of her education she completed an internship with the Marcus Institute working on the pediatric feeding unit, and an internship counseling individuals and couples at Families First, supporting families and children facing challenges to build strong family bonds and stability for their future. She had previously worked with individuals with developmental disabilities for over 4 years, providing support to families and caregivers.

Resources

Living with Cancer