TREATMENT OPTIONS: Radiotherapy (Continued)

Another worrisome aspect of radiotherapy for some patients is the belief that they should not wash affected areas of the body during treatment. Not surprisingly, this can lead to grossly exaggerated fears about personal hygiene, especially in mild and warm weather, where in spite of everything tried in order to disguise it, one is nevertheless inclined to perspire and feel much in need of a refreshing wash down. One patient I knew who was struggling with a pernicious and alarming belief of this kind began to feign claustrophobia insisting that windows and doors in every room she entered should be left open. I first realised there was something wrong when I noticed that she would, at the same time, calmly and readily accompany me into our psychosocial centre’s small but well ventilated lift, on route to my clinic room.

Following some gentle and discreet questioning, this lady’s fear eventually emerged into ‘the light of day’. A prompt telephone call and brief conversation thereafter with her consultant was all that was needed to satisfactorily resolve the issue and all was well once again, in this sense at any rate. (It also saved me from the consequences of open windows, in a room situated at the very top of the building, during gale force winds, which are by no means unknown in Glasgow in the month of January).

There are other physical/psychosocial-borderline side effects of less common methods of radium treatment and/or other advanced radioactive substances, such as cobalt and iridium. However, further specific reference will not be included here since they really do require the expert opinion and guidance of an appropriate consultant or team member and this is something that you – if you are the patient or indeed a loved one of the patient – can hopefully deal with directly. If need be, and whilst still enjoying the relative calm of home, commit your specific worry(ies) to paper.

Thereafter and once in the clinic, go over it with the radiotherapy or chemotherapy nurse (or nurse-counsellor if such is available) or hand it to your consultant to read for him/herself and discuss with you. Also – and from long experience with patients – I have again and again witnessed the wisdom of taking along a portable tape recorder as an aide memoir and for later reference.  Let me again assure you, not only will your consultant not mind, he/she will be glad and greatly impressed to see that you value his/her advice so highly.

Chemotherapy or treatment with drugs – which in reality is not just one but several variants of treatment – represents another important form of anti-cancer therapy. Moreover, it is one which is increasingly being refined and shown to hold burgeoning promise. A better understanding of the rationale underpinning the use of one such variant, known as cytotoxic (literally, cell-killing) therapy, will, I am confident, help enormously to facilitate a better and fuller understand of any associated noxious psychological and behavioural side effects. This then will form subject matter, in due course.

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