- Question from Leanne: What can we—adult daughters—do to help our mom cope with the chemo side effects?
Julie Gralow, M.D.
This is a great question! Being diagnosed with breast cancer and going through treatment is horribly disruptive, not only to the patient, but to the whole family. Every patient is different; therefore, suggestions about what you can do to help your mother through this very difficult time should be based on who your mother is, what kinds of treatments she's receiving, what symptoms she has, etc. Since fatigue is almost always a side effect of breast cancer treatment, I try to help my patients focus the energy they do have on the things that are most important to them. This means trying not to spend all their energy on housekeeping and running errands, but focusing it on quality things and some good physical activity. So I suggest that you offer to clean the house, go to the grocery store, or prepare meals that could be frozen and heated later. If your mother is willing, take care of some of the routine things for her, so she can focus on fun things.
Remember, too, that the emotional impact of a breast cancer diagnosis is profound, and depression is not uncommon. So focus on helping your mother get through this hard time emotionally. If you're not living in the same town she is, send your mother little reminders—like an e-mail or card saying, "I'm thinking of you." This goes for daughters, sons, friends, and coworkers. It's nice to know that people are thinking of you. If you do live nearby, realize that stopping by her house unexpectedly during a post-chemo day when she's not feeling well might not be such a good idea. Make sure you respect your mom's privacy when she may not be feeling well.
Marisa C. Weiss, M.D.
Another useful thing you can do is to help guard your mother's privacy. This might mean answering the phone and thanking people for calling, but letting them know that your mother needs to rest. It can also mean dealing with nosy neighbors, unsolicited invitations and unwanted gifts, so your mother won't have to. It could also involve letting people know that your mom got through surgery OK and that everything's fine, in order to keep incoming phone calls to a minimum.
Just being there, as Dr. Gralow says, is such a gift, and it's terrific that your mom has you in her life to make this time easier for her. One more good thing to do is to plan fun activities for the future to give your mother something to look forward to. This will help reassure her there is a future in front of her and that you expect her to be there to enjoy it.
You might also want to visit the Breastcancer.org Discussion Boards to get some advice from others who are going through similar experiences.
On Wednesday, January 15, 2003, our Ask-the-Expert Online Conference was called Managing Treatment Side Effects. Julie Gralow, M.D. and Marisa Weiss, M.D. answered your questions about many of the short-term and long-term side effects of breast cancer treatment, and ways of minimizing them, so you can get on with your life and enjoy your day-to-day activities.
The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of Breastcancer.org. A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.
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