At a glance
- Ask what treatments are needed/recommended.
- Ask what side effects are expected.
- Ask if there are there any side effects that you should be particularly aware of – such as life threatening.
- Ask what should to do if you experience side effects.
- Ask what you can do to improve outcome.
- Ask how you can aid recovery/healing.
This chapter is a very brief overview of the types of treatments your partner may receive. There are chapters on each specific treatment, covering what to expect, side effects and so on, in much greater detail.
The treatment is decided based on a number of factors.
Depending on what stage your partner’s cancer is at, and whether it’s surgically treatable, your care team will either be taking a ‘curative’ or ‘palliative’ path. The former will be looking to put your partner into remission and, while they will always hesitate to use the term ‘cure’, that’s essentially what they are aiming for. If your partner’s cancer has metastasised (spread) and there are secondary breast tumors, they will be looking to push the cancer back and do everything they can to ensure quality of life for your partner. It’s worth noting that secondary breast cancer in, say, the lung, is still called breast cancer. Odd, I know, but the cells are essentially from the breast.
You want to be looking at a curative path, for obvious reasons.
Also, depending on the grade of the cancer and the stage, your partner may need therapy to reduce the size of the tumour, stop the spread and kill off anything that might have spread, before surgically removing it. Said treatment may continue after the main surgical treatment.
As part of the treatment plan, your partner will be given consent forms to read and sign. These will detail the different treatments and the possible side effects. They make for scary reading, quite frankly. It’s well worth you reading them too so you have a full understanding of what’s going on. Ultimately, it’s your partner’s choice to proceed with any treatment, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have any input in the decision.
Pretty much every cancer treatment comes with possible side effects. That doesn’t necessarily mean your partner is going to experience them all…or even any of them. Like so many aspects of cancer, ‘it depends’. On how resilient your partner is. How aggressive the treatment is. What type of treatment she’s having and so on. Just make sure you’re familiar with them all so you can help your partner if they become apparent during the treatment. The different treatment chapters in this book detail the more common side effects but you need to be aware of all of the ones specific to your partner.
The following is a list of treatments that your partner may or may not need:
Drugs used to destroy cancer cells. This could be multiple ‘cycles’ of a single drug or combination of drugs, or multiple cycles of a drug or combination of drugs, followed by multiple cycles of another drug or combination of drugs. No two people’s chemotherapy regimes are the same, which is why it’s so difficult to provide guidance on specific chemotherapy treatments.
Can be anything from a small lumpectomy where the tumour is removed from the breast, sparing as much healthy tissue as possible, through to removal of one (mastectomy) or both (bilateral mastectomy) breasts along with the lymph nodes to either side.
Controlled bursts (doses) of radiation fired at a targeted site to destroy cancer cells.
Targeted treatment (aka biological therapy)
Drugs used to prevent the growth and spread of cancerous cells. Dictated by how receptive the cancer cells are to certain biological functions.
Any number of drugs that affect hormone production or activity in the body. Again dictated by how receptive the cancer cells are to certain biological functions.
Depending on any number of possible characteristics your partner’s cancer may have, it’s possible your partner might be eligible for trial therapy. This is entirely at the discretion of the treatment team, as well as your partner.
Your partner may need ongoing treatment in the form of continued hormone therapy, bone protection, targeted therapy or any number of other treatments, including occupational therapy or physiotherapy. Jen’s ongoing treatment is for bone protection, hormone therapy and physiotherapy. The hormone therapy is for 10 years.
Your partner may be prescribed a potentially vast array of medicines before, during and after her treatment – some will be taken at specific stages, some may be taken during and after the other ‘main’ therapies. Some will be to complement the main therapies, some will be to counteract the side effects. It’s beyond the scope of this book to list or otherwise name the medicines, but it’s useful to have a good idea of the general types: antihistamines, anti-emetics, steroids, pain relief, anti depressants, immunity boosters, relief creams and liquids…you get the picture. Make a note of the dose and administration scheduling as well as any side effects to look out for.
I feel it’s worth noting at this point that there are no guarantees that any of the treatments your partner receives will work. Certainly you’ll be very unlikely to get a 100 per cent cast iron promise that the treatment will be completely effective. Doctors are very reluctant to provide percentages or likely outcomes and, based on the research I’ve done, I’m not convinced those sorts of numbers do anyone any good anyway. For example, if you find out that 70 per cent of people with a specific cancer type, treated with a specific regimen, survive beyond five years, what can you realistically make of that information? Of 100 people in any given survey, six are statistically likely to die by accident within a five-year period. See what I mean? So, all things being equal, your best course of action is to proceed in a way that is likely to produce the best outcome, no matter what.