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Cancer information, help abounds

"I keep dreaming of a future, a future with a long and healthy life, not lived in the shadow of cancer but in the light." -- Patrick Swayze

The second leading cause of death in America is cancer. Total cancer deaths for the United States in 2011 were estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at 574,743. Considering the large number of cancer deaths, this disease affects most of us either directly or indirectly at some point in our lives.

With the daunting numbers, it's no wonder why anyone would feel overwhelmed with the diagnosis of cancer. Cancer treatments and outcome vary considerably with what type of cancer is present, as well as what stage the cancer is in. There are books upon more books that address each type of cancer and potential treatment. However, for patients as well as their family and friends, there are not nearly as many texts that are devoted to the human experience that such a disease process causes. Too frequently, friends and family are left to fend for themselves.

What are the options to successfully navigate through such an intense time? To paraphrase Sun Tzu, "Know your enemy." It helps immensely to know what type of cancer, its treatment options and any alternatives of treatment. To gather such information, it might take more than one office visit. Keep your primary care physician informed of whatever texts, websites or any other forms of communication you are using to better your knowledge about the specificities of cancer and its treatment. There are some fantastic websites and other media outlets that can serve you well. However, there are some that are not and could be potentially damaging and filled with erroneous information. Therefore, keep your doctor informed of any alternative sources for medical advice. Your doctor can assist you and clarify new information you might encounter.

There is strength in numbers. Whether it's the patient, family or friends of a patient, it helps to be able to lean on someone in times of need. For some, these friendly companions abound. However, for others there might be very few of such people. Making a very difficult situation worse is the potential for isolation during this critical time. It might be difficult to believe, but many have walked the same road. There are support groups with such people. A person can find folks from all walks of life that have the potential to assist you in such trying times. Feel free to discuss this option with your physician or health care provider. Your provider could be able to get you additional information. Also, a simple Internet search might yield additional information regarding groups in your area.

Treatment options continue to change as we learn more about cancer. Many new cancer treatment regimens have improved patient outcomes. Additional research is being continuously performed regarding treatment plans. Further research and development of new medications for the treatment of cancer continues and is ever-changing. Despite continued, valiant effort to find a cure for cancer the unfortunate reality is not all patients have a permanent remission of their disease. It is here that a group of caring individuals can be used.

Hospice can be used not only by the patient but also the family. Hospice can assist with daily care needs as well as providing an invaluable resource of comfort and compassion. They have individuals that understand the dynamics that cancer or any terminal disease can create not only for the patient but also the family. Hospice has wonderful, caring individuals that are dedicated to improving comfort measures and other end-of-life issues.

I started to think about my father and the year he passed away. When I thought back to that difficult time, I also remembered the wonderful people who helped my mother and me at home with my father's care needs before his passing. I found these care providers exceptionally compassionate and motivated to help. These committed health care individuals are exceptional. Let's be honest, it takes a special type of person to be up to the task of providing daily, compassionate, end-of-life care. If you have further questions regarding hospice and their services, consider calling the hospice group near you or discuss this option with your physician.

Cancer creates a life-changing experience. This demanding experience is realized not only by the person inflicted with this unforgiving disease but also with family and friends. There are self-help books that address concerns that arise from family and friends of cancer victims. Some of these books can be quite helpful in such times of need. Other avenues for assistance to be considered include counseling sessions as well as support-groups. Depending on the persons comfort level any one of these interventions may yield positive results. Information may be readily available on websites, the newspaper, or from your physician. Hospice and their dedicated staff can also be an incredible resource that can assist the patient as well as the family in their time of need.

As with all medical conditions, always feel free to contact your physician or health care provider with any questions or concerns.

"The goal is to live a full, productive life even with all that ambiguity. No matter what happens, whether the cancer never flares up again or whether you die, the important thing is that the days that you have had you will have lived." -- Gilda Radner

Dr. Charles Weintz is the author of "Healthy Headlines." He is a family physician at Stanton County Family Practice.