Ann McNeill, RN, APN
Blood cancer patients know how invaluable oncology nurses are when it comes to getting through treatments, following up with check-ups, and mastering the art of keeping your chin up when the going gets tough. In honor of Oncology Nursing Month, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society asked Ann McNeill, a registered nurse who has worked with cancer patients for 12 years, to share five healthy tips she and her colleagues often stress to patients.
• Stay well hydrated! Yes, I know you have heard this before, along with “eat a healthy diet,” but I am not sure if patients understand the potential consequences of dehydration. Of course, it is important to eat healthy, but unless you have a medical condition whereby your fluid intake is restricted, you should also maintain adequate fluid intake daily. The best is water-based beverages. And be aware that as summer approaches, many of the fruits and vegetables we eat are abundant in water. Dehydration can cause you to feel very fatigued and weak, as well as dizzy and nauseated. If the dehydration continues, it can have a damaging effect on many organs of the body. So carry around that water bottle at all times!
• Join a support group! You’ve probably also heard this one more than once but I can’t tell you what a difference it can make. It doesn’t have to be a “live meeting” – although I personally prefer this kind of setting – as social media web sites work as well. Your health care team can provide a lot of knowledge about your disease and treatment options, but there is nothing like speaking to someone who has traveled the same journey. Every individual has his or her own experience so “comparing” should be avoided but there are emotions and information to be shared that you are probably not going to hear from your health care team. I have seen first-hand the change in a patient and/or his or her caregiver after attending just one support group. Having someone to talk to about the day-to-day issues you are faced with can be very comforting if that person has also experienced similar situations. Remember – you are not alone.
• Relax! Yes, this is a challenging time in your life, but do your best to keep a positive attitude. You may wait a long time to see your practitioner or to receive your chemotherapy – remember that emergencies can happen which can delay your appointments and affect your schedule. Bring a book to every visit. Or bring your iPad or laptop. Try to keep busy and smile. Your attitude can have a significant effect on how you cope with your disease and treatment.
• If you are not an organized individual, become one! Or have a family member or loved one help you. Keep copies of your medical records in a binder or folder. If you have lab tests done, or imaging studies done, ask your nurse for a copy of the report and save it. You may want to refer to some result from the past, and you will have it at your fingertips instead of waiting for the office to supply you with a copy of an old record. As you become more educated about your disease, you can look back and understand some of those initial diagnostic tests. And of course, if you move or want a second opinion, your records can follow you wherever you go.
• And most of all, remember that despite a cancer diagnosis, you are still you! You are beautiful, strong, brave, intelligent, silly – or however those who love you describe you. This is not a roadblock, just a little detour along life’s journey.
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Ann McNeill, RN, MSN, APN, OCN, specializes in multiple myeloma at the John Theurer Cancer Center at the Hackensack University Medical Center in N.J. She is involved with direct patient care, disease and treatment education to patients and their caregivers, the education of new oncology nurses, and facilitation of support groups.