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Navigating the Breast Cancer Patient Journey Together

In 2020, there were 2.3 million women diagnosed with breast cancer.1

Closer to home, over 27,000 women were diagnosed with the disease; according to the statistics, breast cancer topped the list of most number of new cancer cases in the country.2

These women need the hand of their loved ones to hold during the cancer patient journey they’ve unwillingly found themselves on. Their families, meanwhile, are making way for a new challenge in their lives — to become carers in the cancer journey, as the eyes, the mind, and the hands of the patients when crucial decisions are afoot.

In navigating the cancer patient journey, neither patient nor caregiver should go through it alone. Caregivers, particularly family members and friends, play a vital role in helping patients accept the diagnosis as the first step to winning the fight against breast cancer.

Proper information about the disease, coupled with a personalized caregiver approach for each step of the patient journey, are important keys in winning the battle against breast cancer.

The Diagnosis

When the first telling signs and symptoms of breast cancer have reared their heads, or when you simply suspect it in you or a loved one, consult a doctor immediately. Getting diagnosed in the early stages of the disease can contribute to better survivorship. However, hearing that one has cancer, whatever the stage, remains a hard pill to swallow.

A confirmed cancer diagnosis may bring emotional distress, from anxiety, to sadness, to fear of the unknown. In one study, it was found that ‘high levels of distress’ affects 35-45% of Canada and US cancer patients from time of diagnosis, through treatment, recurrent disease, palliative care, and survivorship. This stress has been found to affect patient experience, their overall quality of life, and their treatment of cancer.3

Thus, caregivers play a role in the patient journey. They are also on board with learning about the disease to help understand their loved one’s condition better, and with navigating the rest of the breast cancer patient[2]  journey map.

The Team

‘The sixth vital sign’ in cancer care.3

After the 4 common vital signs and the introduction of a 5th (pain), the 6th is emotional distress, particularly emphasized by medical practitioners because of the high prevalence rate of distress in cancer patients.3

So as with the other vital signs, this must be paid close attention to. In objectively monitoring this,  patients and caregivers gain another ally in the fight against breast cancer: the multidisciplinary team.

More aptly ‘allies’, a multidisciplinary[3]  team (MDT) of doctors come on board for the journey. This team can include a medical, surgical, and radiation oncologist, a pathologist, a radiologist, a breast surgeon, a psychologist, and more depending on the cancer condition. In multidisciplinary care, instead of benefitting from only one expert’s medical judgment, a team of specialists will convene to discuss the most optimal treatment for the patient depending on their prognosis. Based on a study, patients with an organized MDT even saw an increase in 5-year survival rate.4

Caregivers should be involved in every briefing, assessment, and decision-making process in order to properly collaborate with the entire MDT and determine the best course of treatment for the patient.

The Treatment Options

After knowing who’s on your team to help root for your loved ones to win against the disease, the team of doctors should also openly discuss with you the treatment options based on your loved ones’ condition. There are several treatment options available for breast cancer which may include surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or a combination of these treatments. Ask your doctor about the most appropriate treatment plan for the existing breast cancer condition.

The Prevention & Control

Life after a cancer diagnosis can drastically change not just for patients, but for the people around them as well. On top of ensuring that the cancer patient is better cared for physically, mentally, and emotionally, family members and loved ones may be spurred into action to raise awareness about the disease for other relatives.

Caregivers can take the reins and help encourage healthy lifestyle changes like eating healthier, exercising more, and reducing/eliminating alcohol consumption.5 They can also help remind loved ones of the importance of preventive measures such as a monthly self-breast examination[4] .

After a self-breast exam, clinical breast exams and mammograms are recommended screening methods to detect the earliest signs of breast cancer. In general,  women aged 50 to 74 years old with potentially average risk should get a mammogram every 2 years, and women between 40 to 49 years old should ask their doctor about how often a mammogram would be recommended for them.6 The earlier a cancer is detected, the higher the chances of survival!

Keeping the Hope From Within Alive

A thought worth repeating on the daily: cancer is not a death sentence, and one need not navigate the cancer patient journey alone.

Breast cancer patients have the power of a strong support system to help them keep the hope from within alive and carry on fighting for the win.

Be an emotional anchor[5]  for your loved ones,  #BCWeCan!

To learn more about the #BCWeCan campaign, as well as more initiatives by Hope From Within, follow https://www.facebook.com/hopefromwithinph.

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References

  1. World Health Organization. “Breast Cancer.” WHO | World Health Organization, 26 Mar. 2021, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/breast-cancer. Accessed 26 May 2021.
  2. Global Cancer Observatory. “Fact Sheets: Philippines (2020).” https://gco.iarc.fr/today/data/factsheets/populations/608-philippines-fact-sheets.pdf. Accessed 29 May 2021.
  3. Bultz, Barry. “Patient Care and Outcomes: Why Cancer Care Should Screen for Distress, the 6th Vital Sign.” National Center for Biotechnological Information, Jan. 2016, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5123537/ . Accessed 29 May 2021.
  4. Jianlong Lu, Yan Jiang, Mengcen Qian, Lilang Lv, and Xiaohua Ying. “The Improved Effects of a Multidisciplinary Team on the Survival of Breast Cancer Patients: Experiences from China.”  National Center for Biotechnological Information, Jan. 2021, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6982185/. Accessed 29 May 2021.
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention USA. “What Can I Do To Reduce My Risk of Breast Cancer?” 14 Sept. 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/basic_info/prevention.htm. Accessed 29 May 2021.
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention USA. “What is Breast Cancer Screening?”  14 Sept. 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/basic_info/screening.htm. Accessed 29 May 2021.

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