Q and A with an oncologist about life during cancer treatment

It’s important that you and your doctor continually check in about the quality of life plan and adjust it as needed.

This content is presented by HonorHealth.

How can you maintain your quality of life during cancer treatment? That’s a question being asked more frequently by patients and their care team.

During treatment, you and your family need to think about all aspects of your lives — your physical, social and psychological needs.

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Dr. Kassondra Grzankowski, a gynecologic oncology specialist at HonorHealth, has developed plans in partnership with her patients. Here’s the advice she offers her patients:

Q: How do you define a patient’s quality of life during cancer treatment?

A: Quality of life can mean different things to different people. It can be hard to quantify, even for medical researchers. I put a quality of life plan into two parts: 1. The physical symptoms that patients feel and, 2. The psychological effects, including social and spiritual dimensions, of the cancer diagnosis.

Q: What are the steps you take to help patients define their quality of life during treatment?

A: Cancer treatment is shifting. Advances in medicine and cancer therapies are leading to more diagnoses and longer survival. Now many different kinds of cancer are treated like a chronic illness, just like diabetes or hypertension. Because of that, and rightly so, the medical community is really starting to focus on what quality of life means, even in clinical trials.

It’s really important to determine your personal expectations as you undergo cancer treatment. A patient may have done a lot of research, or they may have personal experience with loved ones being treated for cancer. How will your life change? What’s the level of difficulty you’re comfortable with when it comes to treatment? Patients are very smart. They know that things aren’t going to be perfect, that it may not be easy.

Q: What specific questions guide creating the quality of life plan for a patient?

• Globally, how are you feeling? The answer to this question is going to help your doctor determine if there are any unexpected hurdles and how to help.

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• Are you feeling pain or distressing symptoms?

• How does your illness impact your ability to do your normal daily activities?

• Can you keep working? Do you want to keep working?

• How are you getting along with your family and friends?

• Do you still want to see your friends?

• Are you having other symptoms like nausea, fatigue or weakness?

• How are you coping, are you sad/worried about your illness?

• Are there any issues with finances?

• How are your family and friends helping?

• How are your religious beliefs been affected by your illness

• Do you wonder what the meaning of all this is?

It’s important that you and your family members speak up during appointments. You really want to provide a lot of information about what’s going on behind the scenes. It helps the medical team and the patient’s support system really start to understand what is important to the patient at that time. It is also important to know that this changes many times during the cancer treatment process.

Q: How are family members part of a quality of life plan?

A: Family members and friends should acknowledge that they’re allowed to grieve, too. Cancer affects the entire family dynamic. They may be the voice of the patient if the patient is too sad, too tired or too scared to speak up. Because of this they are an important part of the quality of life plan and often give insight to an issue that may never have been discussed.

We’re using cancer navigators throughout HonorHealth. A cancer navigator is part of the care team and has countless resources to help the patient through all hurdles that come with a cancer diagnosis. If the patient or a family member is struggling or has a question, they can call and get an answer and support.

Q: There’s a lot of information on the Internet about cancer treatment. How can you make sure that what you’re reading is correct?

A: Be wary of the internet. There is a lot of good information but also a lot of bad information. Don’t read horror stories on blogs and don’t panic. A lot of the information doesn’t cover the positive outcomes for patients. Ask your doctor what websites are good to look at.

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Remember, information and education are great ideas; it’s your body! It’s important, too, that you and your doctor continually check in about the quality of life plan and adjust it as needed. You can talk about different aspects of your journey like getting sick, being out of work, how your body is and will change — without taking a catastrophic view of the situation.

Q: Any other advice you have for someone developing a quality of life plan?

A: Cancer treatment does not mean that you’re confined to your bed all the time. That’s not the point of life, and that’s what a quality of life plan can help with. The point of life is to do things that enrich you as a human and uplift the people around you. It’s about making memories. It’s not about just existing; quality over quantity!

For more information about cancer care at HonorHealth click here.