By Carole Campbell
There’s a storm on the horizon. How should I prepare? Shop for extra food, water, batteries? Stow patio furniture and other items that could get tossed about by high winds? Do everything to weather the storm as safely and as comfortably as possible? Then relax and feel at peace about the impending storm? Well … maybe.
If you’re a patient with an incurable cancer, your treatment plan might look like this: wait/watch/treat/repeat – over and over for the rest of your life. Chemotherapy is your storm. You know it’s coming. You may even think you know what to expect. You do everything possible to feel safe from the impending, unpredictable storm.
But, the risks and aftermath of a chemo storm differ than those of a hurricane or rain storm. They may include fatigue, nausea, hot flashes or chills, memory loss, deep depression and absolutely no energy or appetite.
What Works for You?
So, how on Earth can you prepare to weather this kind of storm? How can you feel peaceful and secure when you aren’t sure when the storm will hit or what combination of side effects it’ll bring?
For me, extreme fatigue, loss of appetite, decreased mental capability and depression are the side effects I need to prepare for – and soften, if possible. My goals are comfort and patience during the storm. So, I prepare by having nourishing comfort food on hand, organizing my environment to make it as pleasant as possible, having simple creative projects ready to work on and being tender with myself.
What will give me comfort in this uncomfortable time? Home canned peaches, knitting and weaving projects and home management tasks as up to date as possible. These are my insurance against the impending storm. With my storm preparations complete, I am able to relax and live life the very best way I can until I need to raid my “pantry” of ammunition against chemo side effects (which will ultimately bombard my well-being). Knowing I’m prepared makes my life as peaceful as possible given the continuing battle.
Fitting in with Others Weathering a Storm
Another significant source of preparation and comfort is my cancer support group provided by Providence Health & Services. The group is led by professional staff members who are positive, uplifting and highly qualified. The number of group participants is limited to best serve the mission – which is support.
I can’t possibly measure the benefit I derive from each meeting. I now feel I “fit in” to the general population, instead of feeling “set aside” as a cancer patient. They showed me I am much more than my cancer and that my life MATTERS. Even in the midst of the most intense storms, I’ve learned to be grateful for life and every day I’m given.
Local Support Groups
Looking for a cancer support group in your area? Talk to your cancer care team or follow the local links below.
In 2002, Carole Campbell was 69, enjoying retirement and her home in Tacoma. She’d been vigilant about having an annual mammogram, but was diagnosed with breast cancer – which had spread to her ancillary lymph glands. She had surgery, months of chemotherapy, weeks of radiation, a severe case of shingles and was prepared for years of anti-cancer drug therapy. In 2011, at age 79, after never regaining her well-being, she was diagnosed with incurable chronic lymphocytic leukemia and was “on the ragged edge.” She spent a month in the hospital and had months of outpatient treatment to get the cancer under control. Remission lasted about a year and then she entered active treatment again. Her last chemo treatment was in August of 2013. She’ll soon have additional tests to reveal if she needs additional treatment.
She said: “The Providence Integrative Cancer Center has made this a very reassuring, caring journey. I feel whole again. I am looking forward to my 82nd birthday in December, but I feel ageless in enthusiasm for life and zest for learning.”