People feel overwhelmed when they learn they have a cancer. A number of feelings come pouring in which can be muddled and change quickly. Reactions differ from one person to another and this is quite normal. There is no right or wrong way to feel. These feelings are part of the process that people go through in trying to come to terms with their illness. Family members and friends often need as much support and guidance in coping with their feelings as you do.
You are bound to have some worries, so it is a good idea to share them with your doctor and those close to you. If you have no close family or friends there are other people ready to help you. Sometimes it is easier to share your concerns with an outside person such as the hospital social worker, psychologist or chaplain. If you are not sure how to make contact, just ask your doctor or nurse.
Brain tumours can affect some of the normal functions of the brain such as speech, movement, balance or memory. If you have problems in these areas, you may need help and advice of other members of the health care team including the speech pathologist, the physiotherapist and the occupational therapist. This can start in hospital and people who need help for sometime continue their therapy as outpatients.
Problems with speech can include difficulties in finding the right words, using sentences properly, or difficulties in keeping your speech under control. Your speech pathologist can help you to understand the problem and give you and your family some ideas and help on how best to communicate. A few brain tumours cause problems with swallowing: your speech pathologist can also help with these.
Your physiotherapist can help you to overcome or manage problems with movement, balance or coordination, and the occupational therapist can help you to cope with the ordinary practical tasks involved in everyday living.
Some people find relaxation or meditation useful, again , the hospital social worker may be able to help. He or she will know whether the hospital runs any programs or be able to advise on local community programs. If you have a community health centre nearby, its staff may be able to help.
Relationships, sexuality and cancer
The way we feel about ourselves is closely tied to our relationships and our sexual responses to our partners. We all have different ways and levels of expressing our needs for intimacy. For some people, sexual intercourse is very important. For others, it is less so.
Having treatment for cancer can alter the way people feel about themselves and their partners. Some people find that they feel no difference, or that the cancer experience draws them closer to their partner. Others may be less interested in intimacy and sex, or they may feel that these things are temporarily less important.
Cancer treatment may make you feel too tired, uncomfortable or nauseated to want sex. Some people may also feel that they are less sexually attractive to their partner, because of changes that cancer and its treatment may have caused to their body.
If you are concerned about changes in your usual lovemaking pattern, it is important that you talk about them with your partner. He or she may be feeling that, if they raise the topic, they might be placing too much of a demand on you, or might make you feel guilty. Good, open communication will do a lot to reassure both of you of your affection and need for each other.
Although you may not feel like sexual intercourse, there are many other ways in which you and your partner can maintain closeness and warmth. Touching, cuddling, kissing and stroking can be pleasurable and comfortable and, as you begin to feel better, you can gradually resume your usual ways of lovemaking. Probably the most important single thing you can do to help, however, is talk about any problems with your partner, and if necessary, with someone outside: your doctor, the hospital social worker, or anyone else you feel can help.
How to seek support
Being diagnosed with cancer places you in contact with an array of services and organisations that make up the health care system. Your general practitioner, specialists and the other health service providers can help you through this system. They will refer you to other services, try to answer your questions and pass on useful information.
There is a variety of support services such as home help, meals on wheels and visiting nurses that can help you cope with treatment at home. These are provided by local councils, district nursing services, and palliative care services. As well, there are organisations and groups that can provide you with information and support.
Some hospitals have their own health information services and cancer support groups, ask the hospital where you are treated if there are such services so that you can make contact when you are ready. Sometimes these services have libraries of books about cancer and living with cancer that you could borrow.
Not all people with cancer have significant pain or other distressing symptoms, but where there are such problems, the aim of palliative care is to improve quality of life by managing symptoms and providing physical, psychological, social and spiritual support.
Palliative care advice and support is usually available to people in hospitals and in their own homes from general practitioners, specialists and from specialist palliative teams.
Palliative care plays a particularly important role in advanced cancer where cancer cannot be cured, but can also be helpful in the early stages of treatment.
Is research being done?
Research into the best methods of treatment for brain cancer is being done internationally and within Australia. The Brain Foundation has given three research grants in 2003 for research into brain tumours. (See the Research pages on this website.)
Source: Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria “Brain Cancer: A Guide for People with Cancer, Their Families and Friends”