Several years ago through no independent decision of my own I found myself in what I thought would be the worst assignment of my nursing career-oncology. I remember thinking to myself, caring for cancer patients would be very depressing and difficult. However, what I found were some of the most rewarding and uplifting years of my career. Throughout my nursing career I have cared for patients in all areas of the hospital, each with their own positive rewards. I soon discovered caring for cancer patients was not filled with the doom and gloom as I once thought. I found myself laughing and smiling more with my patients than ever before. I found myself going to educational meetings, becoming active in professional organizations and writing newsletters to help spread my new found knowledge. As fate would have it, a cancer patient helped me focus on higher education and encouraged me to start my current journey.
I want to discuss a few of the common cancer myths related to the disease and its treatments. In a recent American Cancer Society study, 85% of Americans considered themselves “somewhat knowledgeable about cancer…” However, about 75% of the respondents who participated in the survey either believed or were uncertain about at least one of these INCORRECT statements:
- “Pain medications are not effective in reducing the amount of pain people have for cancer.”
- “All you need to beat cancer is a positive attitude, not treatment.”
- “Cancer is something that cannot be effectively treated.”
- “Treating cancer with surgery can cause it to spread throughout the body.”
In most cases cancer pain can be treated effectively. It is sad to think people maybe suffering needlessly because of this myth. From my own experience working with cancer patients it is evident that patients with a positive attitude do better than patients with a negative outlook. A positive attitude alone will not cure cancer; however those with a positive attitude seem to do better. The power of a smile and laughter should never be under estimated in any aspect of our lives.
The most commonly-believed myth is that surgery could cause cancer to spread. The reality is that surgery is a very effective treatment for cancer. I believe this myth started in the days before modern cancer screening test like the MRI and CT scanners were widely used and exploratory surgery was used more often. Unfortunately, exploratory surgery in those days would usually reveal cancer in their advanced stages too late to be removed by surgery.
As always I advocate early screenings for cancer, regular check-ups with your healthcare provider and most importantly listening to your body. You have nothing to fear but fear itself. Be proactive; take personal responsibility by eating right, good exercise, proper sun protection and being proactive and up-to-date on early cancer screenings. If you do these things you will live healthier longer.
Howard Baker, RN BSN
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