Breast Cancer Month, Part 2

From an Oncologist’s Perspective

I was fortunate to have access to a friend of mine who is also an oncology nurse, Teal Stocker, Quality Assurance Manager, RN, BSN, OCN, CCRP. She was gracious enough to accept taking time out to answer some questions I had about cancer treatment.

Reactions at Initial diagnosis

When a person is initially diagnosed with cancer, universally they feel  numb. Once a person is given the diagnosis of cancer, they don’t hear anything else that is said after that during that doctor’s visit. Because of this, Teal recommends bringing a friend or a family member with you to the doctor’s office who is able to collect the information given at the time the test results come in.

Changes of Emotions Through Treatment

Other emotions that Teal sees patients go through are disbelief, anger, depression, and questioning “why me?” Eventually most people come to a place of acceptance. One of the biggest issues is that the patient feels as though their life is out of control. In the medical field the term “stabile” is good yet can be discouraging because what is means is that the person still has cancer. It just is not growing.

What a Patient CAN control

Finding areas of the treatment that you can control feels empowering. Depending on the type of cancer there are different measurements that can be helpful such as with ovarian cancer, there is a test that looks for certain numbers which show the response rate. This is a factual number which, if in the “right” end of the scale can be encouraging. Something to build hope when everything else may look bleak.

Doing research and asking questions. Teal does caution people going on line and believing everything they read there as this information is not all based on scientific facts. Some of the information found on the internet can be frightening and may not be based on truth. The last thing you need when already in a position of feeling out of control of your life, is more stress based on information that may not be accurate. Some things patients do have control over is their schedule, asking questions about what the standard of care is for their type of cancer. Each cancer is a very different type of cancer and requires different treatment. Hence knowing what questions to ask is important. Prepare and write down questions before going to visit your doctor is a good idea so you can gather your thoughts and use your time with your doctor most efficiently.

The Difference a Good Support System Makes in the Life of a Patient

There is a big difference in how patients make it through their treatment based on what their attitude is like. People who have a positive outlook and have strong positive support systems in their friends and family tend to fair better through treatment. Some people are just generally stronger and more resilient than others. Culture also plays a role as in whether or not family members want the patient to make their own decisions or not. Some attempt to keep information from the patient in order to protect the patient.

Support Systems Within and Outside of the Hospital Setting

Within the hospital setting there are “Care Coordinators” who navigate the patient through the system. They enter the picture when the patient is given the diagnosis of cancer and they ensure the patient is funneled through to the correct places for the correct services.

Outside of the hospital setting there is a huge untapped resource in the American Cancer Society. They are part of the cancer support system. Some of the things the American Cancer Society assists with is transportation. They can help get mileage reimbursement,  and transportation insurance, they have support groups that can be very helpful for the patient to utilize. Just knowing that you are not alone in this endeavor and sharing your thoughts and emotions with other people who are going through the same thing can be very comforting.

Teal stresses that it is important for patients to let their support systems know that they need help and to be accepting of help. This also makes the life of the support system easier when they don’t have to fight and argue with the patient to get done what needs to get done.

Care for the Care Takers

I asked Teal what are some things she does to take care of herself being a caretaker working in a field where she faces life and death every day. She stated that to protect herself, she attends very few funerals. Because she sees the patients every day for a long period of time, they get close and the patients get to know about her kids and she gets to know about their families. “You are on their journey so learn from the patients and appreciate what you learn from them.” She also says that exercising is an essential part of her self-care along with her own support system in her family and friends. Some of her colleagues get hit hard when a patient of theirs dies. Teal states that the way she sees it is that the patient is no longer suffering. She has gained an appreciation for life and says “life is perfect.” “I can’t complain about a bad hair day,” because at least she has hair. It has given her a new perspective on life.

Teal also reports that she has worked in oncology for 12 years. Currently she works in research and based on research results she has seen the standards and treatments change in the past 5 years especially. One of the biggest changes in the past 5 years is that there has been a shift going from in-patient to out-patient care. She finds it very rewarding to work in research as what she does today is going to help people in the future.

Thank you Teal Stocker for sharing your knowledge and insights with us here. This is valuable information that I am happy to share with our readers.

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