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When Someone You Know Has Cancer Article date: December 22, 2015 By Stacy Simon
As medical knowledge advances, more and more people are surviving cancer. With more than 14 million survivors and counting, chances are you know someone who’s been told they have some type of cancer.
Studies have found that cancer survivors with strong emotional support tend to better adjust to the changes cancer brings to their lives, have a more positive outlook, and often report a better quality of life. Often, however, family, friends, and co-workers of cancer patients want to help, but just don’t know what to do. If someone you know has been diagnosed with cancer or another serious illness, you may be wondering how to help or what to say.
Here are some ideas about where to start:
Keep in touch.
- Write, text, email, or call often, and keep it short.
- Call at times that work best for your friend.
- When your friend calls or texts you, answer right away.
- Call before you visit, and be understanding if your friend can’t see you at that time.
- Keep the visit short, and be understanding if the family decides it’s time to end the visit. Bring a movie to watch together, a snack to share, a book to read while your friend naps, or a newspaper to help your friend catch up on current events.
- Don’t be afraid to touch, hug, or shake hands with your friend.
Know what to say (and not to say).
- Gear the conversation to subjects that you know your friend likes to talk about.
- Be sensitive to your friend’s attention span, and understand that they may be too tired to participate actively.
- Help your friend participate in the conversation by asking questions: Ask for their advice, their opinions, and how they’re feeling.
- Give honest compliments, such as “You look rested today.”
- Allow your friend to be negative, silent, or withdrawn, if that is how they’re feeling.
- Don’t urge your friend to be strong or fight the cancer if they don’t feel up to it.
- Don’t leave out your friend when talking to others in the room, or assume they can’t hear you even if they appear to be asleep.
- Don’t offer medical advice or your opinion on things like diet, vitamins, and herbal therapies.
Offer to run errands.
- Organize family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers to help complete regularly scheduled tasks.
- Helpful tasks may include making meals, cleaning the house, caring for the lawn and garden, baby-sitting, pet sitting, grocery shopping, picking up prescriptions, and driving family and friends to and from the airport.
- Do urgent errands right away.
Your friend isn’t the only one who may need help coping with cancer; the person (or people) taking care of them could also use your support. Caregivers often neglect their own needs because they are so busy taking care of their loved one. Helping your friend’s caregiver is another way to show you care.
- Offer to stay with your friend while the caregiver takes a break. It’s important for caregivers to get some time to themselves.
- Help out the caregiver with errands, too. Ask which tasks would be most helpful – and follow through.
Reviewed by: Members of the ACS Medical Content Staff
ACS News Center stories are provided as a source of cancer-related news and are not intended to be used as press releases. For reprint requests, please contact email@example.com.
The symptoms of exocrine and endocrine pancreatic cancers are often different, so they are described separately.
Having one or more of the symptoms below does not mean you have pancreatic cancer. In fact, many of these symptoms are more likely to be caused by other conditions. Still, if you have any of these symptoms, it’s important to have them checked by a doctor so that the cause can be found and treated, if needed.
Signs and symptoms of exocrine pancreatic cancer
Early pancreatic cancers often do not cause any signs or symptoms. By the time they do cause symptoms, they have often already grown through the pancreas or spread beyond it.
Jaundice and related symptoms
Jaundice is yellowing of the eyes and skin. Most people with pancreatic cancer (and virtually all people with ampullary cancer) will have jaundice as one of their first symptoms.
Jaundice is caused by the buildup of bilirubin, a dark yellow-brown substance made in the liver. Normally, the liver excretes bilirubin as part of a liquid called bile. Bile goes through the common bile duct into the intestines, eventually leaving the body in the stool. When the common bile duct becomes blocked, bile can’t reach the intestines, and the level of bilirubin in the body builds up.
Cancers that start in the head of the pancreas are near the common bile duct. These cancers can press on the duct and cause jaundice while they are still fairly small, which may allow these tumors to be found at an early stage. But cancers that start in the body or tail of the pancreas don’t press on the duct until they have spread through the pancreas. By this time, the cancer has often spread beyond the pancreas as well.
When pancreatic cancer spreads, it often goes to the liver. This can also lead to jaundice.
Dark urine: Sometimes, the first sign of jaundice is darkening of the urine from bilirubin. As bilirubin levels in the blood increase, the urine becomes brown in color.
Light-colored stools: If the bile duct is blocked, bile (and bilirubin) can’t get through to the bowel. When this happens, a person might notice their stools becoming lighter in color.
Itchy skin: When bilirubin builds up in the skin, it can start to itch as well as turning yellow.
Pancreatic cancer is not the most common cause of jaundice. Other causes, such as gallstones, hepatitis, and other liver diseases, are much more common.
Abdominal or back pain
Pain in the abdomen (belly) or back is common in pancreatic cancer. Cancers that start in the body or tail of the pancreas can grow fairly large and start to press on other nearby organs, causing pain. The cancer may also spread to the nerves surrounding the pancreas, which often causes back pain. Of course, pain in the abdomen or back is fairly common and is most often caused by something other than pancreatic cancer.
Weight loss and poor appetite
Unintended weight loss is very common in people with pancreatic cancer. These people often have little or no appetite.
Pale, greasy stools: If cancer blocks the release of the pancreatic juice into the intestine, a person might not be able to digest fatty foods. The undigested fat can cause stools to be unusually pale, bulky, greasy, and to float in the toilet.
Nausea and vomiting: If the cancer presses on the far end of the stomach it can partly block it, making it hard for food to get through. This can cause nausea, vomiting, and pain that tend to be worse after eating.
If the cancer blocks the bile duct, bile can build up in the gallbladder, which then becomes enlarged. This can sometimes be felt by a doctor (as a large lump under the right ribcage) during a physical exam. It can also be detected by imaging tests.
Sometimes, the first clue that someone has pancreatic cancer is the development of a blood clot in a large vein, often in the leg. This is called a deep venous thrombosis or DVT. Symptoms can include pain, swelling, redness, and warmth in the affected leg. Sometimes a piece of the clot can break off and travel to the lungs, which might make it hard to breathe or cause chest pain. A blood clot in the lungs is called a pulmonary embolism or PE.
Still, having a blood clot does not usually mean that you have cancer. Most blood clots are caused by other things.
Fatty tissue abnormalities
Some people with pancreatic cancer develop an uneven texture of the fatty tissue underneath the skin. This is caused by the release of the pancreatic enzymes that digest fat.
Rarely, pancreatic cancers cause diabetes (high blood sugar) because they destroy the insulin-making cells. Symptoms can include feeling thirsty and hungry, and having to urinate often. More often, there are small changes in blood sugar levels that don’t cause symptoms of diabetes but can still be detected with blood tests.
Signs and symptoms of pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors
Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) often release excess hormones into the bloodstream. Different types of tumors make different hormones, which lead to different symptoms.
These tumors make gastrin, a hormone that tells the stomach to make more acid. Too much gastrin causes a condition known as Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, in which the stomach makes too much acid. This leads to stomach ulcers, which can cause pain, nausea, and loss of appetite. Severe ulcers can start bleeding. If the bleeding is mild, it can lead to anemia (too few red blood cells), which can cause symptoms like feeling tired and being short of breath. If the bleeding is more severe, it can make stool black and tarry. Severe bleeding can itself be life-threatening.
If the stomach acid reaches the small intestine, it can damage the cells of the intestinal lining and break down digestive enzymes before they have a chance to digest food. This can cause diarrhea and weight loss.
These tumors make glucagon, a hormone that increases glucose levels in the blood. Most of the symptoms that can be caused by a glucagonoma are mild and more often are found to be caused by something else.
Excess glucagon can raise blood sugar, sometimes leading to diabetes. This can cause symptoms such as feeling thirsty and hungry, and having to urinate often.
People with these tumors also often have problems with diarrhea, weight loss, and malnutrition. The nutrition problems can lead to symptoms like irritation of the tongue (glossitis) and the corners of the mouth (angular cheilosis).
The symptom that brings most people with glucagonomas to their doctor is a rash called necrolytic migratory erythema. It is a red rash with swelling and blisters that often travels place to place on the skin. It is the most distinctive feature of a glucagonoma.
These tumors make insulin, which lowers blood glucose levels. Too much insulin leads to low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), which can cause symptoms like weakness, confusion, sweating, and rapid heartbeat. When blood sugar gets very low, it can lead to a person passing out or even going into a coma and having seizures.
These tumors make somatostatin, which helps regulate other hormones. Symptoms of this type of tumor can include diarrhea, gallbladder problems, and symptoms of diabetes (feeling thirsty and hungry, and having to urinate often). The problems with the gallbladder can lead to belly pain, nausea, poor appetite, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes).
The early symptoms of a somatostatinoma tend to be mild and are more often caused by other things, so these tumors tend to be diagnosed at an advanced stage. Often, they are not found until they spread to the liver, when they cause problems like jaundice and pain.
These tumors make a substance called vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP). Too much VIP can lead to problems with diarrhea. This may be mild at first, but gets worse over time. By the time they are diagnosed, most people have severe, watery diarrhea, with many bowel movements each day.
People with these tumors also tend to have low levels of acid in their stomachs, leading to problems digesting food. They may also have high blood sugar levels.
These tumors make pancreatic polypeptide (PP), which helps regulate both the exocrine and endocrine pancreas. They can cause problems such as belly pain and an enlarged liver. Some patients also get watery diarrhea.
These tumors often make serotonin or its precursor, 5-HTP. When a pancreatic tumor makes these substances, they first travel to the liver. The liver breaks these substances down before they can reach the rest of the body and cause problems. Because of this, carcinoid tumors often don’t cause symptoms until they spread outside the pancreas.
When these tumors do spread, it is most often to the liver. There, the cancer cells can release hormones directly into the blood leaving the liver. This can cause the carcinoid syndrome, with symptoms including flushing (skin turning red with a warm feeling), diarrhea, wheezing, and a rapid heart rate. These symptoms often occur in episodes, between which the person may feel fine.
Over a long time, the hormone-like substances released by these tumors can damage heart valves, causing shortness of breath, weakness, and a heart murmur (an abnormal heart sound).
Non-functioning neuroendocrine tumors
These tumors don’t make excess hormones, so they don’t cause symptoms in early stages and often grow quite large before they are found. Most of these are cancers and start to cause problems as they get larger or spread outside the pancreas. Symptoms can be like those from exocrine pancreas cancers, including jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin), belly pain, and weight loss.
Symptoms caused by the cancer spreading
When pancreatic NETs spread, they most often spread to the liver. This can enlarge the liver, which can cause pain and loss of appetite. It can also affect liver function, sometimes leading to jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes) and abnormal lab tests.
Although these cancers often spread to the liver first, they can go on to spread to other organs and tissues. The symptoms depend on where the cancer is growing. For example, cancer spread to the lungs can cause shortness of breath or a cough. Spread to bones can cause pain in those bones.
Last Medical Review: 06/11/2014
Last Revised: 01/09/2015
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7 Things To Do When Someone You Love Is Diagnosed With Cancer
Cancer is a horrible, horrible illness. Finding out someone you love very much can be very scary and upsetting. You will feel helpless as your loved one battles the biggest fight of their life, but there are some small and simple steps you can take to make them feel a little better.
1. Make them a personal support page.
For example, when my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer, I made her a support page on Facebook that over 700 people joined. From friends to family to strangers, the amount of love, prayers, support, and encouraging words she received was amazing. She enjoyed seeing how many people loved her and were cheering her on. I truly believe it gave her a little bit of extra strength.
2. Show them the meaning of hope.
Hope is never giving up. Hope is continuing to fight no matter how much it hurts. Hope is some times the only thing left to hold on to. Show them what hope is, show them that you will never give up on hope and they shouldn’t either.
If they need a shoulder to cry on, lend them yours. If they need an ear that will listen to them, let them talk for hours. Don’t tell them you understand what they’re going through, because the truth is, you don’t. Just be there for them.
4. Keep things normal.
Although things aren’t normal, and cancer just plain old sucks, don’t pity them or show them that you feel sorry for them. Offer them help, but never force it upon them. If they decline your help, accept it. They don’t want to be treated differently and I can promise you if they do need your help, they will ask for it or say yes the first time you offer.
5. Support their decisions, even if you do not agree with them.
Whether it be a decision about their treatment or anything else, respect that decision of theirs. After all it is their life and their body, they know and feel what is best for themselves.
6. Educate yourself on the type of cancer they have been diagnosed with.
Do some research, know some information. It will give you a slight idea of what they are dealing with and the more you know, the easier it will be for them to explain certain “cancer things: to you.
7. Love them.
Plain and simple. Give them all the love you have in your heart. Hug them a little tighter, hold them a little longer. Let them know how loved and supported they are.
Every cause that this month is towards, has in some way touched my life and I’m sure that most of my readers too, October is disability, breast cancer awareness month, Mental Health Awareness; also cerebral palsy awareness day. I wish I could say that all these cases has not affected my life and my family and friends, but they have! The people I love the most my mom, aunts and friends had breast cancer and they are all healthy now, I hold each of them closer now not because they went through it but they were so strong. As I was trying to be supportive I came to realize how much I love them, sounds weird be it’s true! I realize how much we shouldn’t take any relationship for granted. I have cp, but it has always been a part of my life, so to me it’s what makes me. Every cause can be helped with love! Just love like crazy Always.
Ok, so suicide is the number one silent killer of good people! So if it’s a killer, it should be a big concern. But it’s not!!! That said, September is Suicide Prevention month . If I don’t see your name, I’ll understand. May I ask my family and friends wherever you might be, to kindly copy and paste this status for one hour to give a moment of support to all of those who have family problems, health struggles, job issues, worries of any kind and just needs to know that someone cares? Do it for all of us, for nobody is immune. I hope to see this on the walls of all my family and friends just for moral support. I know some will!!! I did it for my sweet Lil Joe and you can too. You have to copy and paste this one, NO sharing! I will put it in my comments so it can be copied.~I love you all!!!
This week is Suicide Prevention Week. We all need prayers and positive thoughts! May I ask my family and friends wherever you might be, to kindly copy and paste this status to give a moment of support to all of those who have family problems, health struggles, job issues, worries of any kind and just needs to know that someone cares. Do it for all of us, for nobody is immune. I hope to see this on the walls of all my family and friends just for moral support. I know some will!!! I did it for a friend and you can too. You have to copy and paste this one, NO sharing Also: call 1 (800) 273-8255 for the suicide lifeline should you so need. Spread the love everyone xoxo you never know who you may influence.
#YOUmatter ❤ #suicidehelp