Saudi Arabia – War Against Cancer – It Takes a Team

This blog posting is dedicated to my late husband, Abdullah Othman Al-Ajroush, who lost his valiant fight against cancer on 08 February 2010.

First of all, I apologize for my absence from the blog.  It’s been a combination of things that have kept me from blogging for the past week!  I owe a huge debt of gratitude to two very special individuals for keeping American Bedu going during this time and for knowing they will continue to be available.

My ongoing radiation treatments kept me down some of the time.  I’ve completed two weeks of radiation with one more week to go.  According to my radiology oncologist I am exactly where he expected me to be at this point as far as some relief from the cancer pain (YAY) but also with radiation related side effects (BOO).  The radiation treatments have not only tired me out more easily but the related side effects have had an impact on my ability to spend hands on time with my computer.

After radiation is completed I’ll begin the next phase of the War Against Cancer plan which will include going back to more aggressive chemotherapy.  I’ve realized that since my journey with cancer began back in Riyadh in 2008 I’ve shared much of my story but had not focused as much on how cancer is a team battle.

Let’s start with identifying the key players:

1.  The Patient

2. The Caregiver(s)

3. The Oncologist(s)

4. The Nurses

  The Patient:  The patient is the key warrior and the support team which surrounds the patient can have a significant impact on the outcome of the War Against Cancer.  It’s true – Attitude counts and makes a difference.  A cancer patient must have a positive attitude and a fighting attitude.  This is a time where any passiveness must be cast aside.  Knowledge is empowerment and a key element of any battle.  The patient should not be shy to ask questions, conduct research and be informed.  This advice is perhaps contradictory to the Saudi approach towards cancer which is to place all decisions and matters in the hand of the doctor.

Some basic tips I offer out to a cancer patient based on my own experience are:

-jot down questions about treatment and/or symptoms as they occur for future discussion with the physician.

-keep a log of activities which includes daily meals, bodily functions, meds taken, moods and symptoms and/or side effects.  Such a log can assist in determining patterns.  For example, if a cancer patient is undergoing chemotherapy treatments, the log can help predict which days are “up” days and which days are “down” days after treatments.

-chemotherapy typically results in “metal” mouth where the mouth and anything put into it has a “metallic” taste.  Towards lessening the metal mouth effect, use plastic rather than silver cutlery.

-food and drinks will taste differently during cancer treatment.  Many times drinks such as fruit juices or sodas will taste “too strong.”  Watering down fruit juices or mixing some sodas with fruit juices will make drinks more palatable.

-Keep hydrated.  During chemotherapy and radiation therapy it is essential to keep the body from becoming dehydrated.  Even if drinking a beverage is not appealing, do it.  Hydration helps flush the treatment through the body and makes it easier for the body to sustain the effect of treatment.  If needed, set an alarm to remember to drink no less than once an hour.  I like to carry a bottle of water at all times.  If water tastes funny to me due to treatment, I will flavor the water with sugar free powdered flavorings or mix the water with blueberry juice.

-Listen to your body!  The body speaks if we are willing to open up our ears and listen.  If the body says rest, do it!  If the body says something is not right, adhere the warning and let the doctor know.

-Set both short term and long term goals.  Cancer and cancer treatment can be a rough journey.  Have a long term motivation to keep fighting the battle.  I want to see my grandchildren grow up into young men.  Short term goals are important too such as attending a special function, making a trip or simply having an ‘end of chemo’ party.

The Caregiver(s):  The Caregivers are hero’s.  They are the ones who devote themselves to caring and watching over the patient.  When a patient is in the midst of an aggressive treatment the caregiver is the one who ensures the patients follows doctors instructions, administers medications (when the patient is not hospitalized), prepares meals and encourages the patient to eat, keeps the patient motivated and acts as a gatekeeper on behalf of the patient.  The role of a caregiver can not be emphasized enough.  A caregiver makes a significant impact on how the patient fights the War Against Cancer.

It’s not easy being a caregiver.  In most cases the caregivers are the ones closest to the patient and know the patient better than anyone else.  It tears at a caregivers heart to see the loved one in a battle for life and not be able to “fix” the cancer or ease all suffering such as intrusive side effects.  The caregivers may have their patience and endurance tested.  Life as previously known changes in dramatic ways and revolves around the patient, hospitalizations, doctor visits and medications.  Foods may need to be prepared differently.  Sheets may need to be changed daily (or more often). Caregivers begin to understand medical jargon to which there had been no previous exposure or interest to learn.

A caregiver needs to remember that in order to be a good caregiver is to also remember and take out time for “me time.”  Even a caregiver needs to recharge batteries and have times of “normalization.”  Not doing so can result in “caregiver burnout.”

The Oncologist:  The oncologist should be compassionate and understanding.  The oncologist should be patient and listen to the fears and needs of the patient.  The oncologist should encourage questions and want the patient and caregiver to understand diagnosis, treatments and medications.  A patient should not accept an oncologist with whom there is no rapport.  It goes without saying that the oncologist should be knowledgeable about the cancer being treated. An oncologist should offer options which include clinical trials if the diagnosis warrants.

The Nurses:  The nurses are the individuals who spend more time with the patients when admitted to the hospital and receiving treatments.  Any nurse working for an oncologist or with cancer patients should be an oncology nurse who has specialized and received specific training for the caring of cancer patients.  Experienced nurses know how to read the unspoken emotions and fears on a cancer patient or caregivers face.  Nurses can offer one of the biggest bonds and forms of support.  The nurse can share on ways to make a cancer patient more comfortable simply in ways of readjusting a pillow or how to place a heated blanket over an arm to make it easier to draw blood in addition to many more ways.  The nurses are the ones who make the judgment calls in the middle of a night whether a doctor needs to be consulted or may come silently into a patient’s room and while checking on the patient, place an extra blanket over the caregiver who finally drifted off to sleep. 

The patient, caregiver, oncologist and nurse all form a bond as a team in the War Against Cancer.  It is important that emotional and psychological needs are identified and met by the team as well as the treatment towards fighting cancer.  All factors combined together are positive attributes which can help “stack the deck” in favor of winning the war or prolonging time.

In closing this message, I am personally participating in the American Cancer Society Relay for Life in TWO WEEKS!  If you’d like to support me towards bringing awareness and raising funds to benefit the War Against Cancer, please click this link to my relay page.

4 Responses

  1. Thank you for this informative post! Thoughts and prayers for you.

  2. Thank you, Susanne!

  3. Long time lurker, can’t remember if I’ve posted before. I just wanted to first and foremost wish you the best in your battle with cancer. Inshallah, you’ll beat this cancer swiftly and will be able to return to your “normal” life.

    Also, I’m very sorry to hear about your husband. My deepest sympathies to you and your family.

    Finally, thank you for writing this wonderful, informative, and interesting blog. I’ve learned quite a bit, and have been entertained to boot.

  4. […] October is Global Breast Cancer Awareness month.  I was sitting here thinking if I were a Saudi woman in the Kingdom who was newly diagnosed with breast cancer or knew a woman recently diagnosed, what would I want to know about breast cancer?  Since my initial diagnose and battle began with breast cancer in Riyadh in 2008 and my battle continues today, I decided to go through some of my earlier posts.  Now if you look under the categories section of the blog under both cancer and breast cancer there are a lot of posts on the topic.  I chose to keep away from my own individual story and instead focus on practical information and suggestions.  I encourage these posts be printed and shared among men and women.  Translate them to Arabic.  Post them at schools.  Encourage a teacher to use the posts as talking points with a class.  Share with family and friends. […]

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