A cancer diagnosis is a traumatic event that more than 1.6 million Americans experience each year. While survival rates continue to improve – up by 19 percent between 2001-2007 according to a 2011 Centers for Disease Control study – cancer exacts a toll on patients and their families that goes beyond the disease itself. Even for those with insurance, nearly a quarter of all cancer patients will exhaust their savings during treatment. Eleven percent of cancer patients are unable to afford basic necessities as a result of treatment costs. These realities fall heavily on a population that is already struggling against the physical impacts of the disease and its treatment – pain, nausea, dizziness, exhaustion and more – and with feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Friends and family are often quick to reach out and ask “What can I do to help?” While family and friends can’t trade places with their loved one, they can provide basic items to assist in the comfort and care of the patient.
Fortunately, programs that address the basic desire for comfort during treatment are becoming more available. Giving Comfort, a program of the McKesson Foundation, provides kits of basic need items, free of charge, to low-income cancer patients throughout the country at the time they need them the most. While many of the items are ordinary, everyday objects – sleep caps, playing cards, toiletries, fleece lap blankets, gripper socks, puzzle books, coloring kits and stuffed animals and more – research shows that even such seemingly small gestures can help patients better endure rigorous treatment regimes and can lift spirits by reminding patients and their families that someone cares. Find out more about the Giving Comfort program and what you can do to help by visiting the McKesson Foundation page.
Additionally, websites like CaringBridge allow patients and their family member to personalize pages in order to share news, set up meal delivery schedules and coordinate donations. Organizations such as the American Cancer Society suggest local support groups as a way for patients and their families to connect with other people in similar situations. Approaches like these allow for communication between patients and their support networks to run smoothly.
Even so, there often remains an unmet need for assistance with even the basics that contribute to improved mental well-being. The American Cancer Society details approaches to making cancer treatment comfortable through various types of complementary or alternative medicine. For example, humor therapy is often used as a complementary treatment method to promote good mental health and relieve physical pain. Acupuncture, an alternative medicine where thin needles are gently put into the body, has been proven to relieve some of types of nausea and mild pain. These alternative medicines can reduce stress and enhance a patient’s quality of life during treatment.
Each patient undergoing treatment has a different idea of what matters most to them in terms of support. It is important that caregivers ask and tailor their support to the specific needs of the patient, while also creating a positive environment that keeps spirits high.