When Your Life Is Touched by Cancer: Practical Advice and Insights for Patients, Professionals, and Those Who Care

When Your Life Is Touched by Cancer: Practical Advice and Insights for Patients, Professionals, and Those Who Care

by Bob Riter
When Your Life Is Touched by Cancer: Practical Advice and Insights for Patients, Professionals, and Those Who Care

When Your Life Is Touched by Cancer: Practical Advice and Insights for Patients, Professionals, and Those Who Care

by Bob Riter


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The best path through cancer is different for each individual. A cancer survivor himself, Bob Riter addresses the issues that accompany a cancer diagnosis. His suggestions follow the cancer-patient experience, from initial diagnosis through treatment and posttreatment, with a special section devoted to supporting others with cancer. In short, clear sections, Riter addresses

  • how to have conversations about cancer with friends, family and doctors
  • breaking the news to parents and children, including tips on what to say
  • separating what can be done from what should be done
  • conventional, complementary and alternative treatment options 
  • the often-difficult period when treatment ends 

When Your Life Is Touched by Cancer is also a valuable resource for everyone who cares about a cancer patient and wants to learn ways to support her or him while dealing with their own emotions. Doctors, too, will benefit from the insights on doctor-patient interactions. 

Designed to be picked up and read as needed, When Your Life Is Touched by Cancer is a resource you can turn to in moments of crisis or calm, when you are looking for immediate comfort or the tools to move forward.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780897936798
Publisher: Turner Publishing Company
Publication date: 02/11/2014
Pages: 168
Product dimensions: 7.20(w) x 11.20(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Bob Riter is the Executive Director of the Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes in Ithaca, NY, an organization that provides support, information, and community to people affected by cancer. His involvement in the cancer community began in 1996 when he was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 40. Bob writes about cancer from a variety of perspectives in his column for the Ithaca Journal and his essays have appeared in Newsweek and CR Magazine. He routinely speaks to college classes, civic organizations, and professional groups about the human side of cancer. A native of Huntington, West Virginia, Bob received a master's degree in health services administration from the Universityof Michigan. He is currently a member of the New York State Health Research Science Board, and was the winner of the 2006 Innovation in Breast Cancer Research and Education Award in the health professional category from the New York State Innovation in Breast Cancer Research and Education Program.

Read an Excerpt

From the "Just Diagnosed" section:

If Your Mom has Cancer
I sometimes hear from middle-aged friends who tell me that their mother (or father) was just diagnosed with cancer. They then launch into their plans for her treatment.
This is when I ask, “What does your mom want?”
This question is usually met by a four- or five-second pause, followed by a hesitant, “What do you mean?”
“I mean, what does your mom want? Have you asked her?”
You’d be surprised how often mom hasn’t been asked.
In some cases, adult children want mom to have the most aggressive treatment possible, even if that treatment is likely to extend her life for only a few months and at the cost of making her miserable.
In other cases, children want to take their mother across the country to the world’s expert on her disease when she would be more comfortable staying with the doctors who know her and have treated her for many years.
Sometimes the most aggressive therapy is the best approach, and sometimes it does make sense to travel to see the world’s expert. But, please, don’t make assumptions about what your mother wants. Ask her.
It’s often helpful to involve your mother’s primary care physician in the decision-making process. The specialists involved in your mother’s care will focus on what can be done. The primary care physician can help your mother sort through what should be done, based on her overall condition, her wishes, and a host of other factors.
What’s most important for a daughter or son in dealing with a mother’s cancer is simply to be present for her. Be available when she wants to talk and support her in the choices she makes. This is hard for many of us because we’re accustomed to fixing things. We tend to focus too much on the fix and not enough on the person.
Health care providers will naturally focus on your mother’s cancer. As a family member, you have the opportunity and privilege of focusing on her as a person. It’s the best gift you’ll ever give her.

From the "During Treatment" section:

Non-Traditional Cancer Therapies
People often fall into two camps regarding the usefulness of non-traditional cancer therapies. Some people are irrationally exuberant in their support of these therapies. “This dandelion soup is going to cure my cancer!” Others are completely dismissive. As is usually the case, a balanced perspective is more sensible than either extreme.
These therapies include acupuncture, diet, exercise, massage, yoga, stress management, spiritual pursuits, aromatherapy, and many others. Sometimes they’re collectively referred to as alternative medicine or complementary medicine. Increasingly, the term “integrative medicine” is used.
The potential benefits and risks of any type of treatment—conventional or alternative—are especially significant with cancer because the stakes are so high. The choices a person makes can literally mean life or death.
Here’s my take on the topic:
When people are diagnosed with cancer, they often feel a loss of control. Nearly anything a person can do to regain some sense of control is understandable. Pursuing non-traditional treatment is an active process and I think that’s healthy.
Going through cancer is easier if one is part of a supportive community. I often see such communities emerge naturally from yoga classes, prayer circles, and exercise programs.
Don’t force non-traditional modalities on others. The goal is to increase the patient’s sense of control, not diminish it.
It’s odd that some people think of good nutrition and exercise as alternative approaches to cancer care. They shouldn’t be. Eating a well-balanced diet with less meat and more plant-based food is good for nearly everyone. And there’s compelling evidence that exercise reduces the likelihood of recurrence for some cancers.
Some alternative approaches (e.g., massage) make a person feel better. As someone who’s been through cancer treatment, I can say that anything that makes you feel better is a good thing.
Our organs and diseases don’t exist in isolation. Maybe yoga won’t directly affect your cancer, but it may affect your emotional well-being which, in turn, can affect your cardiovascular system.
Don’t begin radical lifestyle changes when beginning cancer treatment. There will be times when you’ll need to sit on the couch and eat ice cream. That’s OK. You need that rest and those calories.
Tell your doctors about your alternative approaches, even something that seems as benign as taking vitamins. This is especially true during chemotherapy. Antioxidants are usually good for people because they help keep cells alive, but chemotherapy is trying to kill cancer cells. The antioxidants can prevent the chemo from working. Other vitamins can affect how the body heals from surgery.
In sum, when thinking about non-traditional cancer modalities, the most important question isn’t, “Will this treatment cure my cancer?” Rather, the question to ask is, “Will this treatment contribute to my health and well-being?”

From the "Cancer and Positive Thinking" section:

Whenever someone is diagnosed with cancer, people feel compelled to say, “You gotta stay positive!” (This is usually said with an enthusiastic pump of the arm.)
I’m a pretty positive guy and I’m all in favor of positive thinking, but I cringe whenever I hear those words.
First of all, telling someone to be positive has never transformed anyone into actually being positive. I’ve yet to hear someone respond, “You’re absolutely right. I’ve never thought about being positive, but now that you mention it, I see the wisdom in it. I will become positive and change my outlook on life.” That just doesn’t happen, at least not in my world.
My real concern is for people with cancer who may blame themselves for not being positive enough. How does one make sense of a recurrence if positive thinking is supposed to help? I hope no one sees their recurrence as the result of not thinking enough positive thoughts. People with cancer don’t need another reason to beat themselves up.
Don’t get me wrong—I think it’s great to have a positive attitude when dealing with cancer. I did, and I’m sure it was helpful in my recovery.
If my cancer returns, I will again be positive. If there’s only a five percent chance of survival, I figure that I’m going to be in that five percent.
But attitude is largely a function of personality, and you are who you are. Positive people enjoy having other positive people and positive energy around them. People who aren’t so positive don’t necessarily want or benefit from cheerleaders in the room.
And even the sunniest, most positive people will have down days when dealing with cancer. It’s a scary, life-changing event and filled with uncertainty. Rather than telling them to be positive, acknowledge and share in their sadness on those days. Doing so makes an honest connection.
Cancer is no different than every other aspect of life. We need to face it in our own way and on our own terms.
And our dearest friends and family members will accept those terms, and support us and love us no matter what.

Table of Contents


Just Diagnosed
Advice for those Newly Diagnosed
Cancer and Positive Thinking
It’s OK to Ask Your Doctor These Questions
How Old is too Old to Treat Cancer?
Second Opinions
If Your Mom has Cancer
Good Cancers and Bad Cancers
Communicating with Your Doctor
Why Aren’t They Doing More?
Clinical Trials
Cancer-Related Anxiety
Cancer and Depression
Watching and Waiting
Telling the Kids
Telling the Parents
What to Say—and Not Say
When a Loved One Has Cancer
Thoughts and Prayer Tree

During Treatment
Keeping Yourself in Balance
Non-Traditional Cancer Therapies
Cancer and Alternative Therapies
Doctor-Patient Interactions
Chemo Nurses and Radiation Therapists
A Better Phrase than Staying Strong
How You Feel and How You Look
Too Little and Too Much Cancer Treatment
Advocating for a Loved One
Groundhog Friends
Helping from a Distance
Helping Those We Don’t Like
Helping Friends with Cancer
Being Present
More than Tired
Understanding Friends with Cancer
Visiting Those in the Hospital
Single with Cancer
Cancer as a Marathon
Holiday Gifts
Holiday Gifts for those with Serious Illness
When a Partner is in Denial

After Treatment
The After-Treatment Blahs
When Loved Ones Complete Treatment
Survivor’s Guilt
Post-Cancer Relationships
Donating Blood and Organs
Survivors Can Help the Newly Diagnosed
Cancer as a Chronic Disease
Beginning to Talk about Hospice
What to Say When Cancer Returns

Personal Reflections and Random Essays
My Cancer Experience
Don’t Ask about My Battle
Uncertainty and Commitments
Mental Illness and Cancer
The Ugly Stepsister of Cancer
Cancer and the Nature of Hope
I have cancer. What’s new with you?
My "Cancer Sucks" Button
Small Acts of Heroism
The Uncertainty of Cancer
The Transitions of Cancer
The Good That Emerged
The Look People Give You
Surprising Facts about Cancer
Stepping Up for Neighbors
New Year’s Wishes
Good News in Cancer
Our Cancer Professionals
New Nurses and Cancer Patients
Veterinary Oncology
The Guys at the Corner Table
Doing What I Do

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