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Ask CancerCare

  • I have stage 4 cancer and after 5 years of receiving chemotherapy, I'm being told there are no more treatment options for me. Because I survived so long with a terminal diagnosis, some people in my family don't seem understand how serious this is. How can I help them understand?

    I am sorry that you have been told that there are no other options to treat your cancer. It seems that you have been on quite a journey over the last 5 years which likely took an incredible amount of courage and energy. It’s possible that your brave outlook allowed your family to think that the cancer would remain under control for a long time to come.

    It is not uncommon for people to deny the seriousness of cancer, including people with cancer as well as their loved ones. While denial is often thought of in a negative way, it can be a useful mechanism that protects us from the sometimes intense emotional pain involved with being diagnosed with cancer. Perhaps the indifference that you see in your family members has a component of denial that has protected them in some way.

    I’d recommend developing a strategy to communicate your feelings and concerns to your family. A a social worker, nurse, doctor, clergy member, or friend may help to facilitate a discussion with your family. Family members might benefit from meeting with you and one or more of these professionals to talk about your cancer as it presents currently and what the expectations are going forward. You can then begin to discuss with them what support you need.

    You may also find it helpful to share your feelings by seeking individual counseling or by joining a support group.

    The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization offers practical information for those living with serious illness.

    I hope that you have found this to be helpful, and I welcome you to talk further about your concerns with a CancerCare social worker.

  • My dad has terminal cancer and he is currently at home. He has no insurance, but Medicaid is pending. We're trying to get hospice or some support. What can I do?

    It must be a very difficult time for your family and you are to be commended in seeking out resources and support services that are available to assist your family.

    Hospice is paid for through the Medicare or Medicaid Hospice Benefit and by most private insurers. If a person does not have coverage through Medicare, Medicaid, or a private insurance company, hospice will work with the family to make sure needed services are provided. In order to receive hospice services, your father’s doctor will need to make a referral to a local hospice provider. You may also contact a local hospice to find out what steps you should take.

    The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) offers information and resources about end-of-life and hospice through its Caring Connections website. The Caregiver Resource Directory also can provide you with extensive information. We’ve created a fact sheet, Caregiving at the End of Life, that provides guidance as you care for your father.

    It’s important that you continue to follow-up with his Medicaid application, as benefits will be retroactive to the date when he applied and can be used to pay any medical bills that may be incurred during the application period. CancerCare’s fact sheet Sources of Financial Assistance, may also be helpful in finding resources.

    If you continue to have difficulties finding hospice services for your father, please call us at 1-800-813-4673 (HOPE) to speak with an oncology social worker.

  • My husband has advanced cancer, and he has severe pain in his lower back and legs. What does that mean?

    Pain is a message your body sends saying that it needs help. Let me say that although your husband may be experiencing increased pain, this does not necessarily indicate that his cancer is becoming worse. It is very important to communicate with his medical team so they can explore this further and take appropriate action to address his pain. There are various pain medications that can offer relief. Pain management works best and is most effective when there is a team effort. The more accurately you both can describe the pain to his doctor, the better his doctor will be able to help him. Rating pain on a scale from zero (no pain) to 10 (worst pain) can be an effective way of measuring and communicating levels of pain.

    To make sure he receives effective pain management:

    • Tell his doctor immediately about any pain he is experiencing. NEVER allow pain to build up over time. Pain needs to be monitored and assessed at each doctor visit.
    • Write down any questions you may have about his pain and how to manage it BEFORE you visit his doctor. And, be sure to write down the answers his doctor gives.
    • Accompany him to his appointment. Having another person there who can give him emotional support, ask questions, and remember information can help him better address and manage his pain.
    • Be specific and describe his pain in detail. Don’t assume his doctor knows how he feels. Make sure to describe in detail what his pain feels like, when it is at its worst, and when it appears to ease up, if it does.
    • Keep a pain diary or journal. Record such things as when and where the pain occurs, what makes the pain worse, what provides relief, and how the pain affects his quality of life.

    Remember, pain is what the person says it is. Your husband is the expert of his own pain and his medical team is there to work with you both.

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