Consider every part of your life when facing the cancer journey says Dr Michiel Botha, Healthcare Practitioner and Clinical Oncologist from The Outeniqua Oncology Centre in George.
Holistic care has come to mean many different things and, in the case of cancer, some of these are not necessarily very helpful. A flower or three for the pain, a medicinal herb for the cure – these ideas are often touted by well-meaning friends and family, but they need to be taken with a pinch of proverbial salt. What really defines holistic cancer care is the ability to assess what your body needs to manage the medication, and the mental preparation your mind needs to take it on with a powerful mental attitude.
“The basic premise of holistic cancer care is that you need to take everything into account, not just the cancer and its symptoms, but the patient’s mental and social factors too,” says Dr Michiel Botha, Healthcare Practitioner, and Clinical Oncologist from The Outeniqua Oncology Centre in George. “If every aspect of a person’s care is well looked after, then they will be more aware of what the treatment entails and what they need to cope with it.”
The medication, the diagnosis, the impact on your life – these factors can impact on how you face your journey. A holistic treatment plan that mixes the treatment, the people, the environment and the tools to suit you is the best way to ensure you succeed.
“The first step is to work on creating an open relationship with the oncologist or with another member of staff at the clinic,” says Dr Botha. “Some patients struggle to relate to their doctor or don’t want to ask questions and this can impact on their understanding of the processes and procedures involved. An oncology social worker is a fantastic resource in this situation as they can assess if a patient is in trouble and what support they need.”
If a practice doesn’t have a social worker, then it is advisable to foster at least one close relationship with a member of staff. They can then answer your questions honestly and in a way that you can relate to. It is amazing how a clear understanding of the diagnosis and prognosis can change the way you feel and how you approach treatment.
“Anybody can be the anchor person, but it is essential as you need someone who you trust and who you feel can answer your questions,” adds Dr Botha. “Another important step to take is around your diet. A dietician can help you make sense of the conflicting information out there as most patients don’t know what’s the truth and what’s not.”
This comes with a warning. Dr Botha advises caution when taking advice from so-called experts, and there are plenty of them. They give people advice on cancer treatments that aren’t necessarily ideal for that particular cancer or patient, and this can impact on their health.
“Many people are taking these extra alternative treatments and they don’t want to talk to their oncologist about it,” says Dr Botha. “They are slightly embarrassed, but friends and family pressure them into taking it. If they know who is on their oncology team and have someone to talk to, then they can openly discuss these treatments and get honest answers to their questions.”
Honesty is also an essential ingredient for truly holistic cancer care. You need to know that the person advising you is being upfront and has your best interests at heart. It is also important to feel safe where you are receiving your treatment and to understand everything about it.
“You need to know how to cope with your treatment, not just in terms of drugs for the nausea, but important things like where to get a wig, how to find a prosthesis and where to live while waiting for treatments,” concludes Dr Botha. “You need a team. Cancer isn’t a one-man show and it needs you, your GP, your social worker, your oncologist and your family to support you along the way. So ensure you always communicate, always ask questions and feel safe and supported in your treatment environment.”