Recently, while indulging my Netflix addiction, I was watching a television series from the 1990s. Back then, the police officers carried pagers. An episode of Seinfeld features the four friends trying in vain to meet up at a restaurant, and being unable to finalize plans because someone was monopolizing the pay phone. How times have changed.
The changes in cancer care are happening just as quickly. The difference is that the general public still perceives cancer based on the relative they had who died from it 20 or 30 years ago.
Cancer is still a terrible disease. But the advances made in treatment, diagnosis, and symptom management have certainly changed the picture. Unfortunately, unlike cellphones and computers, not everyone has firsthand experience with improved cancer care. Most people are basing their ideas on past experience.
For example, my father lost his grandmother to cancer when he was seven years old. That was nearly 50 years ago, and his concept of cancer remains 50 years old. He believes that cancer means lying in your bed, screaming in pain until you die. You donít go to the hospital, because there isnít anything more that can be done. I canít change that concept for him, because while Iíve seen how much cancer care has improved, he hasnít.
To those who donít understand what options are available, the new modern world of cancer care is surprising. They donít believe there are quality solutions to their symptoms. We need to be proactive when it comes to identifying the problems, and proposing the solutions. We canít leave it to them to propose solutions that they donít even know exist.
To take some of the mystery out of when to call and what to do, I personally find the free book from the American Cancer Society entitled Caring for the Cancer Patient at Home to be very helpful. It has practical advice for self management, along with when to call your doctor, for nearly every imaginable symptom.
We also routinely give our patients magnets with ďcall your doctor if...Ē and the symptoms and the phone number. We also reassure our patients that oncologists want to be called for symptom control issues because you can only tolerate your treatment if these symptoms are controlled. CancerCare creates a very simple fact sheets for patients, which can be ordered in packets of 50 for free.
If you, like me, sometimes struggle to find the right teaching tool at the right price (free) for your institution, you might have to create your own educational materials. A helpful tool is the National Institute on Aging Health and Aging publication series. One article in particular offers very practical suggestions regarding how to design printed health materials to better meet the older adults' educational needs.
Nothing will make the cancer experience easy, but thanks to modern technology, it is easier than it has ever been before. As medical professionals, we are ideally situated to help bring our patients' expectations regarding their cancer treatment into the modern world.