THE PERCIEVED IMPACT OF SUPPLEMENTAL TREATMENT FOR CANCER PATIENTS
When I began my research this summer, I had this idea of how it was going to go. Needless to say, the process somewhat felt like one of those HGTV shows where stuff keeps going wrong. But ultimately, just like in one of those shows we got something beautiful out of it, and I’m so excited and proud to show off our work.
When we first got accepted into the program we made schedules of when we wanted things to be done and how we were going to do it, but we forgot to take into consideration that we would have to go through the internal review board prior to beginning our interviews and truly conducting research. So, we started out by completing a CITI program that talked about ethics and conducting research. We also gathered basic information on cancer, so we could quickly choose our topics and make interview questions to get started with the process. Once we submitted the questions there was about a one month gap.
We ultimately decided to choose the subtopics “Healthy Living: Diet/Exercise”, “Mindfulness/Yoga/Positive Thinking”, “Support Systems”, and “Spirituality”, and divided them between the two of us. I ended up being in charge of healthy living and support systems. I was fortunate enough to have a study abroad experience that focused on oncology, and these two topics were discussed frequently. The course helped show me how to research these topics in literary searches, as well as give me the knowledge of primary cancer treatments. So, when I did my research I looked for articles within the past ten years, and used Pubmed and Google Scholar as data bases to ensure I was getting information from reputable sources. I didn’t realize originally how important the wording of your searches are in getting the specific content you are looking for. For instance when I was looking up information on the impact of exercise on cancer patients, I learned I really had to search “exercise and cancer” or I had to search “exercise and cancer treatments”. After changing my wordings about a billion times I finally came up with enough articles. I then had to go through and figure out which articles really were best for what I was trying to prove.
Once we got the go ahead to carry out our interviews, I was actually in the Netherlands on my study abroad program, so I had to adjust my original plan and use email to interview the cancer survivors I had asked to participate before I had left. That was a challenge because I was hoping to create more of a conversation than a question and answer type of environment. I also had to be very specific in the instructions I gave to them. I made it clear that they could remain anonymous if they chose and sent them consent forms as well. I also told them they only had to answer questions they felt comfortable with and felt related to their individual treatment. The thing I learned about cancer care is that every patient is different. Treatments are very individualized, and people choose different types of treatments whether they be primary or supplemental. In the end I was very thankful because the two survivors I interviewed were very open and honest in their responses and were very passionate on the topic itself.
After I finally had all of my research together, I put together outlines of what I wanted to say and how I wanted to tell their stories along with the research I had done on my own. It was important to me that I portrayed their ideas in the correct way. I then got to have some fun by writing the blog posts and putting together a format that allowed me to get creative in how I displayed the information. Brina and I both agreed that we wanted our blogs to be simple, and informative so people were able to understand what we had found. We are so excited to make our Facebook page go live in September so we can share our information we have learned as long as resources so people are aware of supplemental treatments.
Our research showed just how important supplemental treatments are in cancer care. They don’t necessarily cure cancer, but they help create a better prognosis for cancer patients, and help create a more individualized approach to treatments. Also, cancer treatments like radiotherapy, chemotherapy, etc. are known for having many side effects, and I know specifically in my healthy living blog I talked a lot about how they can help patients manage their side effects like fatigue and nausea. My professors this summer also emphasized the healthier a patient is going into a cancer treatment, usually helps the outcome in the end. The survivors I talked to also mentioned that because of their cancer they decided to continue that healthy lifestyle after their treatments were over and they were cancer free.
I’ve never had cancer, so I can only imagine the way people feel when they’re diagnosed, then going through treatment, and even after treatment, but I did learn the importance of having a good support system. Each individual classifies their support system differently. Maybe that support system is your family, or fellow cancer patients, or even friends or religious groups. Having that community and support help patients come to terms with how they’re feeling and even just express what they’re going through. Kathleen, one of the survivors I interviewed explained that she never went alone to chemo. “When I started to lose my hair my son shaved my head and his in solidarity. We tried to make it as fun as possible. My family (sisters and cousins) helped do laundry and help keep my house in order. Friends from the town and work sent dinner over almost every night. My kids’ friends’ moms helped with dropping them off to activities. It took a village”. She said with all of that help she was able to keep her life in order and fight cancer. This way she wasn’t living in chaos. Sometimes people need a little extra help.
Overall, I am thankful that I was given this experience. I believe it will help me become a better nurse and focus on patients’ wishes and what they want from their treatment. I’ve heard too many stories of how cancer treatments are becoming too generalized and I want to help ensure my patients are deciding how they want their treatments to be carried out. When I asked the two survivors what their advice would be to new cancer patients in terms of supplemental treatments, and Patty responded “Go for it. Complimentary therapies are just as important as traditional therapies!!! When used in conjunction with each other one is giving themselves the gift of better odds.” This idea, the gift of better odds, is so powerful.
I think both Brina and I have had an incredible experience through this program and were able to put together a page that can be available to everyone. If we are able to reach just one person and make a difference in their lives, I feel that we will have accomplished absolute success. But I think looking back at how much we’ve done this summer, and how much we’ve learned we are proud of how it all came together. It was definitely challenging at times, but we were able to adjust and get through it together and with the help of Dr. Maxam who we are so thankful to have as our faculty in this program.