KENNEWICK — Cancer is a battle with many fronts -- and treatment is just one of them.
People living with cancer, whether it's their own diagnosis or the diagnosis of a loved one, undergo a significant life change, and they also must battle the stress, the emotions, the side effects of treatment, the financial strains, the changes in relationships and the adjustments to their lifestyles.
All of that takes a toll, which is why health care professionals and advocates have created a network of support systems to help those experiencing cancer with all facets of the battle -- including what comes after the fight is over.
"That is kind of what nursing is all about. 'How do I go on living my daily life with this disease?' " said Gloria Caine, oncology nurse navigator at Kennewick General Hospital.
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Caine's role is to help patients of KGH's oncology unit through the process of treatment, including the unexpected adjustments they may have to make as they find their way to a new normal.
"We are really trying to help them live their life and not just be a tumor or an abnormal CT scan," Caine said.
Education is a big part of her job -- providing information about their treatments and possible side effects, and how to deal with side effects.
Most people know that hair loss and nausea are common side effects of chemotherapy, but many are caught off guard by peripheral neuropathy -- essentially nerve damage that can lead to tingling, pain or loss of sensation.
Peripheral nerves send sensory information to the brain -- telling the brain your finger hurts when you get a paper cut, for example.
Caine guides patients through information about how to safeguard their homes in the event of peripheral neuropathy -- little things such as removing throw rugs over which they could trip if they lose sensation in their feet.
Nutrition is another important consideration for people fighting or trying to prevent cancer. Nurse Nancy Lyons recently taught a monthlong "Food For Life" course in partnership with The Cancer Project about how to prepare healthy meals chock full of cancer-fighting nutrients.
Lyons focused on plant-based nutrition and finding alternatives to meat that will help participants boost their immune systems and maintain healthy weights.
"The emphasis is on high fiber, low fat," she said.
Her students learn to rethink their food groups and divide their diets into four new groups: legumes, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. The idea is to eat foods that are fresh rather than processed.
She said she eliminates meat because of its fat content, and eliminates dairy because it has associations with prostate and ovarian cancers.
Fiber is key because it helps the body eliminate toxins, she said.
Healthy eating won't guarantee someone won't get cancer, but if it helps then why not do it, she said.
"It's a risk reduction issue," she said.
Perhaps the most important thing cancer patients and survivors need apart from treatment is emotional support, and they can find that through any number of local support groups.
Many are offered through the Tri-Cities Cancer Center, which also offers a variety of classes designed to help cancer patients and survivors live with their new normal.
Support groups and classes often are a place where patients or survivors can find other people who have been through the same experiences, and give them a sense they are not alone.
"We deal a lot with breast cancer patients in particular," said Cindy Miller, the cancer center's community educator. "There are so many women who have said to me, 'I had no idea there were this many breast cancer patients out there.' All of a sudden they see so many women everywhere and it becomes like a sisterhood."
Caine said patients also form relationships with their doctors and nurses -- and it's the relationships that make her feel privileged to do her job.
"We see a lot of survivors. We see people living," she said. "It is a real honor to see the strength of the human spirit every day."
* American Cancer Society, 783-5108, www.cancer.org.
* Better Breathers Support Group for people with breathing disorders, from 10:30 a.m. to noon the second Thursday of each month at the Tri-Cities Cancer Center Wellness Center, 7350 W. Deschutes Ave., Kennewick; 737-3420.
* Breast Cancer Support Group, first and third Friday of each month, from 9 to 10:30 a.m. in the Wellness Center at the Tri-Cities Cancer Center, 737-3418.
* "Can Survive" Cancer Support Group, first and third Thursday of each month at noon at the Cathedral of Joy, 1153 Gage Blvd., Richland. Call Dorothy Boucher at 627-8002.
* The Chaplaincy Cancer Support Group, for those who are dealing with the effects of cancer in their lives. Call Chaplain Margaret Ley at the Tri-Cities Cancer Center, 737-3400, for meeting dates and times.
* Hermiston Cancer Support Group, third Monday of each month from 6:30 to 8 p.m., Good Sheperd Medical Office Plaza, Conference Room 2, 600 N.W. 11th St., Hermiston.
* Laryngectomy Support Group, second Sunday of each month, from 1:15 to 3 p.m., in the Wellness Center at the Tri-Cities Cancer Center, 737-3418.
* Living With Cancer, class for patients, family members and caregivers dealing with any type of cancer. Call 783-9894 for upcoming classes.
* Lymphedema Education & Support Group, third Tuesday of each month from 1 to 2 p.m., and third Wednesday of each month from 7 to 8 p.m. in the Wellness Center at the Tri-Cities Cancer Center.
* Kids Konnection, six-week class that provides support to children ages 7 to 12 who have family members or friends battling cancer. Call 737-3436 for upcoming classes.
* Ovarian Cancer Together, first Thursday of each month, from 11 a.m. to noon, Starbucks, 698 Gage Blvd., Richland, www.ovariancancertogether.org.
* Tri-Cities Cancer Center, 783-9894, www.tccancer.org.