In a recent column, I offer clinicians "some of the insights and tips that have helped me [as a patient], and I hope can help you when caring for survivors...." Below, an excerpt:
- [P]atients may minimize their pain, especially if it's mild and/or intermittent. They don't want to complain or distract you from the bigger issue of cancer. Or they assume their pain is expected and untreatable.
- [O]ne quick question yield[s] priceless information: ‘Describe your pain in one sentence, so if I were to develop that pain I would recognize it as the same as yours.’ ...[This approach has] the benefit of providing...patients a way to discuss their discomforts without using the word ‘pain’. [Also,] perfect descriptions by themselves risk depersonalizing patients' suffering and minimizing the turmoil of living with chronic pain.
- By asking patients how – not if – the discomfort interferes with their ability to eat, sleep, work, or play, you may elicit answers indicating the need for physical or occupational therapy. Asking how their discomfort impacts good times may prompt patients to divulge fears that exhaust them, grief and anger that strain relationships, and helplessness that drains hope.
[O]ne side-effect of my reporting pain at check-ups surprised me: feeling sad...Before check-ups, ...I'd pay close attention to my pain and even push myself to test my limits. Having pulled aside the healing curtain of denial, the reality of my struggles and losses hit me – and I felt sad
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Next: Handout for patients