Did you know that the word cancer came from the Greek word meaning “crab”? Cancerous tumors have swollen blood vessels around them that resemble crab legs, and they spread mercilessly, recalling a crab scuttling quickly along the sand. Cancer significantly affects a patient's life and causes pain—imagine these creatures using their pincers to crush one of your fingers! The effects of a cancer diagnosis can be crushing, too.
A patient with cancer experiences many health-related changes that require them to seek medical help more often. Some of them will be most comfortable in hospice care, where their health is expected to grow worse. Caregivers who provide bedside care become a cancer patient's lifeline, fighting the battle with them and serving as an advocate to get the patient’s voice across.
If you are a caregiver, here are some tips to help you and your patient battle cancer:
1. Know what to expect.
As cancer creeps into a patient’s life, there is one thing that a caregiver must expect: there will be plenty of changes in many areas of their patient’s life. There will be discomfort and pain, a common symptom for cancer patients. For this reason, they may be irritable, avoid moving painful parts of the body, or refuse to eat.
The patient will have series of treatments, surgeries, and follow-up care. With these procedures, there will be a long list of medications and tasks related to their care.
After their chemotherapy treatment, the patient may feel nauseated, lose their hair, or experience mouth sores and other side effects. A cancer patient will also feel weak, especially if they are not responding to treatment.
2. Have the right attitude.
Caring for a patient with cancer is one of the greatest challenges a caregiver can face. This disease will challenge a caregiver's patience, resolve, and ability to react accordingly during emergencies and distress. It is important for you to be extra understanding of the patient's situation and show plenty of compassion and empathy.
3. Be organized.
The many changes that happen in a cancer patient's life can be overwhelming for the caregiver who is tasked with keeping things together. Keep a record of doctor's appointments, after-treatment checkups, medications, and care instructions.
If you are assisting in a patient’s home care, keep the house clean and safe, because clutter can cause falls and accidents and dirty surroundings lead to new illnesses in patients with a weakened immune system.
Also, have one place to keep all the patient’s medical supplies, separate from household supplies, to avoid confusion.
4. Prepare for emergencies.
Have emergency numbers handy, like the physician, nurse, and hospital. Know who to call for medical problems when they arise. Keep a journal for simple first aid tasks you may encounter. For example, if a patient has a tube inserted, ask the physician beforehand what you should do in case it is accidentally pulled out.
5. Don’t forget nutrition and hydration.
Take advantage of a patient’s good mood and appetite by serving highly nutritious meals and healthy drinks. If the patient feels nauseous, give small, frequent meals. If they complain of a bitter or unusual taste after medications or treatments, use spices in their food to mask the unpleasant taste.
There might be a time when a patient is too weak to chew. In this situation, it helps to prepare blended foods or milkshakes.
6. Work with the healthcare team.
The road toward cancer treatment is never a one-man journey. Always keep communication open with other members of the healthcare team. Don’t hesitate to ask for more information or seek help whenever necessary. Be alert for any physical changes in your patient and document each observation. Report your observations to your supervisor.
7. Keep your patient comfortable.
If you are unsure about how to keep your patient comfortable, ask them what helps ease their pain or helps them relax. Offer extra pillows or blankets as they sleep, adjust room temperature, and reduce glaring lights and loud sounds.
If they have mouth sores, perform mouth care and apply prescribed medications. Relieving the discomfort of mouth sores can help them eat and drink more easily and improve overall nutrition. After surgery, assist them in moving around in bed or transferring to a chair, to minimize their pain.
Provide ways to help entertain and distract them, such as an interesting book, TV program, hand-held game, or even a simple hobby.
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