Trust me I’m a Cancer Patient

trust-me-im-a-cancer-patientTrust Me I’m a Doctor Cancer Patient by Wesley Finegan is a detailed manual for understandings symptoms of cancer, and it’s various treatments and side effects. Finegan worked for a number of years as a doctor with an interest in patients with cancer, before being appointed as a consultant in palliative medicine. Three years later, he became a cancer patient himself. People suggested that he would know all about this, but he had never been a patient before and he still had much to learn. He shares his wisdom in this book. This is the predecessor to his similarly structured book, Being a Cancer Patient’s Carer: A Guide. This book contains forty five chapters and each one follows the same practical structure (TANDEM):

The doctor says
Think
Ask
Note
Do
Explore
More information (pages viii-ix)

The first section of the book is focused on understanding Pain. It discusses the different ways that pain can be assessed, including the classic: ‘What number between 0 and 10 would you give your pain, with 0 being none at all and 10 being the most you could ever imagine?’ I remember being asked this so many times in hospital and usually finding it difficult to differentiate in the 3-7 range. However, there was one occasion when they ripped out my chest drain, that I understood what a 10 felt like!

Good assessment of pain is necessary for good management of pain. In many cases there are a range of pain management options available, so it is important to tune it to its effectiveness, side effects and so on. There has to be teamwork between the patient and doctors to get this right. Others not involved in your health care should not be allowed to interfere or change treatment, as this could be very dangerous. Pain killers need to be very carefully managed. Sometimes there are different means of administering the pain medication. The patient may be able to wear a patch, or be attached to a machine that limits the dose while they self-administer.

The second section of the book documents a long list of Physical Problems that may be associated with the disease or treatments. The list includes: loss of appetite; constipation; depression; diarrhoea; itchiness; sore mouth; difficulty sleeping; constant tiredness; weakness; and many more issues. I can identify personally with all these above. In my case, they are some of the side effects of the chemo, rather than symptoms of the cancer.

The beauty of this book is that you can look up whatever chapters may be relevant at different times. There may be times when I’d look up a number at once, and others that probably wouldn’t get a look in. Many of the chapters contain helpful diagnostic check lists to help you understand what is or isn’t happening to you. You are also encouraged to document pain and symptoms so that you can refer back when things reoccur. This help to recognise patterns, changes, and sometimes alleviate fears when things can be demonstrated to have minimal or temporary impact.

Section three focuses on Personal, Social and Spiritual Problems. Some of these chapters are unlikely to be read in advance by a patient. For example: I am expecting Bad News. You’d have to be very quick off the mark, getting onto this book! However, others offer great advice for further down the track. They deal with some pretty heavy issues, from early ones, such as How to tell my Children the Bad News down the track to I want to make a Will or Euthanasia, living wills (advance directives) and resuscitation.

It’s probably not wise or helpful for people in early stages of cancer to dwell on some of the final chapters. There’s no point and it’s probably not helpful to be rushing into thinking about worst case scenarios. But there will be other chapters in this section worth dipping into early on. Two that have been particularly relevant to me have dealt with thinking through complementary therapies, such as acupuncture, and a chapter on issues relating to returning to work. The 3rd last chapter deals with thinking about spiritual needs. Personally, I wouldn’t leave this until the end, especially in case the end comes earlier than anticipated.

This book would provide an excellent resource for medical students, doctors, nurses and other health professionals engaging with cancer. I’d also recommend families who have someone going through cancer, to get hold of a copy, as a reference book for all to read as relevant.

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