As an oncology nurse, I would do many things prior to giving my patients chemotherapy. I would check their chemo bag with another nurse next to the doctor’s order, administer anti-nausea medication, grab the arsenal of outerwear protection for myself (thick blue gloves, yellow gown and goggles), and more. However, as much as I had prepared to give my patients chemo, I never thought to ask them what they did to prepare mentally and emotionally to receive this harsh drug. It never occurred to me that they might be dealing with anxiety. “According to the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, the incidence of anxiety in patients with cancer is as high as 47%.”
Reference: Garcia, S. (2014, October). Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing, The Effects of Education on Anxiety Levels in Patients Receiving Chemotherapy for the First Time: An Integrative Review, (18) 5 pp. 516-521.
I had never dealt with overwhelming anxiety before, until I faced the chemo monster. A day I will never forget, I was being driven to the cancer center for my fourth chemo treatment. Everything was calm as I looked out at green trees, blue sky, and manicured shrubs. Until, a feeling of dread hit me knowing what I was driving toward was going to make me so ill. I trembled, I cried, I even dry heaved on my way to the cancer center. My previous chemo treatments had left me with horrendous nausea and vomiting for four-plus days. I was dumbfounded watching myself fall apart due to anxiety. I made it to the cancer center and stumbled into the office. Typically, I’d walk in, sign my name on the clipboard, and wait. This time my nurse escorted me to the chemo room immediately, sat me down, and threw a gold emesis basin into my lap. “It’s okay, take some deep breaths.” I attempted in between sobs.
There were three other patients in the room. I didn’t look at them but could hear their consoling words. “This is hard, but you can get through this.” Another said, “We all understand how you feel.”
My nurse handed me a valium and gave me a cup of water. I gulped both down. For now, the invader would be subsided.
I’ve learned a lot from my patient perspective. I know how deep and debilitating anxiety in the cancer journey can be. Thankfully, there are things patients can do to help themselves. An article in the Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing lists some research-based interventions that are likely to be effective: Exercise, music therapy, yoga, mindfulness, and more. I’ve found additional things to add to the list: Reassurance from others, hand-holding, focusing on words of hope, and having someone listen and allow me to spill my concerns.
Reference: Smith, P. et al. (2014, December). Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing. Update on Research-Based Interventions for Anxiety in Patients with Cancer. (18) 6, pp. 5-11.