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Holistic Cancer Support and Care

From nutrition to emotional support, these 6 people can help you during cancer treatment
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WebMD Feature

When you think of cancer support and treatment, you probably think of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. But there’s a lot more to fighting cancer than destroying cancer cells.

During cancer treatment, you need to eat well and keep a healthy weight. You need to know where to turn with questions about your treatment or its side effects. You might need help coping with the emotional impact of cancer. So while you might not usually think of a dietitian or a social worker or therapist as important cancer support, they often are.

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“We have to look at a person’s medical care from a holistic perspective,” says Terri Ades, MS, APRN-BC, AOCN, director of cancer information at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta. While your doctor’s main job may be to focus on the cancer, other health professionals will work hard to keep the rest of you healthy.

Here’s an introduction to six health care professionals you might lean on for cancer support during treatment.

Your Nurse: The Lead Person on Your Cancer Support Team

You won’t be surprised to hear that nurses play a role in your cancer treatment. But you may not realize how central they are to full cancer support.

“Nurses are a patient’s greatest advocate,” says Ades.

Harold J. Burstein, MD agrees. “I think nurses may be more likely than a doctor to see treatment from the patient’s point of view,” says Burstein, a staff oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

What kind of nurses will you see? All sorts. But your oncologist probably works closely with either an oncology nurse -- who has special training in treating cancer -- or a nurse practitioner. These nurses play a crucial part in managing and preventing the side effects of treatment, like nausea.

They also play an important role in helping you with everyday concerns. For instance, they can relay your concerns to the doctor. They might coordinate treatment with other experts on your cancer support team. They can guide you to cancer support services in the community. Over the course of treatment, patients often rely on their nurses a great deal.

“Nurses can often spend more time with the patient than their doctors answering questions and offering support,” Ades tells WebMD. “They often develop a comfortable, trusting relationship.”

Your Psychological Counselor: Key to Any Cancer Support Team

Living with cancer -- and undergoing cancer treatment -- can have a profound psychological impact. Many people become anxious or depressed. Seeing a therapist -- like a clinical social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist -- can be a key form of cancer support.

Therapists can help you with many different aspects of your cancer treatment. He or she can help you grapple with some of the frightening big issues that cancer raises. But therapists can also help you deal with day-to-day practical issues. How should you talk to your children about your cancer? How much should you tell your boss and co-workers about your situation?

Some cancer centers have therapists on staff. Your doctor can also refer you to an outside counselor in the area who specializes in cancer support.

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