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Offer support during cancer treatments

Q. I have three friends who are receiving chemotherapy. Any guidelines for supporting people undergoing cancer treatment?

A. Patients do better who have a good family and positive support systems, such as neighbors who check on them daily, said Kim Werner, oncology nurse at the Lewis County Cancer Center in Centralia, Wash.

But if you are sick or coming down with a cold, stay away. Patients need to be as strong as possible for their treatments, so skip the in-person visit and call on the phone instead.

Go with your friends to treatment, if you can.

“I think the camaraderie is good for patients,” said Heidi Lakey, an oncology pharmacist at the cancer center.

Treatment areas are cozy, so stay away from controversial topics. Werner encourages patients to say, “I’m uncomfortable with that topic,” when conversations get annoying or disturbing. And don’t bring any odiferous foods like a Reuben sandwich, and no strong cologne, because smells can cause nausea.

Lakey and Werner welcome patients’ companions and their observations, too.

“Some patients think they are complaining, if they tell us they got sick from the chemo, so it helps to be a tattletale,” Lakey said.

“Chemotherapy does not have to make a patient puke,” Werner said. “If the patient is getting sick, it may mean we need to change the medication or a patient may be dehydrated.”

Encourage your friends to eat – small meals throughout the day are better than big meals.

“Your taste buds change. We tell patients not to eat their favorite foods on treatment day because some medications give a metallic taste,” Werner said.

So check on your friends, listen with heart and escort them to treatments – your presence and kindness will ease their journeys.

Q. My 67-year-old father recently had a stroke. It garbled his speech quite a bit and altered his face. My 7-year-old daughter and I will travel to visit him next month. How can I prepare her for the changes in her beloved “Papa”?

A. It’s great you plan to visit your dad with your daughter. Here at EndNotes, we believe children shouldn’t be shielded from disability, dying or death. All are part of life, and children comprehend this tough stuff more than we realize.

Prepare your daughter for her Papa’s changed appearance. Explain that something went wrong in his brain and his face looks different, and he can’t speak very well, but that Papa is still in there and still loves her very much.

When she sees your dad for the first time, step back and don’t interfere. Children’s reactions are often refreshingly authentic. People suffering with life-changing illnesses resent being treated differently by the adults around them, even when things are very different.

When Catherine Johnston was 4, her grandfather had his leg amputated right above his knee, due to diabetes. Her parents decided not to say anything before a visit. She looked and looked at her grandfather and finally, in the middle of dinner, said, “I know, Grandpa, what you can do now. You can play hopscotch, real good!” Everyone laughed, and he retold the story to everyone.

Children these days hold an advantage over their parents’ and grandparents’ generations. They are accustomed to people with disabilities, thanks to education laws in the 1970s and ’80s that mainstreamed children with special needs. So wheelchairs, crutches and hard-to-understand speech are part of their everyday life.

If your daughter is a hugger, encourage her to hug Papa even more this visit. And you do the same. Likely, he needs the reassurance that he is still loved and valued.

Catherine Johnston, a health care professional, and Rebecca Nappi, a Spokesman-Review feature writer, welcome your questions about what to do in times of illness, dying, death and grief. Contact them through their EndNotes blog at endnotes

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