How do patients and families adjust to cancer of the pancreas?

The diagnosis of pancreatic cancer can change the lives of cancer patients and the people who care about them. These changes in daily life can be difficult to handle. It is natural for patients and their families and friends to have many different and sometimes confusion emotions.

At times, patients and their loved ones may feel frightened, angry, or depressed. These are normal reactions that people have when dealing with a serious health problem. Others in the same situation have found that they cope with their emotions better if they can talk openly about their illness and their feelings with those who care about them. Sharing feelings with loved ones can help everyone feel more at ease, opening the way for others to show their concern and offer their support. Many patients find that it helps to talk with others who are facing problems like theirs. They can meet other cancer patients through self-help and support groups such as those described in the next section.

Worries about tests, treatments, hospital stays, and medical bills are common. Talking with doctors, nurses, or other members of the health care team may help to calm fears and ease confusion.

Patients can take an active part in decisions about their medical care by asking questions about pancreatic cancer and their treatment choices. Patients, family, or friends often find it helpful to write down questions to ask the doctor as they think of them. Taking notes during visits to the doctor helps them remember what was said. Patients should ask the doctor to explain anything that is not clear.

Patients have many important questions, and the doctor is the best person to answer them. Most people ask about the extent of their cancer, how it can be treated, and how successful the treatment is likely to be.

Patients are naturally concerned about their future and may try to use statistics they have heard to figure out what the future holds. It is important to remember, however, that statistics are averages. They are based on the experiences of large numbers of patients, and no two cancer patients are alike. The doctor who takes care of the patient and knows his or her case is the best person to discuss the patient’s prognosis.

The doctor can give advice about treatment, working, or limiting activities. Patients also may wish to discuss their concerns about the future, family relationships, and finances. If it is hard to talk to the doctor about feelings and other very personal matters, it may be helpful to speak with a nurse, social worker, counselor, or a member of the clergy.

Learning to live with the changes brought about by cancer is easier for patients and those who care about them when they have helpful information and support services. Often, the social service office at the hospital or clinic can suggest local and national agencies that will help with emotional support, financial aid, transportation, or home care.

The American Cancer Society (ACS), for example, is a nonprofit organization that has many services for patients and their families. Local ACS offices are listed in the white pages of the telephone book.


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