Dealing with Stuff
Things your friend may experience when they are diagnosed with cancer
There will be a million things running through their head.
A cancer diagnosis brings uncertainty, which amplifies all those feelings.
While you may never fully comprehend their feelings this section will help you to gain a small insight.
Unfortunately to go with the fact that your friend has cancer they also have to be in and out of hospitals getting tests and treatments done over and over again.
To make it worse a lot of the tests and treatments aren’t very pleasant and there are some side effects that your friend might experience, both short-term and long-term.
Keep these effects in mind when you visit or talk to your friend. They may affect the way they interact with you. Try not to take it personally.
Here’s a list of short-term side effects that your friend might experience. Being aware of these side-effects will reduce any surprise you might have when you get to see them.
- Cognitive Changes - Problems with thinking, memory and behaviour. This will improve with time.
- Feeling Tired - Feeling tired is one of the most common side effects of chemotherapy. You’re friend might suddenly feel tired and rubbish and the only thing that will help will be getting some rest.
- Hair Loss - Some treatments will stop your friend’s hair being produced. It’s the most obvious side effect, but their hair will grow back once their treatment finishes.
- Mouth and Swallowing Problems - Some people experience a sore mouth or problems swallowing food. This could mean that your friend may only feel comfortable eating certain foods, generally soft, smooth, creamy foods.
- Nausea and Vomiting - Not every patient will feel sick during their treatment, but lots do. Nausea will normally occur within a couple of hours of receiving chemotherapy and can last for a few hours.
- Weight Gain or Loss - Certain cancer treatments can have different effects on a patient’s weight. Weight loss can come about if a treatment causes loss of appetite, nausea or diarrhoea. Weight gain can occur due to some treatments and/or drugs (such as steroids) increasing your appetite, causing the body to retain water or store fat more easily.
Here’s a list of long-term side effects that your friend may or may not experience. The type of long-term effects will vary depending on the type and location of cancer and the type of treatments your friend will receive.
- Emotional Issues - Having cancer will have a huge emotional effect on your friend. Young people living with cancer may experience poor self-esteem, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety and difficulties adjusting to adulthood. Patients who have physical disabilities and scars can be more profoundly affected by these issues.
- Graft Vs Host Disease (GVHD) - When people receive stem cells from a donor the new cells (graft) can react against their tissues (host). It is basically the donor’s immune system attacking the patient’s body. There are drugs to control this and usually the effects are mild.
- Hearing Loss - Some treatments can affect the inner ear, resulting in temporary or permanent hearing loss, dizziness or ringing in the ears (tinnitus).
- Heart Problems - Some treatments and drugs can have effects on the heart. This can involve some damage to the heart or an alteration to the heartbeat.
- Loss of a Limb - The surgery to treat some cancer may involve the amputation of one or several limbs (e.g. arms, legs, fingers etc.); this is the absolute last option for cancer treatment. Losing a limb will have a life-long effect on your friend and requires them to adjust to a whole new self-image and lifestyle.
- Lung Problems - Chemotherapy and radiotherapy can sometimes damage the lungs. This may involve breathlessness due to scarring of the lung tissue.
- Fertility - Sometimes treatments can affect a patient’s fertility (their ability to have children), this can happen to both males and females.
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