7 things you should know about cancer, according to an oncology nurse
1. Cancer is a challenge. And that’s the most important thing I want newly diagnosed patients to know – you will get through it. The difference between coming in for your first chemotherapy treatment vs. going to follow-up treatments is often dramatic. I have sat at many bedsides reassuring my patients that they will get their treatment and feel no differently than they did a day before.
2. Do patients have side effects? Definitely, and probably 85 percent of my patients complain of being tired, which is totally normal. They will usually have one down day with each treatment, when they will just putz around the house and sleep more than normal.
3. Good nutrition is an important factor. The patient who can maintain a well-balanced diet will overall have more success at fighting their cancer. Some chemotherapy can cause taste alteration, so it will be a “taste and see” experience as to what will work for you. We recommend eating six smaller meals throughout the day rather than three larger meals. Exercise and activity are also very important.
4. Cancer can be a full-time job. But I have patients who continue to work, which amazes me. A patient could be coming in every three weeks for chemotherapy with Neulasta (bone marrow stimulant) given the next day and follow-up labs as well as doctor appointments. But I don’t want the tired feeling to detour people from activity; even if he or she is not working, walk around the block or at the mall (with a mask on, please!)
5. In oncology, we have the “little is a lot” principle. Normally, if a person had a “little sore throat” or a “little cough,” they would wait a day or two to see if it improves. With a cancer patient, a little of anything requires calling the doctor right away, as a cancer patients’ immune system is compromised and cannot easily fight off any infection, so early intervention means better outcomes.
But don’t worry – we call our wonderful oncology doctors at all times throughout the day and night, and they “love“ to talk to nurses. In all seriousness, I rarely know of an oncology physician being upset by these calls.
6. There is a saying, “There are no atheists in foxholes,” meaning, at different times in our life, we really need our faith. Some people with cancer will get mad at God, but it’s not God’s doing. Bad things happen to good people all the time. I recently lost three really wonderful family members at an early age from cancer. We need our family and faith to sustain us during difficult times. I have seen the power of both family and faith do amazing things.
7. Cancer is a difficult and complex diagnosis, but with new exciting treatments like immunotherapy and monoclonal antibodies, we are seeing better outcomes every day. Talk to your family and friends about cancer screening, and most importantly, if you have a history of cancer in your family, find out what you need to do to keep yourself healthy and cancer free.
Diana Kuzlik is an oncology nurse at Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest, Ill.
About the Author
With more than 20 years of experience as an oncology nurse at Advocate South Suburban Hospital, Diana Kuzlik is known for going above and beyond to provide the best holistic care for her patients and their families. She regularly works in the community outside of work, has authored two children’s books, donates blankets, prayer shawls, caps and scarves for oncology patients, stuffs stockings around the holidays and makes sure every oncology patient who passes away has a sympathy card sent to their family.