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.
Larry Stone joined a clinical trial in fall 2009 to test a medication that offered the possibility of prolonging the effectiveness of the hormone therapy he was taking to stave off prostate cancer. When he started to experience mild numbness in his hands and feet later that spring, he didn’t think too much about it. But by June, pain and swelling sent him to the hospital overnight.
His hospital stay relieved his pain somewhat, but it prompted him to ask his oncology team a question: “Is there a specialist I can see?”
That simple question triggered a referral to the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Symptom Management and Supportive Care Clinic. Stone met with Susan Urba, M.D. — the clinic’s leader — as well as pharmacist Emily Mackler, Pharm.D. Together, the team mapped out a program to reduce Stone’s discomfort.
“That was the start of a great relationship,” Stone said.
Read more about symptom management in the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s patient publication, Thrive. Or, if you are a U-M patient, call 1-877-907-0859 to make an appointment with the U-M Symptom Management and Supportive Care Clinic.
Cancer-related fatigue is the most common side effect of cancer and cancer treatment, according to the American Cancer Society. Research suggests that anywhere between 70% and 100% of cancer patients getting treatment have fatigue, and about 30% to 50% of cancer survivors have said that their fatigue lasts for months or even years after they finish treatment. Learn more about cancer-related fatigue and how you can fight it at mCancer.org.
Keeping track of your medications and remembering whether a medication has been taken can be a daunting task. Many tools exist that can help you with this process, but what’s important is to develop a system that works best for you. Visit our Keeping Track of Medications page on mCancer.org to get tips. To learn more, watch the videocast above.
It’s about 2:30 p.m. on a Tuesday, and the infusion pharmacy is buzzing as its staff hunkers down to get through the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s busiest day of the week.
Pharmacist Diane Klemer breaks away — as a pharmacist does every day about this time — to huddle with nurses who coordinate each of the centers five infusion areas. Klemer scans the list of 130 patients scheduled for infusion treatments the next day. Her goal is to troubleshoot bottlenecks and problems: Are there too many patients coming in at 7:30 and 8 a.m.? Have patients who receive carefully timed treatments been scheduled appropriately?
“We find that if we spend 10 to 15 minutes the day before with each infusion area, talking through the next day’s schedule, we can address staff concerns, make corrections, if necessary, and provide better service the next day for our patients when they are here,” said Kelly Wright, manager of the Cancer Centers Infusion Pharmacy.
Nothing about chemotherapy is simple, especially not for those patients who have to endure its side effects while relying on it to treat their cancers. But few patients ever see the more than 100 health-care professionals working through a complex series of checks and balances to ensure the 36,000 infusion treatments delivered each year at the Cancer Center are appropriate and safe.
This is the story of just one of those many treatments.