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What is Your Cancer Stage and Why is it Important to Know?

 

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One of the many new terms that patients hear when receiving a cancer diagnosis is “stage”. Along with a long list of other medical terminology used by caregivers to describe cancer, the stage of cancer is used to describe the level at which the cancer has progressed. The stage of cancer will determine where the disease is located, if or where it has spread, what other parts of the body it may have affected, and the patient’s estimated survivable rate. The stage is the most credible indication of the cancer’s progression at a given period of time and is determined by patient procedures and tests such as physical examinations, imaging scans, biopsies, blood tests, surgery or other genetic testing. Even though this is extremely important information, nearly half of the patients diagnosed with cancer in the past two years are unaware of their disease’s stage.

The American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) recently released the latest edition of its cancer staging manual with new and updated staging for many types of cancer. Most cancer treatment centers started using the updated manual on January 1, 2018.

The specific stage of cancer can be determined by tests conducted prior to diagnosis or after a surgery has been performed. It can provide answers to questions concerning the size of the primary tumor, whether it has spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body and if the cancer is more or less likely to spread. The cancer’s stage will help determine the specific course of treatments, establish the likelihood of recovery, the estimated time to recovery and permit the patient to develop a roadmap for the challenges that lie ahead.

Most types of cancer have four stages:

  • Stage 0 is the stage that best describes cancer that is still located in the place it started and has not spread to nearby tissues. This stage of cancer is often highly curable, usually by removing the entire tumor with surgery.
  • Stage I cancer is usually a small cancer or tumor that has not grown deeply into nearby tissues. It also has not spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body and is often referred to as early-stage cancer.
  • Stage II and Stage III refers to larger tumors that have grown more deeply into nearby tissue and those that may have spread to the lymph nodes but not to other parts of the body.
  • Stage IV indicates that a cancer has spread to other organs or parts of the body and is sometimes called advanced or metastatic cancer.

Understanding your cancer stage will provide critical insight on your future treatment options, the time and direction of recovery and ultimately your likelihood for survival. It is important to be informed about all aspects of your disease so that you can be an active and well-informed participant in your own care.

The Importance of Taking Care of the Caregiver

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For cancer patients, receiving a diagnosis is often a time of fear, stress and trauma. The fear of the unknown, treatment processes and the disruption to life’s routines can be overwhelming. The experience is life altering, not only for the patient but also for family and close friends. For certain, life will never be the same for all involved.

While the initial focus and turmoil centers around the patient, the emotional impact on those who step up to be caregivers are too often overlooked. The dedication of time and resources to drive the patient to their frequent treatments, look in on them to monitor the therapies’ progress and extend their understanding and emotional support can be significant. Truly, no one fights cancer alone.

Being a caregiver can be very challenging. Many caregivers are close family and friends who are impacted equally by the diagnosis. The experience often creates a new role and unprecedented change for friend and family relationships. Feelings of confusion and stress accompany the changes in daily routines for all involved. Once relatively equal give and take relationships are now tipped more toward the cancer patient. Over an extended period of time this unbalanced set of emotional and physical needs can leave a caregiver feeling depressed and overwhelmed.

Educating yourself about the patient’s disease and the therapies and treatments they will be experiencing can help a caregiver cope with the challenges that lie ahead.  “I remember it was important for me to understand the kind of breast cancer my wife (Viola) had,” says Nathan Jones.  “It was triple-negative, so it was very aggressive. Because I had learned everything I could about Viola’s cancer, I understood that even though she wasn’t sick in bed or even in pain, her cancer was going to grow fast and we needed to be proactive.” Knowing and understanding is nearly always better and less stressful.

Many caregivers admit, usually in hindsight, that they took on too much. Accepting help from others and sharing feelings of being over taxed is never easy, but having someone assist with routine chores like cooking, cleaning, shopping and yardwork can relieve the pressure on a caregiver’s time, energy and feelings of inadequacy.  Focusing on your own needs, hopes, and desires can give you the strength to meet new challenges and understand conflicting feelings.

Support groups dedicated to caring for the caregiver are widely available in small group settings or online. Studies show that talking with others about what you’re dealing with is very important. It’s especially helpful when you feel overwhelmed or want to say things that you can’t say to your loved one with cancer.

Keeping a journal has been shown to help relieve negative feelings and stress. Share your journey with others who show interest.  Ken Owenson, caregiver and husband to a breast cancer patient says, “We find a lot of strength from sitting down with patients and giving them a place to vent some of their anxiety, and it also gives us a chance to clear our minds, too.  It’s not good to internalize it because that just makes it worse.”

For more information on how you can better manage your caregiver journey, contact the cancer care specialists at https://gettysburgcancercenter.com/contact-us/.

Support Groups Can Help Cancer Patients Regain Sense Of Normalcy

Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be one of the most traumatic and stressful moments of a lifetime. Often the unknown aspects of treatment and the potential outcomes can trigger strong emotional feelings of shock and anger. The sense of “why me” is often a common initial experience for many cancer victims when they are informed of their disease. The disruption of daily social patterns due to the regiment of treatments that follow diagnosis can add additional strain and stress to the patient and their immediate family members.

Daily routines, family roles and future plans will be determined by a regiment of treatments and medications that often pose additional physical symptoms and challenges to everyday living. The support of family and friends during this process is critical to help the patient regain a sense of normalcy and maintain emotional stability and can provide assistance to reduce distress that can play a critical role in determining the patient’s clinical outcome.

Formal support groups can help people with cancer feel less depressed and anxious about their disease, help them feel more hopeful and enable them to manage their emotions better. Support groups can be peer-led (facilitated by individual group members), professional-led (by trained counselors) or informational, led by doctors and professional facilitators who focus on providing disease related information. Some groups will be organized around the type of cancer, age of the patient or the stag of the disease. Some groups are also available for family members and care givers because a cancer diagnosis doesn’t only affect the patient but also their family and friends.

“Support groups can be effective in many ways,” says Claire J. Casselman, Social Work Coordinator and Complementary Therapies Clinician, University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “Meeting and talking with other people whose lives are affected by cancer can create a sense of community or commonness that helps relieve the stress of isolation that many people experience.”

For those who find the formal group setting uncomfortable or cumbersome, online support groups can offer group forums to those who live in rural areas, who are too ill to attend a meeting in person, those who are without access to transportation or patients who seek a certain amount of anonymity. Most online support groups are available 24-hours a day. When looking to the internet for a support group, a certain amount of due diligence should be exercised to verify their credibility.

Often the most effective emotional support comes from those who provide the care. As a teenager in 2015, Chandler Banko’s was diagnosed with advanced, stage 2 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. A positive and outgoing personality, Chandler found treatment and personal emotional support he needed at the Gettysburg Cancer Center in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. At Gettysburg Cancer Center, he found experienced professionals who were dedicated to treating not only the science of his disease but the personal emotional conditions that often accompany a cancer diagnosis and regiment of treatment. Chandler says of his battle with cancer, “No One Fights Alone.”