By Wendy Griffith, social work counselor
Many Americans are beginning to talk about their medical care wishes. This process of making decisions about your future health care is called advance care planning.
Some people avoid advance care planning because they think it's just for the sick or elderly. But that couldn't be further from the truth. Advance care planning is for everyone!
Many people also avoid discussing advance care planning with their loved ones because they're afraid of upsetting them. But most patients and loved ones actually report feeling a sense of relief after they've completed advance care planning.
Today, in honor of National Healthcare Decisions Day, we're encouraging our cancer patients, survivors, and their families to start the advance care planning process. To help you begin, here are answers to some common questions about advance care planning.
What is advance care planning?
Advance care planning is the process of communicating information about a patient's diagnosis, treatment options, life goals, values and wishes. It involves the patient, loved ones, and health care providers. Advance care planning is also more than a one-time event. It will probably involve ongoing conversations. Having these conversations ensures that the patient's preferences are known by the health care team and incorporated into current and future health care plans.
Recently in Support Category
By Wendy Griffith, social work counselor
By Ryan Stephens
As if the cancer journey isn't tough enough, imagine being a single parent to a 15-year-old daughter.
That was the case for Constance Charles when her doctor confirmed the cluster of lumps she'd felt around her right breast was breast cancer - stage 2 noninvasive intraductal carcinoma. She had no history of cancer in her family, so the diagnosis was a complete surprise.
Constance was afraid to tell her daughter, Briahna, because she didn't want to think about her having to face the world alone. It had always just the two of them together in Texas. Their closest family members lived in Kansas.
When she finally worked up the courage and broke the news, Briahna asked, "Are you going to die, Mom?"
More than 12 years later, Constance is proud to call herself a cancer survivor and an MD Anderson employee. Constance always tells single parents - or anyone facing cancer - that faith, family and friends are what helped her and Briahna get to this point.
Advice for single parents facing cancer
Here's Constance's advice for single parents facing cancer:
By Amanda Swennes
Working as a patient services representative at MD Anderson is a little like doing a puzzle. But there's a catch: new pieces keep appearing, some disappear, and sometimes you get handed several identical pieces.
That's what our 15 full-time and three part-time patient services representatives face each day. Their puzzle is MD Anderson's 667 inpatient beds. The pieces are patients who need to be admitted.
Behind the scenes at MD Anderson
At MD Anderson, there's a lot of collaborating and puzzle-piecing that goes on behind the scenes. It often happens before a patient ever gets here.
First, a bed has to be available. And not just any bed. If a patient requires rehab or needs specialized care and accommodations for, say, a stem cell transplant, then that patient must be assigned to a bed on a floor with specialized clinical staff and equipment.
Patient services representatives have to keep constant tabs on all the patients in the hospital and know which beds are available where. They also need to know what type of diagnosis or treatment a patient has been given so they can assign the right bed.
Stacy Sugg had just taken some time away from her job as a teacher to spend more time with her children and her husband. But just a few months later -- on her 16th wedding anniversary -- she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
"It was not exactly the gift I was expecting," Stacy says.
To calm her fears, Stacy scheduled an appointment at MD Anderson in the Nellie B. Connally Breast Center's Multi Team Clinic in Houston, not far from her Conroe home.
Coming to MD Anderson for breast cancer treatment and a mastectomy
During her first appointment, Stacy and her husband met with all her doctors, including her surgeon, her oncologist and her radiation oncologist. They made a plan for her breast cancer treatment.
"As someone who's just been diagnosed with cancer, all you want is to know what you need to do next," she says. "We left with smiles on our faces. We had a plan, and we knew that our doctors were all on the same page. It was a very comforting feeling."
By Kate Boone
When I was younger, calling in "sick" was typically code for "sleepy," "found something better to do" or "didn't really feel like it."
But when I was diagnosed with stage four melanoma in June 2014, I knew I'd have to take a lot of sick days because I was actually sick or trying to prevent feeling even worse. Thankfully, I've gotten by with help from my coworkers.
Coping with chemo side effects
My melanoma treatment called for oral chemotherapy. I'd take five pills a day for three months. I thought it'd be like taking aspirin with few side effects, and I would just be rid of my cancer. Easy, right?
By Matt Madsen
Ever since my wife's large cell neuroendocrine cervical cancer diagnosis, I have felt less known as "Matt" and more known as "Stephanie's husband." I never felt that I had a story to tell. After all, what could I possibly have to say when I wasn't the one fighting cancer?
Coping with my wife's diagnosis
Being the spouse of someone with cancer is hard. As a husband, all I want to do is fix the problem. However, cancer is a problem I can't fix. I can support Stephanie in the best ways I know how. I can be there for her, encourage her and just hang out with her.
But none of those things make the disease leave her body. Since I couldn't do anything to make the cancer go away, I found myself feeling helpless and worthless. And it showed. It showed in my career, and it showed in my relationships with others.
By Amanda Swennes
Our program that connects cancer patients, caregivers and survivors through one-on-one support has a new name. But the mission and motto remain the same: "Sometimes the best help comes from someone who's been there."
Formerly known as Anderson Network, a program of volunteer services, myCancerConnection pairs cancer patients, survivors and caregivers with trained volunteers who've had the same or similar diagnosis, treatment or experience. This one-on-one support program gives cancer patients someone to talk to throughout their cancer journey.
We recently asked a few myCancerConnection volunteers why our one-on-one program is important to them. Here's what they said.
myCancerConnection brings cancer patients hope and understanding.
"I signed up to volunteer because I was so grateful for the individuals that spoke to me upon my diagnosis. It was so comforting to talk with someone who had been through it. It helped dissipate the fear. I love that someone can call myCancerConnection and get matched by diagnosis. I never know exactly what someone wants to hear or where they are with what they are going through. But I always find it's hope and understanding that become the common ground." -- Lou Russell, colon cancer survivor
Talking to others gave me strength and hope.
"Just knowing there was someone to talk to that knew exactly what I was going through gave me that extra strength and hope I needed to get through the rough times. I will always be thankful for MD Anderson's staff and that one volunteer who took the time to reach out to me." -- Stacie Strebeck, breast cancer survivor
By Pamela J. Schlembach, M.D.
"I just want a good night's sleep, doctor." This is something I hear very frequently from my cancer patients on our weekly visits.
Insomnia is common in cancer patients as well as the general population. Chronic lack of sleep can lead to a host of medical problems, including chronic fatigue, depression, obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
Insomnia can be caused by a number of medical conditions, medications, stress, lifestyle and diet. Before assuming all sleep issues are due to medical conditions alone, I frequently run through the following healthy sleep hygiene list with my patients. Many make some of these adjustments, and their sleeping problems vanish.
By Rita Avila
When I was rediagnosed with tongue cancer at age 23, I had to deal with a lot of things most people my age had never considered. But whenever people suggested that I do advance care planning and complete a living will, I almost laughed. I wasn't even old enough to rent a car.
I kept putting it off. But as the date of my tongue cancer surgery crept closer, I decided I didn't want to leave my parents with any questions. It was time to complete the advance care planning forms.
Starting the advance care planning process
I started by emailing my social work counselor at MD Anderson. She gave me some paperwork and told me I could complete them during my upcoming visit to MD Anderson.
A few days later, I told my dad I wanted to add him to my checking and savings accounts. He looked at me like I'd grown two heads. As I expected, he asked why. My response was simple: "Because if anything happens to me, I want you to be able to access my money and pay off any bills in my name," I knew he would take it the best of anyone in my family. What daddy wants to cry in front of his little girl?
A couple weeks later, my dad and I returned to MD Anderson. During the trip, our social work counselor gave my dad my blank Living Will and Medical Power of Attorney forms. These legally binding documents would state my wishes about who would make decisions for me and what types of decisions would be made if I couldn't make them myself.
Undergoing surgery soon, or know someone who is? You may have questions about general anesthesia, which is typically used when patients undergo surgery.
General anesthesia is used to keep you comfortable and still during a surgery or procedure.
We recently spoke with Katherine Hagan, M.D., assistant professor in Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, to learn more. Here's what she had to say.
What do patients need to do to prepare for general anesthesia?
At MD Anderson, all inpatients see a physician assistant or anesthesia provider before surgery. Outpatients see an anesthesiologist, physician assistant, or registered nurse in the Anesthesia Assessment Center. For a small number of outpatient procedures, such as routine colonoscopies or endoscopies in patients without recent medical problems, we may just do a phone interview.
By Eric Tidline, social work counselor
Coping with cancer isn't easy. So, how do you build the mental strength to cope with everything you're facing? Mindfulness is one thing that may help.
How mindfulness helps
Mindfulness allows us to step outside of our own minds and observe how we think about things. Over time, those who practice mindfulness learn to become less attached to their own thoughts, perceptions and beliefs. People begin to take actions based on the true nature of people and events, rather than how they wish or hope them to be.
By focusing on the details of our experiences, we are better able to understand what is happening in each moment. This new understanding will allow you to spot and avoid negative reactions. Mindfulness also better enables us to see the many ways we can positively respond to our situations. This helps us achieve inner peace and balance.
Studies show that patients who practice mindfulness begin to feel better despite their medical problems. Physical symptoms don't necessarily go away, but that's not the aim of mindfulness. Rather, the goal is to help you find a different perspective and a new way of coping with your illness.
What is mindfulness? And how do I do it?
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on your thoughts, emotions and feelings in the present moment with acceptance and without judgement.
It is one simple coping technique that's been found to reduce stress, boost energy and improve well-being.
While it may sound complicated, mindfulness practices are simple. One easy way to stay mindful is to focus on your breath.
Whether you have an upcoming CT scan or are expecting news from your doctor, waiting can cause anxiety, worry and stress. You might have trouble sleeping or feel impatient with your loved ones. All of this is completely normal. Here at MD Anderson, we call that scanxiety.
The good news is there are many ways to deal with scanxiety. To help make the waiting game a little easier, we asked our Facebook community how they cope with the stress or anxiety before an important scan or appointment. Here's what they had to say:
- Pray. Many of our patients and caregivers said they found comfort in prayer. Because they feel a loss of control, praying allows them do what they can and then let go of those anxious feelings.
- Have faith and confidence in your care team. Know that our doctors and the rest of your care team will take care of everything. That's their job.
- Listen to your favorite music. Whether you're in the waiting room, in your car or at home or work, music can help you escape from the realities of cancer, or find the strength and determination to face them head-on.
- Find humor. Nothing eases tension like laughter.
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- 4 questions about advance care planning, answered
- A survivor's advice for single parents facing cancer
- How patient services representatives help our patients
- Houston breast cancer survivor: 'You don't have to be brave and strong all the time'
- How my coworkers helped me through chemo
- Finding my identity as a cancer spouse
- Helping cancer patients with one-on-one support
- How to cope with insomnia during cancer treatment
- Why I did advance care planning at age 23
- What to know about general anesthesia
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