The author of this report will be describing and covering the basic facts and facets of cancer and its diagnosis. Indeed, cancer strikes many people and would behoove everyone to at least know the basics about it and be empowered if/when they must face it themselves in the form of a personal diagnosis, that of a family member or that of a friend or other colleague like a coworker. The topics that will be covered in this brief report include how cancer is diagnosed, how the use of stages lays forth what “level” the cancer has reached in terms of lethality and severity, the common complications of cancer, the side effects of treatment and the methods that are common used to mitigate the physical and psychological effects of cancer. While there are ways to mitigate and otherwise deal with the ravages of cancer and the treatments used for the same, cancer is usually a rather rough road for someone who develops it.
Cancer can really develop anywhere in the body. Just a few examples include the skin, breast, mouth, rectum, prostate and testicles. The ones just listed can often be diagnoses via a self-exam. Even with that, a real medical test would be necessary to confirm whether cancer exists or whether it is a false alarm, a non-malignant growth (e.g. cyst) or something else along those lines. However, other cancers are much harder to find and detect. Advanced equ9ipment such as MRI machines, ultrasounds and endoscopy procedures may have to be used. For example, throat or stomach cancer diagnosis would make common use of endoscopy tactics. Indeed, a scoping device is put down the throat of the patient so that a direct view of the suspect area can be seen. If and when a cancer is diagnosed, there is then the need to “stage” the cancer. There are four stages and they are numbered one through four. One is the least severe and many to most people in this stage have treatable cancer. On the other end of the spectrum is stage four. This is cancer that has metastasized (spread to other parts of the body) or is otherwise taking over the body in a way that almost certainly means death to the patient. People that are state two or three may or may not survive depending on how far the cancer is spread, how much of it there is overall in terms of mass and whether the cancer masses can be excised or not. In some cases, simply cutting out the cancer is a possibility. In other cases, the area is inaccessible or doing a removal would kill the patient due to too much organ loss of something vital like the liver, pancreas or other areas like that (WebMD, 2016).
As far as complications of cancer, there are actually quite a bit. Just a short list includes pain, fatigue, difficulty breathing, nausea, diarrhea/constipation, weight loss, chemical balance upending, brain/nervous system problems or immune system reactions. Another big one is cancer that comes back after ostensibly being stopped on a previous outbreak (Mayo, 2016). One of the major drawbacks when it comes to treating cancer is that the efforts to stymie or kill the cancer cells often has negative effects on the patient. Both of the most common treatments, those being chemotherapy and radiation, have their own side effects but they are fairly common. Chemotherapy side effects include fever/chills, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and sore mouth. Side effects of radiation include fatigue, skin issues and hair loss. (ACS, 2016). Skin issues can be mitigated by avoiding scratching, by avoiding tight clothes in favor of comfortable and bigger clothes and the use of mild soap and nothing that induces a temperature change like hot/cold water, heating pads or anything else like that. Managing fatigue include prioritizing what needs to be done, keeping things in reach, journaling one’s experiences for the information of the doctors and the eating of a healthy diet (ACS, 2016).
Psychological complications and issues can manifest in a number of different ways when it comes to cancer. One of the more common forms are bouts of anxiety, fear and depression. Cancer can cause a lot of changes in one’s life and these changes along with the rigors that come with facing cancer treatment can take a toll on one’s mental health. Job rules are often reduced or changed outright, if not eliminated and made impossible. People close to and related to the patient are themselves effected in that they fear (or know) that they will lose their loved one due to the cancer. It is exceedingly common for people with cancer to put up a faAade that masks and obscures what they are really thinking or feeling. Put another way, they put on a “happy face” rather than be honest about what they are going through and how they are feeling. Rather than do this, it is highly encouraged that cancer patients be completely open and honest with their care team. Beyond that, having (or creating) a social support network is very important. Cancer patients need to voice new events and their concerns as they arise, whether it be to family or to their medical professional(s). Events that require a response and informing of the proper parties include any thought of suicide, inability to eat, inability to sleep, lack of interest in one’s usual activities for consecutive days, the inability to have pleasure in those usual hobbies and activities, emotions that arise that interfere with any daily activities, trouble breathing, bouts of confusion, excessive sweating (or at least more than usual), restlessness or new symptoms that are not familiar or already known to the patient (ACS, 2016).
A subset of the above that requires direct and quick attention is clinical depression. Symptoms of the onset of clinical depression include ongoing sadness, hopelessness or an “empty” sort of mood. Other symptoms include loss of interest in almost all activities most of the time, major weight loss or gain, extreme fatigue or lack of energy, problems with sleeping (of any sort), the inability to focus one’s thoughts, remember things or make decisions, feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness and/or frequent thoughts of death or suicide. As it relates to the latter, a general fear of death is not abnormal. However, anything beyond that such as planning one’s death (suicide) or even just looking forward to it is not a good sign. People that are in or around a person with cancer need to know what to do when it comes to a patient with cancer that is clearly depressed, perhaps or definitely at the clinical level. The depressed person should be encouraged to seek or continue treatment or talk to the doctor if no change is seen in two to three weeks. People should promote physical activity, should provide transportation that is needed (e.g. for mental health treatment appointments, etc.), remember that it is acceptable and fine to grieve and be sad about what is going on, realize that being pessimistic or dour about everything is not normal (cancer or no cancer) and that consistent reassurance and commitment to the treatment plan are a must (ACS, 2016).
What should never be done by a patient with cancer would include keeping of feelings inside, forcing someone to talk about what is going on when they are not ready (and this applies to the patient and the people around them like family alike), blaming one’s self for another person becoming depressed, telling a person with possible or known depression issues to “cheer up,” or try to reason with a person whose depression seems severe. Indeed, that person needs to be consulting with a doctor. Arguing and jockeying with that person is not lead to much, if anything, good because the person is not operating with a proper mindset or perspective. Indeed, if a person is extremely depressed or anxious, there is a good chance that the patient’s medicines or other treatment approaches is lacking or needs to be changed. When it comes to anxiety in particular, common symptoms would include anxious facial expressions, uncontrolled worry, trouble solving problems or focusing thoughts, muscle tension, trembling/shaking, restlessness/edginess, dry mouth or irritability/outbursts. Things that can help include encouragement to chat (but it should never be forced), the sharing of feelings and fears, the listening to each other’s feelings, the remembrance that it is alright to feel sad or frustrated, the use of counseling or support groups, the use of meditation/prayer/spiritual support and the use of deep breathing exercises or other relaxation methods. Of course, a talk with a doctor about current or prior symptoms or events would be a good idea as well. Things not to do when it comes to anxiety include keeping feelings bottled in, forcing someone to talk when they do not want to, blaming one’s self for someone else’s anxiety, or trying to reason with a person that is clearly having a panic attack or something close to it. A more extreme iteration and manifestation of anxiety issues is known as a panic attack. This is when a person is having an extremely high level of anxiety at a given moment. Symptoms of panic attacks include shortness of breath or the feeling of being smothered, a racing heartbeat, dizziness/faintness, chest pain, shortness of breath or a choking feeling, trembling/shaking, sweating, fear of loss of control, an urge to flee, numbness or tingling, feeling “unreal” or detached from one’s self and chills (ACS, 2016).
Cancer is a very hard thing to face, both for the patient and those around the patient. Cancer in many ways creates a domino effect when it comes to the health of the human body and this is in reference to both physical problems as well as mental. As such, a full and comprehensive approach to the cancer and all of the ancillary effects caused as a direct or indirect result need to all be faced and dealt with to give the patient the best chance of success and a minimizing of side effects and other symptoms. The absolute worst thing that can be done is for a patient to close up, embrace their “fate” or otherwise give up when there is clearly hope and optimism to be found. To be sure, there are some cancers that are not treatable and there are other situations where the cancer is found too late to be treated. However, this is often not the case and a full and proper approach is needed to beat the cancer.
ACS. (2016). Anxiety, Fear, and Depression. Cancer.org. Retrieved 1 July 2016, from http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/emotionalsideeffects/anxiety-fear-depression-and-cancer
ACS. (2016). Chemotherapy Side Effects Worksheet. American Cancer Society. Retrieved 1 July 2016, from http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/content/@nho/documents/document/acsq-009502.pdf
ACS. (2016). Common side effects of radiation therapy. Cancer.org. Retrieved 1 July 2016, from http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/treatmenttypes/radiation/understandingradiationtherapyaguideforpatientsandfamilies/understanding-radiation-therapy-common-side-effects
Mayo. (2016). Cancer Complications – Mayo Clinic. Mayoclinic.org. Retrieved 1 July 2016, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cancer/basics/complications/con-20032378
WebMD. (2016). Understanding Cancer — Diagnosis and Treatment. WebMD. Retrieved 1 July 2016, from http://www.webmd.com/cancer/understanding-cancer-treatment
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