All cancers are challenging, but pancreatic cancer is especially menacing, whether you’re the person diagnosed with it, a loved one, or a caregiver.
What makes this condition especially concerning is that it’s often difficult to observe and diagnose this cancer through standard methods. What can sometimes happen is that when someone finally goes to a health care provider for an examination, the provider discovers that the cancer has grown to high levels and the patient may only have a few weeks remaining of their life.
This sort of shocking diagnosis has been seen by the team at Accredited Home Care. Someone may be going in for a check-up due to stomach pain or generally not feeling well. Then they are told that they have Stage 4 pancreatic cancer that’s fast-moving, so they’re advised to get their affairs in order before it’s too late.
That may only be the beginning of challenging conversations about this type of cancer that often have to be resolved fairly quickly as the cancer progresses.
Their terminal status often allows them to consider home health care and hospice care options.
Home health care can involve regular visits from a nurse and other aides. The schedule depends on how much care someone needs – the home health staff can come over a few times a week until someone’s condition grows worse so they may need to come often. Or in some cases, a caregiver or a team of caregivers can provide around-the-clock care if needed.
Since there aren’t a lot of medical options available when pancreatic cancer has advanced to a certain point, caregivers may focus more on helping a client with their quality of life. They may make sure they’re in a comfortable environment and have access to medications to help the pain or some of the other symptoms they may be experiencing.
People receiving hospice services for fast-moving conditions such as pancreatic cancer sometimes can receive access to stronger pharmaceuticals which normally wouldn’t be prescribed due to possible addiction potential or possible long-term damage to various organs.
What caregivers can do
Caregivers are encouraged to check in regularly with family members/loved ones as well as the client’s primary health provider. Both groups may be interested in how the cancer is progressing.
They also can have a role in simply talking to the client, or at least encouraging the client to talk to them.
Clients will likely feel overwhelmed, not just with the diagnosis but with everything that is expected of them between now and their death.
They may be going through the various stages of grief (denial/isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) but a fast-track version of it due to the limited time they have. Their family and close friends may also be doing the same thing but maybe at a different place in the grief spectrum.
They also may be in a variety of physical, mental, and spiritual pain, so a caregiver can seek ways to help, including connecting them with physical therapy, occupational service, and massage therapy.
All of these services can help in different ways. For instance, massage therapy can help relax muscles that have been strained and sore. Occupational therapy can provide assistance in learning or relearning certain tasks to help with independence, such as getting in and out of bed, grooming, dressing, and basic mobility. Occupational therapy also can involve an inspection of someone’s home to make sure it can be navigated safely.
Physical therapy can help rebuild muscles that have been damaged due to physical or mental challenges, such as a stroke. Some people abandoned their routines like regular walks.
Caregivers can also give information to family members, who are also likely feeling overwhelmed. They may be interested in some strategies for helping their loved one, since he or she may continue to decline. Family members and loved ones may need to help with different tasks such as helping with walking, preparing meals.
Family members and loved ones can also benefit from receiving information about grief, including local cancer support groups.
Future of pancreatic cancer
The current view of pancreatic cancer means that there isn’t a lot to be done once a tumor reaches a certain size. That’s why providers encourage people to come in as early as possible or look for some signs.
It might be too late to help one person, but caregivers can encourage others to seek more information in case a family member might be diagnosed in the future. (Genetics/family history of cancer is one of the possible risk factors.)
Everyone can benefit from taking part in an interesting study: the National Familial Pancreas Tumor Registry. This research product encourages people to register and share their family/genetic info and personal profile.
Its goal is to seek connections in families and which types of genes could see pancreatic cancer more frequently. More than 4,500 families have already signed up.
Family members can also encourage people to be part of PANCAN, the Pancreatic Center Action Network. This is a useful resource as far as sharing common information and promising effort.
Finally, November is a good chance to learn even more. Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month will include a variety of tools and resources.