Caring for Cancer Patients

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In a world where insults and criticism seem only a tweet away, compassion is more important than ever, and there is research to prove it works.

In 2014, Stanford University Center for Altruism Research and Education and a large health organization found that compassionate care helps patients recover more quickly and reduces their pain. Dr. James Doty, the author of the study, suggested it can also make common colds less severe, lead to better patient outcomes and shorten hospital stays.

Voluntary Acts of Compassion

Shortly before she died of Ewing's Sarcoma, a 27-year-old Australian woman wrote a letter thanking her family for their generosity and asking people around the world to be grateful, help each other more and complain less. Posted on Facebook, the touching request had more than 50,000 shares and 65,000 reactions within four days after her death. The letter talks about the things that mean the most at the end and suggests giving blood instead of spending money on possessions, adding that one blood donation can save up to three lives.

Blood donors are important, but there are other ways volunteers can help. The American Cancer Society, for instance, has 10,000 Road to Recovery drivers who make sure patients get to their medical appointments and treatments, but they need even more drivers to meet their needs. The list, of course, goes on. Little acts, like running errands, providing meals or just listening, can mean just as much as the big ones. Patients or their caregivers can also help others by sharing their stories, something that helps the storyteller and the listener.

Compassion and Medical Care

In a study published by the Journal of Oncology Practice, doctors discussed the role of being kind and identified six habits that improve outcomes for patients and their families:

⦁ Deep listening, or taking the time to understand their needs and concerns
⦁ Empathy for what they are experiencing
⦁ Acts of generosity that go beyond expectations
⦁ Timely care, or avoiding unnecessary waiting
⦁ Gentle honesty, or sharing the truth in a compassionate way
⦁ Support for family and caregivers

The article also explains that acts of compassion help to prevent burnout and reduce the emotional upheaval that accompanies illness.

Ways to Get Involved 

Sometimes, people want to help, but they don't know what to do. No act of compassion is ever too small, but factors like age and the kind of illness often determine what is most appropriate. Patients may not want to ask for help or even know what they need. Luckily, organizations like the Kindness Initiative and can offer support and advice. 

The internet is also a good place to brush up on information about different kinds of malignancies. While people often know about common ones like breast tumors, they may be less familiar with rare conditions like mesothelioma. Caused by exposure to asbestos, mesothelioma often occurs in military veterans, construction workers or others in toxic environments. It affects the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart, makes it difficult to breathe, and is hard to treat.

Children suffer from asbestos exposure at much lower rates than adults, but they are more likely to have diseases like childhood leukemia. Websites like this one for children, with a homepage titled "We Prescribe Joy," shares programs, resources and suggestions for making the lives of sick children better. The American Childhood Cancer Association also offers a chance for people to get involved in their organization, but there is no substitute for simply offering a kind word or helping hand when a child is sick. 

Gift Suggestions for Patients

Visits and kind words are always welcome, but sometimes people want to give a tangible expression of their concern. The Cancer Treatment Centers of America offers these suggestions:

• A “security” blanket
• A pillow to support a chemo port
• Comfortable lounging clothes
• A silk eye mask for sleeping
• A stuffed animal for children
• A small thermos for drinks
• A gift card for take-out, online shopping or other services
• A small laptop, tablet or Kindle with downloads for books, music and meditations
• Headphones
• Books, including journals, coloring or stories of inspiration
• Beanie or scarf after chemo
• Warm socks, or compression socks to prevent swelling
• A tote bag with a chemo care kit 
• A gift certificate for a service like cleaning the house or ride to appointments

Offering assistance is a good idea, but people may be hesitant to ask for it. Making a master list with all the names, phone numbers and offers lets the patient know what people feel comfortable doing and how to reach them when help is needed.

The Dalai Lama said it this way: "This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness."

Post by Kimberly Reynolds

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