Tips for Caring for Cancer Patients
chaplain cody frech with a patient
According to the American Cancer Society, more than one million people in the United States are diagnosed with cancer each year. Chances are when a friend, neighbor or loved one shares that they have been diagnosed with cancer, after adding them to a prayer list many people offer to bring them a meal.
“Although offering food is a wonderful and appreciated gesture, caring for a cancer patient is more about a loving relationship than just baking or preparing food,” said Rev. Cody Frech, a chaplain at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) in Tulsa. “Patients and families might have a long journey ahead of them. They will need a support team that can sustain them through the journey.”
“What can I do to help?” is a common question cancer patients frequently get from family and friends who want to provide meaningful support but don’t know where to start. The question, though, can stump patients, too, especially as they struggle to come to terms with their diagnosis.
“The patient may be so overwhelmed with details about their treatment plan that they are not sure of what they need or what could be helpful,” said Rev. Frech. “The typical gifts of greeting cards, flowers and balloons can be a great way to brighten a patient’s day. But offering a specific way to help or a personalized cancer care package can take the understanding, empathy and support to the next level.”
While every cancer patient’s journey is unique, many have common experiences during chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Here is a list of ways that may help boost a cancer patients’ spirit:
Simple messages: Simple text messages or emails saying “I’m thinking of you” with Bible verses or inspirational quotes may be just what the patient needs at that very moment.
Housecleaning/Laundry: Offer to come over to their house while the patient is attending a doctor’s appointment and clean their house or do their laundry.
Grocery shopping: Call or text the patient and ask what they need from the grocery store.
Childcare: If the patient has younger children, offer to baby sit or take the kids on an outing while the patient sleeps.
Transportation: Offer the patient a ride to his/her doctor’s appointment. The patient may appreciate not having to worry about traffic or the commute.
Chemo buddy: If they are feeling up to it, offer to sit with the patient during his/her chemotherapy treatment. Chatting or even praying with the patient during the visit may help take their mind off of their situation.
Pet patrol: If they have a pet, offer to take the pet for a walk or to the groomers.
Salon gift cards: For patients preparing for chemotherapy treatment, a hair salon gift card offers them the opportunity to gradually adjust to shorter hair. When their hair does fall out, frequent trims can camouflage the change and ease the transition.
Mouth aids: Chemotherapy patients might experience “metal mouth,” or a metallic taste after treatment. Citrus candies and fruits are a popular way of counteracting this common side effect. For those with often-painful dry mouth or mouth sores, over-the-counter toothpastes, oral rinses and gels may help alleviate the discomfort.
Skin care: Dry and irritated skin are common side effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Mild soaps and moisturizers are often recommended and may make thoughtful gifts. Loose-fitting clothing, such as soft pajamas or socks, may help patients with dry or irritated skin, while a monogramed or personalized blanket or stuffed animal may afford them the comforts of home during their hospital stay.
Mental stimulation: Magazines or crossword and other puzzle books are often used as a diversion from treatments or hospital stays. Books written by cancer survivors may also prove both educational and encouraging. Journals, too, are an option to encourage patients to use writing as an outlet during treatment.
File organizer: Patients often don’t think to buy organizing material, but these tools may help patients store voluminous medical records, receipts, prescriptions and other information. Pocket calendars or planners may also make it easier for patients to take notes, log symptoms and medications and track their appointments.
Rev. Frech adds that “being a support system for a cancer patient can be draining physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Therefore, it is good to have a team effort where people can take turns providing the necessary support. That way the patient and family can receive the care that they need without anyone being burned out in the process. The cancer journey can be a marathon and not generally a sprint.”
For more information, visit cancercenter.com/tulsa.
Spiritual Care during Cancer Treatment
For faith-based individuals, spiritual support can be a fundamental part of treatment at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) in Tulsa.
Nurturing your faith can help you better cope with the spiritual and emotional challenges associated with cancer. CTCA strives to provide universal spiritual support services for patients and their family members. If requested, a member of our pastoral care team will meet with patients within the first 48 hours of their first visit to the hospital.
Spiritual care can be integrated into a patient’s treatment in a variety of ways:
Individual and group prayer
Counseling by a faith representative of your choice
Weekly worship and communion services
Communication between CTCA Pastoral Care team and a family’s spiritual advisors at home
Patient and caregiver classes focused on healing, faith and life
Covers of Love – a homemade blanket or quilt given to our treating patients the first time they attend a mid-week worship service
Support with end-of-life issues and decisions
Baptisms, weddings and funerals
CTCA chaplains are also available to visit with patients before surgery to provide prayer and counsel. Caregivers and family members may also talk with them. In addition, other clinicians, including physicians and nurses, often pray with patients as part of the care they provide.
For more information, visit cancercenter.com/tulsa.