How To Take Care Of A Cancer Patient

Most of you know that my husband Russ has been battling multiple myeloma for the last 6 1/2 years.  What you may not know is that although he was in remission without treatment for over 3 years, this summer the cancer unfortunately relapsed.

Of course, as his wife, my focus is doing everything I can to keep him healthy and make this next leg of the journey as successful as possible.  What can I do to help him?  I’d like to share with you some of what I’ve learned about how to take care of a cancer patient.

The sad reality is that we will all, at some point in our lives have a close friend or family member struggle with a life-threatening illness.  Knowing how to help them is a useful skill and can make us caregivers feel less helpless.

Make sure they eat, drink, get fresh air and rest

Whether you feel like a bully or not is irrelevant.  Cancer patients need to eat.  Simple, fresh, nutritious food that is easy to grab and go should be available all the time.  Keep in mind that cancer treatment often changes the sense of taste.  The patient’s favorite foods may not taste good to them, and they may get weird cravings.  Stay flexible.

Sandwiches, soups, fresh fruit and veggies, oatmeal, scrambled eggs and calorie-dense foods like nuts and nut butters are good choices.  Good fats like avocado hide easily in blender smoothies.  Protein smoothies (non-GMO soy is better than when as a protein source) are a good protein source.  Be careful with meat, it’s hard to digest and may make nausea worse.

Staying hydrated is important.  Water is the best way to hydrate but iced tea is good too and adding lemon or lime juice can make plain water less boring.  Don’t rely on soda because neither added sugar nor artificial sweeteners are healthy choices.  Sports hydration drinks are OK if the patient has diarrhea but choose one that doesn’t have artificial sweeteners or colors (Shaklee Hydrate is my choice!).

Sleep is tough.  Many cancer patients don’t sleep well, because of symptoms, treatment effects and stress.  Talk to their doctor if they’re having trouble sleeping, medications can help.

Also don’t underestimate the importance of getting outside.  Nature is healing and too much hibernation is not good.  Russ’s first outing after being in the hospital in 2011 was to the Yankee Peddler Festival.  Granted, he spent a lot of time holding down benches and tree stumps, and we didn’t stay long, but he was in the fresh air and sunshine, and we were together as a family.

Take care of yourself too

As I’ve written before, one of the first orders of business when you are a caregiver is to take care of yourself.  If you are exhausted you won’t be able to take good care of your loved one.  You can’t pour from an empty cup!

Eat and drink as you should.  Get enough rest.  Get outside, with or without your loved one.  Exercise.  Recharge your batteries by doing what you enjoy as often as you can.

Vent OUT, not IN

Not long ago, I read a really good article that was sort of about the etiquette of being around someone struggling with a serious illness.  I can’t find the article right now, but the gist of it is this.

Imagine a bull’s eye target with the patient in the middle.  Everyone they know is arranged in the rings around them.  Those closest to them, physically and emotionally, are in the smallest rings and as you get farther away you find distant family members, casual acquaintances and those they see in passing.

Their spouse and children are on the smallest ring.  Grown children may be a step out, depending on the relationship.

When you interact with others in relation to the cancer patient, remember that you are on the RECEIVING end from those who are farther in than you are.  For instance, when my mom was sick with breast cancer I had my own fears and anxieties.  My sister and I were terrified we were going to lose our mom.  I didn’t unload on her or my dad about that, though.  My husband or my close friends were my resource to deal with my own fears.  I vented OUT, not IN.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t tell a cancer patient that you’re afraid for them.  You don’t have to be relentlessly cheerful and optimistic all the time.  Just be careful not to add stress to their already overwhelming burden.  When dealing with a cancer patient, your goal is to relieve stress, not increase it.  Let them vent out, take pressure off, don’t increase the pressure.  It’s about them right now, not about you.

Cancer patients have a lot to deal with.  They are juggling treatment schedules, financial worries, physical symptoms and side effects, fears and anxieties.  Some may be continuing to work, like my husband.  They have family responsibilities as well.

There is a lot we can do to support a cancer patient in their journey back to wellness.  Support their health, take care of yourself and find your own support system to help you keep your feet under you.

QUESTION: Did I forget anything?  What has helped you in taking care of person struggling with a serious illness?

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Are Multivitamins Dangerous?

I’ve done a TON of physicals this week, and when I see a patient for a well visit, we always talk about diet.  For most (if not all) humans, the best diet is one full of whole fresh unprocessed plant foods, the more colorful the better.  Limiting meats and other animal-based foods is wise if your goal is to decrease your risk of cancer and heart disease.

Even if you eat healthy, it’s hard to get all the nutrients you need from your food.  I always recommend a good quality multivitamin to my patients.  This week a few people have asked me, are multivitamins dangerous?

It’s common to see reports on the news that vitamin use increases the risk of cancer, heart disease, and other problems.  If you follow my blog (or talk to me for a few minutes) you know I believe strongly in good nutrition.  So when people are asking if multivitamins are dangerous, I want to reassure them.

Here on my blog I try not to lean on my own opinion too much.  So I went off to the research database, and found a great article published recently that reviewed recent research about the safety of multivitamin supplements.  You can read the article yourself at this link.

So are multivitamins dangerous?  Here are my 3 take-home points from this article:

  • Nutrition should come from food, but our diet is stupid, so taking a multivitamin is a smart harm-reduction method.

There is no multivitamin or supplement that can overcome a bad diet.  Too much processed food, food full of added sugar and fat, and food with artificial ingredients will damage your health.

With that being said, we live in the real world and there are times when we can’t eat a perfect diet all the time.  Even though we live in a country with fresh healthy food available, often it is grown and stored and transported in such a way that the nutrients degrade.  It’s been reported that our food is much less nutritious than it was 50 years ago.

In this day and age, a multivitamin can be sort of like the seatbelt in your car.  You should eat healthy (like you should drive safely) but your daily multivitamin can be a just-in-case safety measure for those crazy days when you just don’t get all the nutrients you need from your food.

  • Comprehensive multi-nutrient supplements (like a good quality multivitamin) are better and safer than single-nutrient supplement

Some research shows that single-nutrient supplements like calcium and vitamin E are associated with higher risk of some diseases.  I don’t recommend people take single-nutrient supplements.  You’re best off taking a comprehensive nutritional supplement program tailored to your specific needs.

For instance, a woman over 60 would need a good quality multivitamin that doesn’t contain iron.  A younger woman of childbearing age would need more iron, more iodine, and more folic acid in her multivitamin.  Someone with migraines or anxiety may need to add a B complex supplement and extra magnesium.  Someone concerned about heart health may want to add fish oil, coenzyme Q10 and extra magnesium.

People are different, and what works for someone else may not work as well for you.

  • There is no consistent evidence that taking a multivitamin increases the risk of cancer, heart disease or stroke.  There ARE suggestions that taking a multivitamin may reduce the risk of health problems in certain populations.  This is really exciting!

Multivitamins have been studied extensively to see if taking them is associated with lots of different medical problems. The research has been pretty neutral in general, with no association with higher OR lower risk of major medical problems.  This may be because multivitamin preparations vary so widely in quality and in what nutrients are contained in them.

A few consistent trends do seem to be present though.  Multivitamins are not associated with a higher risk of cancer.  Some studies have, in fact, shown a lower risk of cancer in people taking a multivitamin.  Researchers are doing more studies to see if they can show lower cancer risk consistently in those taking multivitamins.

Multivitamins also seem to not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, age-related eye disease, mental health and cognitive problems in the elderly, or overall mortality.

So what’s the overall point?  Take your multivitamin every day!  Even if you have a really healthy diet, a multivitamin will help fill in any gaps.  After all, these nutrients affect every cell in your body.  Every cell needs them, every day.

Need help choosing a multivitamin?  I recently wrote about how to choose a multivitamin, so click this link and read up!

You probably already know I use and recommend supplements from the Shaklee Corporation.  Want to see what products would be best for you?  Click this link and answer the questions to get your HealthPrint personalized nutrition assessment.

QUESTION: Do you take a multivitamin?  Do you feel it makes a difference in your health?

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