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Caring for a Loved one with Pancreatic Cancer

written by: micsan07 • edited by: Donna Cosmato • updated: 8/31/2010

Medical, practical, and emotional support is needed when learning how to care for a loved one with pancreatic cancer. Because pancreatic cancer is one of the more aggressive cancers, caregivers may be faced with a different level of care and concerns.

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    Caring for a Loved one with Pancreatic Cancer

    Because pancreatic cancer is one of the more aggressive cancers, the caregiver has to learn quickly how to care for a loved one with pancreatic cancer. Severe abdominal pain makes it extremely difficult for the patient to eat enough nutrient rich foods to stop them from losing weight. Helping the cancer patient eat enough nutritious food to maintain a healthy weight can be one of the more important things that a caregiver can provide.

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    Why Does a Pancreatic Cancer Patient Lose Weight so Quickly

    Chemotherapy treatments can often affect appetite, the taste buds, and energy levels. Tumors can also release certain chemicals that affect taste making food unappetizing and, at times, repulsive.

    Nausea and severe vomiting are common while undertaking chemotherapy treatments. Patients have a difficult time being able to hold food in their stomachs long enough to give nutritional support to a body under attack by cancerous cells.

    Surgery is one of the most common treatment options for pancreatic cancer patients. The surgery done in these cases affects the digestive system and how it absorbs nutrients. Carbohydrates, fats, and dairy products are especially troublesome after patients have this type of surgery.

    Anxiety, stress, and fear of the disease itself also may contribute to loss of appetite and rapid weight loss.

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    Attempt to Limit Weight Loss

    Caregivers of pancreatic cancer patients can help by offering many small meals, or snacks, each day. Small servings of a few foods given more often during the day may help the patient's ability to keep food in the stomach.

    Ask the physician if the patient should be taking vitamin supplements. Pancreatic supplements may also assist in the digestion and absorption of food. Any extra nutritional support should be looked into.

    If the patient is experiencing diarrhea, try replacing the types of fiber in the patient's diet. Bananas, applesauce, and oatmeal are good sources of soluble fiber and may assist in cooling hot stools and slowing diarrhea. Again, small amounts more often are best.

    Gentle exercise, such as a slow walk around the room or house, may help to increase the appetite. Try to encourage the patient to walk up to five to 10 minutes before mealtimes. It often helps them to feel hungry.

    Attempt to limit fluid intake to between or after meals instead of right before or during. The more liquids taken, the less hunger the patient feels. Fluids are very important, however, try to encourage them after eating for better food intake.

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    Emotional and Practical Support

    Caregivers are often able to give better care by keeping up to date with the nurses and doctors providing care. Medical staff is usually able to suggest additional resource assistance through groups, cancer associations, and reliable website information.

    Giving the patient access to other oncology patients gives them the chance to ask pancreatic questions of others that are going through the same experience. This often emphasizes the feeling that they are not alone and may give them some peace.

    Some practical assistance that cancer patients may require is help with bathing or dressing. Food preparation or house cleaning may be needed. Others may need the reassurance of visual contact and feel better knowing that they are not left alone to cope. For some, it will be obvious what can be done to help. Others may feel that they need to ask for permission as the patient may have a hard time coping with the loss of control over their body. This can be a delicate balancing act to preserve the dignity of the patient as much as possible.

    Cancer patients often feel the need to spend quiet time with family and friends. Quiet, private moments spent with the patient can be emotionally lifting for the caregiver and patient alike. Watching a television show together can relieve the patient's stress for a short time.

    Simply holding each other without a word being said can be soothing.

    Others find that holding hands while speaking about past events and shared memories can bring smiles and laughing eyes to a tired and worn face. Happy memories are a gift that should be given without restraint whenever possible.

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    Listening and Being There Helps

    One very important thing that can be done while giving care to a pancreatic cancer patient is to listen.

    Just listen.

    The patient may not even need acknowledgement or agreement, but they will need someone to listen to them. Let them ramble, let them remember old times and old memories, and let them be upset for having cancer.

    Listening and being there, through thick and thin, may be the very best thing you can provide for them.

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    References

    Mayo clinic.com - Pancreatic Cancer: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/pancreatic-cancer/DS00357/DSECTION=coping-and-support

    Cancer Care.org - Caregiving for Your Loved One With Cancer: http://www.cancercare.org/pdf/booklets/ccc_caregiver.pdf