At some point in our lives, most of us will become caregivers for a family member, many of us for a spouse, parent or child stricken with cancer. Family caregivers must deal with myriad medical, financial and emotional issues. As the direct line of communication to other concerned family members, family caregivers must juggle not only the needs of the patient and their own concerns but those of other family members while still managing the daily life responsibilities they have to their own families.
Despite their dedication to family members struggling with cancer, family caregivers can find the weight of responsibility, the emotional toll and the logistical juggling required to accommodate competing demands on their time and energy challenging if not overwhelming. Working with a caring cancer team of compassionate professionals, asking other family members and friends of the patient to lend a hand, joining a caregiver support group and educating yourself about what to expect and possible treatment options, including advanced alternative cancer treatments, can help ease the burden of care giving.
Below we offer advice on how to address some of the key issues family cancer caregivers face:
Minimizing pain and discomfort. Your closeness to your family members may make you more aware of the level of discomfort or pain he is feeling. Many cancer patients are also more likely to confide how they are truly feeling to a family member than to medical personnel. Your perceptions and understanding of your family member’s facial expressions and behavior patterns can provide valuable information to his cancer treatment team. Don’t be shy about sharing your observations and opinions.
One of the stalwarts of the body’s immune system may actually aid the spread of cancer cells, according to a new Canadian study. White blood cells, or leukocytes, are immune system responders that defend the body against infectious disease and foreign substances. Produced in bone marrow, five distinct types of white blood cells circulate throughout the human body, including in the blood and lymphatic systems.
One way in which white blood cells protect the body from infection is by forming defensive DNA “webs” called Neutrophils Extracellular Traps. These webs trap harmful pathogens, but scientists at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal, Canada found that they also trap cancer cells circulating in the body, causing them to activate; thereby increasing the opportunity for cancer to metastasize and spread.
Perhaps more hopeful, researchers also found that disrupting the DNA web can halt the growth and spread of cancer, offering new cancer treatment avenues to explore. The first research to discover this method of cancer metastasis, findings were published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation and could jump start new immunotherapy cancer treatments.
In an announcement, lead researcher Dr. Lorenzo Ferri, MUHC director of Thoracic Surgery and the Upper Gastrointestinal Cancer Program, said:
“Medications already exist that are being used for other non-cancer diseases, which may prevent this mechanism of cancer spread or metastasis.”
A disturbing new study has found that the majority of childhood cancer survivors who undergo chemotherapy have a high risk of developing chronic, life-threatening diseases as adults. Equally disturbing is the fact that these problems go undetected until they reach advanced stages, placing childhood cancer survivors at critical risk. The unfairness of the situation is not lost on childhood cancer survivors.
In a landmark study of more than 1,7000 adults who were patients at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, two-thirds of chemotherapy patients developed chronic, life-threatening conditions as adults. Of those long-deferred chemo side effects, 90% of heart conditions and 55% of lunch problems had gone undetected by the individuals’ healthcare providers until revealed by the study.
Researchers traced part of the problem to failure to transfer medical records between pediatricians and general practitioners as childhood cancer survivors entered their adult years.
“Survivors of childhood cancer, once they graduate from pediatric programs, they’re going into a community where medical providers are not going to be aware of their unique health risks,” Dr. Melissa Hudson, the study’s co-author told CBS News. (Click the link to watch the report by Dr. John LaPook.)
With nearly 400,000 childhood cancer survivors in the U.S. alone, these delayed side-effects of chemotherapy present a serious health threat that has many questioning the use of traditional cancer treatment methods which bludgeon the body with chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. Growing concern about the effects of chemotherapy have more people considering the advanced alternative cancer treatments offered at Issels Integrative Oncology cancer treatment centers that work to build up the body’s immune system instead of tearing it down.
Cancer researchers have been successful in using the body’s own immune system to deliver killing toxins directly to cancer cells to kill them. In what Duke Cancer Institute researches describe as “smart bomb” therapy, they have designed an antibody that binds only to certain breast cancer tumor cells, delivering its toxic payload directly into tumor cells while leaving healthy cells untouched and intact. The innovative cancer cell therapy effectively kills cancer cells from the inside out.
Lead Duke researcher, Dr. Kimberly Blackwell, director of Duke’s breast cancer program, reported at the recent annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology that the new smart bomb therapy was successful in use on patients with advanced and metastic breast cancer. Using targeted cell therapy to deliver toxins to a specific target spared patients many of the debilitating side effects typically associated with chemotherapy. (Click here for therapy specifics on Time.com.) Currently, the Duke therapy only works on HER2-positive breast tumors, but Blackwell and her team hope to expand the treatment’s effectiveness to other tumors.
Cancer cell therapy is considered one of the most promising developments in immunotherapy cancer treatments. However, Dr. Blackwell believes that targeted cancer cell therapy could prove most effective when combined with integrative immunotherapy that strengthens the entire immune system. She told Time she believes her smart bomb therapy was so effective “because we spared the immune system.” Her goal is to create immune-assisted cancer treatments that harness the power of the immune system to fight cancer without weakening that system with chemotherapy, eventually phasing out chemotherapy altogether.
“I’m convinced that my patients’ immune systems are fighting cancer as much as anything we can give them to battle the cancer,” Dr. Blackwell told Time.
For more than 60 years, Issels’ cancer treatments have pioneered the use of integrative immunotherapy and targeted cancer cell therapy to fight advanced-stage cancers with unique success.
A cancer treatment revolution could spell the end of chemotherapy and the horrific side effects it visits on cancer patients. As reported by Time magazine, two studies recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that a radically different type of anti-cancer treatment was able to achieve an astounding 83% survival rate for leukemia patients after only 2 years of treatment.
The success of the new cancer therapies could ring chemo’s death knell, an event that will not be mourned by cancer patients. Chemotherapy’s virulent side effects wreak a heavy toll on most cancer patients. Many consider the cure to be nearly as bad as the disease.
The new cancer treatments follow in the footsteps of imatinib, or Gleevec, the first mainstream cancer drug to deviate from chemotherapy’s drastic annihilation approach to cancer treatment. Following a kinder, gentler cancer treatment path, in 2001, imatinib reported similar survival rates for patients suffering from myeloid leukemia (CML) and gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST).
“I think we are definitely moving farther and farther away from chemotherapy, and more toward molecularly targeted therapy,” Dr. Martin Tallman, chief of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s leukemia service, told Time.
Unlike chemotherapy which kills both good and bad cells, evolving targeted cancer therapies take aim only at the specific pathways tumor cells need to thrive. Surrounding healthy tissues are not affected which means fewer side effects and complications for cancer patients. Standard cancer therapies are gradually moving toward the type of individually-tailored, targeted cancer therapies that Issels Integrative Oncology Centers have been offering cancer patients for decades.
Most of us think about leaving our loved ones a legacy. We want the people we love to have something tangible to remember us by when we’re gone. Cancer simply truncates the time line, compelling us to face end-of-life thoughts today rather than several decades in the future. Many cancer patients find comfort and satisfaction in creating a lasting family legacy. Focusing on the people and events that have touched your life also promotes a positive attitude that enhances the healing effects of Issels advanced alternative cancer treatments.
As we noted in our last post, family legacies can take many different forms, here is another idea:
Create a family cookbook. Collect favorite family recipes. You can include recipes from other family members, but be sure to include the recipes for all of your children’s favorite foods, even if they came from cookbooks. Your children may not know that mom’s fabulous sugar cookies came from a Betty Crocker cookbook or that the recipe for their favorite chocolate chip cookies is printed on the chocolate chip package.
And don’t forget to write down recipes for foods you whip up without thinking. That you add cinnamon and vanilla to the milk and eggs when you make French toast or that sour cream is the magic ingredient in your smooth-as-silk mashed potatoes are tricks that will allow your children to recreate for their families the favorite foods of their youth.
Consider personalizing your cookbook by adding recollections and photos. Have your cookbook printed and bound at a local copy service like Staples or Kinko’s or through an online publisher like Blurb.