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How Can I Help Treatment Go Smoothly?

Thursday, April 19, 2012 - 13:43

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

Because many non-Hodgkin's lymphomas now have a good chance of being cured, anyone diagnosed with lymphoma should be referred to an oncologist as soon as possible. One reason for this is because treatments are constantly being improved and an oncologist is most likely to be aware of new and better therapies.

The oncologist and the family doctor can then work as a team to arrange the best possible treatment and follow-up care. The medical team may also include a hematologist and/or a radiation oncologist.

You can help to make your treatment go as smoothly as possible by:

  • Giving your doctor the most complete medical history that you can.
  • Telling your doctor about any side effects or problems you have during treatment.
  • Trying to eat right.
  • Taking care of yourself, including getting pain relief when you need to.
  • Following your doctor's recommendations, including follow-up and long-term care.

How To Information:

Questions You May Want To Ask Before Treatment

According to the National Cancer Institute, asking these questions before treatment begins can help a patient or their family more fully understand what is going to happen:

  • What kind of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma do I have?
  • What is the stage of the disease?
  • What are my treatment choices? Which do you recommend for me? Why?
  • What are the risks and possible side effects of each treatment?
  • What side effects should I report to you?
  • How long will treatment last?
  • What are the chances that the treatment will be successful?
  • Will treatment affect my normal activities? If so, for how long?
  • Are new treatments under study? Would a clinical trial be appropriate for me?
  • What is the treatment likely to cost?

You do not need to ask all of your questions, or remember all the answers, at one time. During the process of diagnosis and treatment there will be chances to ask the doctor to explain things and to get more information.

What To Tell Your Doctor

Before and during treatment for any form of cancer, your doctor will need to know about any medications you may be taking. This includes over-the-counter medicines for allergies, indigestion, colds, and pain relief and any vitamin, mineral or herbal supplements you may take. Remember to tell your doctor about prescription medication from other doctors.

If You Have Side Effects During Treatment

If you develop any symptoms that seem unusual or if there is anything you are unsure about, don't hesitate to call your doctor. Call your doctor if you notice any of the following:

  • Losing or gaining 10 pounds or more.
  • Nosebleeds.
  • Severe itching or rash on skin.
  • Wheezing or any other trouble breathing.
  • Feeling very tired.
  • Constipation.
  • Sores in your mouth or throat.
  • Coughing a lot.
  • Feeling tingling in your fingers and toes.
  • Ringing in your ears.
  • Red dots under your skin.
  • Black and blue marks.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • A fever of 101 degrees or higher.
  • Chills, especially shaking chills.
  • Redness, swelling, or tenderness, especially around a wound or sore.
  • Hair loss.
  • Headaches or changes in vision.
  • Warm to hot feeling of an arm or leg.
  • Unusual bleeding, for instance from your gums or nose.
  • Unusual bruising.

Try To Eat Right

Although it is sometimes hard to eat a balanced diet during cancer therapy, it will help your body recover much sooner from the effects of the treatment and the cancer. Every day, try to eat and drink:

  • At least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables.
  • Protein-rich foods like chicken, fish, cheese or eggs.
  • Carbohydrates, found in breads, pastas, rice and grains. Whole grains like whole-wheat bread and pasta, and brown rice are more nutritious than processed foods like white bread, pastries, and sugary foods and will help your body recover sooner.
  • Plenty of liquids.
  • Soups can combine all of these and may be easy to eat.

If it is hard to eat, try soft, soothing foods like milkshakes and soft sandwiches. Acidic or spicy foods or foods that are too hot or too cold can make eating more uncomfortable. Eating small meals more often can help you to meet your nutritional needs.

Taking Care Of Yourself

Cancer therapies can make the mouth sore and prone to infection. Try to brush your teeth with a soft toothbrush after every meal. If your mouth is too sore to brush, try to at least rinse with water.

Try to get plenty of rest. This will allow your body to heal and help fight infections. Avoiding people who have colds, flu, or other infections may decrease your risk of being infected.

Dealing with cancer and cancer therapy can be extremely stressful. You may find yourself becoming depressed, or you may find yourself discovering new wisdom.

Try to find emotional support and someone you can talk to about your feelings. This could be your family, someone in your church, a counselor, or a support group for cancer patients. For more information, go to Additional Sources of Information.

Getting Adequate Pain Relief

Cancer can be very painful. While cancer pain cannot always be completely stopped, you do have the right to have relief from pain.

Some people are afraid that if they take powerful painkillers they will become addicted. Some doctors and other caregivers also still hold this belief.

Studies have shown that people who take pain medications in the right way, for real pain, rarely become addicted. Being able to keep pain under control actually makes people less likely to become addicted. Other studies have shown that severe, prolonged pain is actually harmful to your body and its ability to heal. Even if you have to take pain medication for a long time, this does not mean you have become addicted.

In addition to pain-relieving drugs, techniques such as relaxation therapy, hypnosis, visualization, and massage can also help ease pain. Discuss these with your medical team.

Be sure to discuss pain relief with your doctor if and when you need it. Try to work with your medical team and play an active role in your own care. Simply feeling in control of your situation can often do a lot to help ease pain.

If you feel that your medical team is not allowing you the medication or other treatment that you truly need for your pain, you may want to discuss the problem with a counselor or seek a second opinion from another doctor.

Follow-Up Care

Because lymphomas can recur even if it seems that they have been cured, it is important to have checkups every few months even after you have finished your treatments. Treatments for lymphoma can be toxic and there is always some chance that they will cause medical problems in the future. Staying in touch with your family physician and reporting anything that concerns you in between follow-up visits may improve your long-term outcome.

Lymphoma Treatment In Children

If your child has been diagnosed with lymphoma, call your child's doctor whenever you have questions. If you are unsure whether something should be reported, discuss it with your child's doctor.

According to the National Cancer Institute, you should let your physician or another medical team member know if your child has any of the following:

  • A fever or other sign of infection, or just doesn't look well.
  • Exposure to a contagious infection, especially chickenpox or measles (unless your child is known to be immune from prior exposure).
  • Persistent headaches, pain, or discomfort anywhere in the body.
  • Difficulty in walking or bending.
  • Pain during urination or bowel movements.
  • Reddened or swollen areas.
  • Vomiting, unless you have been told that your child might vomit after chemotherapy or radiation.
  • Problems with eyesight such as blurred or double vision.
  • Bleeding. In addition to obvious bleeding such as nosebleeds, signs of bleeding can be seen in the stools (red or black), in the urine (pink, red, or brown), in vomit (red or brown, like coffee grounds), or the presence of multiple bruises.
  • Other troublesome side effects of treatment such as mouth sores, constipation (beyond 2 days), diarrhea, and easy bruising.
  • Marked depression or a sudden change in behavior.

Remember to check with your child's physician when your child is due to receive any kind of vaccination or any dental care.

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