People say that life is a journey. The journey of a patient with cancer is littered with potholes, twists and turns.There is a lot to deal with, physically and emotionally. Initially people deal with the stress of being diagnosed, and then there is the stress of treatment and response. Apart from the physical toll of the disease, there is the physical toll of the treatment. If you receive surgery or chemotherapy the physical repercussions can be quite severe. Surgery can be very traumatic, and often quite an aggressive approach is warranted, aiming for a cure.
Meanwhile, chemotherapy has a list of side-effects, including light-headedness, weakness, difficulty thinking (known as ‘chemo brain’) and loss of appetite lasting weeks, months and occasionally even years. In this case, the patient’s veins are placed under a lot of duress as they need to be accessed frequently. The longer the treatment goes, the harder these veins are to find. Furthermore, intravenous infusions into the smaller veins in the arms can also be uncomfortable.
Quality of life
Quality of life and not just survival is an important concept for patients and their families. This is becoming an increasingly important focus, in part because happier people often seem to be healthier people, but more because improved quality of life is what we should be striving for with all of our patients.
In terms of the psychological issues, numerous sites and support groups are available to offer guidance and help, not least this site by the Australian Government. Also in the area of physical aids to reduce the effects of treatment, big strides have been made in recent years.Here at Sydney Medical Interventions, for example, we have such aids and many minimally invasive options to help. We have many venous access devices such as Portacaths, Hickmans catheters and PICC lines which improve the convenience and comfort of chemotherapy. They all have been designed to make the patient’s experience easier, in that they significantly reduce the stress and pain involved in many oncology treatments.
Sister Jenny Gilchrist, a Clinical Nurse Consultant and Nurse Practitioner at Macquarie University Hospital has been heavily involved in the treatment and care of patients for many years. Having walked countless patients through the cancer journey, she has this to say:
“Port-a-cath devices are invaluable in the cancer patient with poor venous access. They provide quick, easy and direct access into the blood stream without the trauma of multiple cannulation attempts and this is incredibly important for patients who are requiring blood tests and treatment sometimes on a daily basis.”
She goes on to add: “While most patients are hesitant about the idea at first, I have never had a patient tell me they regretted their decision to have a port inserted. In most cases, they actually wish they had done it earlier!” Treatment options are also available in order to improve effectiveness of therapy and to minimise side effects. Certain tumours can be targeted directly with injection of chemotherapy or radioactive beads into the blood vessels supplying the tumours. In this way, the tumours can be treated, minimising the toxicity to the rest of the body.
Want to know more? Yes, the life of an oncology patient is difficult, but for many it can be easier than it is today. So let us help. For we truly believe that nobody should experience unnecessary pain.