October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We think it is an appropriate time to talk about cancer in aging adults.
We know, people get nervous or frustrated when we talk about aging and adding the word cancer to the conversation makes us want to avoid it all together. But, the good news is that we know a lot more than we used to and there is reliable information out there than can help us better manage the idea and realities of both.
It might be helpful to start by thinking about ways to approach cancer that are especially important for older adults:
- As we age, we are at a higher risk for cancer, along with other ailments, diseases or circumstances that could complicate cancer treatment and recovery. That’s why it’s important to get screened, regularly.
- In fact, even though cancer occurs most often in older people, they often receive less screenings and milder treatments (if any). So, you can help yourself or your loved one by being proactive and 1) getting screened 2) asking about treatment options to understand risks, benefits and goals more completely. You must empower yourself to determine what type of treatment is best for you.
- Because aging brings with it specific factors that affect a person’s wellbeing, independence and confidence/self-esteem, cancer treatment plans must take these factors into consideration. You are the person who knows what factors describe you best.
- Individuals age differently. Two people the same age could have very different physiological capabilities and challenges. Just because a person is older, doesn’t mean that their age should be the sole determining factor for the course of cancer treatment. Knowing what you are capable of gives everyone a better idea of what they can expect from your course of treatment.
Balance Community and Independence
- Chances are, as an older adult, you feel that your sense of independence is threatened. If youare receiving cancer treatment, that feeling can grow. It’s simply a fact that you will need support of some kind, so it’s important to be able to ask for that support and also feel comfortable maintaining control over decisions that need to be made. Start by identifying who you can trust to help AND listen to your concerns, thoughts and needs.
- While your independence is very important, being able to talk to others about what you are going through is also important to help prevent depression and feelings of isolation. Make sure you have people you feel comfortable sharing your thoughts with. There are often support groups and community groups that can help you with this.
Take Care of Your Spirit
- For many older adults, facing an illness or disease, like cancer, can bring up a lot of spiritual or religious concerns. It’s not just about grappling with end-of-life questions; it’s also about how to approach treatment. Make sure you are
doing things that feed your spirit and allow you to examine and discuss the questions that arise.
No one should have to go through cancer treatment, but if you or a loved one ever has to face such a challenge, approaching it with these things in mind could really help you through the journey.