Tired of Being Tired?

Fatigue is rarely an isolated symptom and is perceived by cancer patients to be one of the most distressing symptoms of cancer treatment. You might be physically tired, emotionally tired, cognitively tired or all three. This exhaustion is not proportional to recent activity and interferes with usual functioning.

At 84, Emanuel Tanay is far too busy to be tired. His diagnosis of metastatic prostate cancer 7 years ago has by no means stopped him from doing what he enjoys, but symptoms and side effects from his cancer and treatment have slowed him down.

“My resilience is very low,” says Tanay. “In other words, it takes very little for me to get exhausted.”

Tanay has used strategies like medication, physical therapy and exercise to combat his fatigue. Here are other general strategies to manage fatigue:

  • Self-monitor your energy level
  • Limit naps so you can sleep at night
  • Structure routines
  • Use distractions like games, music or reading
  • Set priorities if you can’t do everything
  • Postpone non-essential activities
  • Drink adequate fluids

Contributing factors of fatigue:

  • Medication side effects
  • Emotional distress
  • Anemia
  • Sleep issues
  • Nutrition issues
  • Other medical conditions

The Cancer Center’s Symptom Management and Supportive Care Clinic helps patients manage the physical aspects of fatigue. The PsychOncology Program can help with the significant emotional aspects, such as depression.

Learn everything you wanted to know about fatigue: causes, symptoms, coping and taking action. How do you cope with fatigue? Share your tricks and tips in the comments.

Keeping Nausea at Bay

Edward Rosario preps fruit for a smoothie fortified with protein powder which he can tolerate to combat nausea.

Nausea is a common side effect of cancer – especially for people going through chemotherapy. When non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma patient Edward Rosario came to the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, his nausea was overwhelming.

Although it can be difficult to find relief, there are several ways to combat an unsettled stomach. Rosario’s relief came when the Cancer Center’s Symptom Management and Supportive Care Clinic prescribed him medicine to help treat the symptom.

Emily Mackler, Pharm.D., a pharmacist in the clinic, says there are different medications to treat nausea. A queasy stomach may be caused by neurotransmitters within the brain, and medications can be prescribed to target these. Other medications target receptors lining the gastrointestinal tract that can contribute to nausea. In some cases, more than one medication may be used to provide the best control. “We also look at the medicines a person is already taking to see if those are contributing to the nausea,” Mackler says. “If so, we’ll look at modifying the patient’s medical regimen by changing how they take their medicine or perhaps by switching to a different drug so they can feel some relief.”

Medicine is one way to combat nausea, but staying away from certain foods and rethinking portion size and meal timing can also make a difference in relieving nausea or keeping it under control. Continue reading

Creative Control: Art therapy offers artistic freedom and empowerment to people with cancer

Art therapy offers artistic freedom and empowerment to people with cancer

"There are a lot of things going on outside of a patient's control, and although my doctors give me choices once in a while, they're the ones who know the right way. Art therapy is a great environment to make my own decisions." -- Linda Westervelt (pictured)

Linda Westervelt enjoys making her own choices. Too often as a cancer patient, however, she has to leave decisions about her treatment and health in the hands of her doctors.

But when Westervelt participates in the art therapy program at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, she’s in control.

“It’s nice to make decisions in art therapy, and it’s a good outlet for that,” Westervelt says. “There are a lot of things going on outside of a patient’s control, and although my doctors give me choices once in a while, they’re the ones who know the right way. Art therapy is a great environment to make my own decisions.”

U-M offers one-on-one art therapy sessions for cancer patients and survivors, led by Margaret Nowak, the Cancer Center’s art therapist. The sessions are designed to help patients increase self-awareness and cope with symptoms, stress and traumatic experiences.

Nowak says that the dynamic of these sessions allows patients control they sometimes lack in other aspects of their lives. Sessions begin with a discussion about the patient’s health and well-being, and from there, Nowak helps direct patients toward an artistic avenue of their choice.

Read the rest of Creative Controlor check out our art therapy video casts and try it for yourself!  If you’re a patient, please call 877-907-0859 to make an art therapy appointment or to get more information.

Have you tried art therapy?  If so, please share your experiences with us!

The new normal

In a recent segment of A Wider World shown on WTVS – Channel 56 in Detroit, Michelle Riba, director of the Cancer Center’s PsychOncology Program, along with Mel Majoros, a breast cancer survivor, athlete and radio show host, talk about the “new normal” after cancer treatment.

For more on Mel Majoros visit her blog, The Cancer Warrior.

7 ways to simplify the holiday crush when you’re coping with cancer

One Christmas while Ben Graham was going through treatment for rhabdomyosarcoma — a type of soft-tissue cancer — his entire third grade class at North Branch Elementary School sent him gifts. To Ben, then 8, it was awesome. But after he’d ripped open the packages, he told his mom, Brenda, that even though he really appreciated his friends generosity, he’d give it all back if it meant he didn’t have to have cancer anymore.

“You really realize what’s important, and the holidays become more special,” Brenda Graham said. “Having Ben here, sitting down to dinner with him and spending time with him: That’s what’s important.”

From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, the holiday scramble can be daunting under even the best circumstances. But people coping with cancer face different stresses. We’ve assembled tips from patients, parents, survivors and social workers about how to make the best of the season.

Visit the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Living with Cancer site to read seven tips.

PsychOncology Clinic offers tools for coping

After Michael Daly was diagnosed with cancer, he felt alone. He didn’t know what to expect with his treatment and, in the early days, some of his doctors didn’t offer much encouragement about his prognosis.

Daly was prescribed a medication to treat his anxiety and depression, but after a while, it stopped working.

“I found myself not wanting to get involved in my life and just vegetating,” Daly said. “I wanted to get back into control of it, because I didn’t want to spend my days waiting to die. I needed to get over that hump.”

By then, Daly had chosen a new approach to treatment that brought him to the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. His oncologist suggested he consult with the Cancer Center’s PsychOncology Clinic.

Staffed by social workers, psychiatrists and nurse practitioners, the PsychOncology Clinic provides assessments to Cancer Center patients to determine their level of distress and individual needs. The team then develops an action plan to help patients get the assistance that’s right for them. Continue reading