A diagnosis or suspected diagnosis of cancer can be overwhelming. It can be hard to take in all the information provided to you and your family. It is important that, as well as focusing on your medical issues, other areas where you and your family might need support are considered. Supportive care can assist you and your family by helping to manage any physical symptoms, your emotional and practical needs, as well as help you understand more about what may happen.
Supportive care compliments your medical care. It refers to all aspects of your health and well being, including:
Pain, feeling sick, feeling tired
Family, social and practical needs
Home help, child care, financial support
Spiritual and religious needs
Faith, courage, hope
About diagnosis, prognosis, treatments
Emotional and psychological needs
Fear, sadness, anger
You may need support for some or all of the things listed above.
As supportive care problems may change over time, your health professional should discuss your needs over time. You may be asked to complete a questionnaire that will assist you to identify your supportive care concerns. You could be asked if you’d like to complete this form a number of times. Each time you fill out this questionnaire, you can decide if you would like to seek help.
Your health professional will read the completed form and discuss any issues with you. Sometimes you may need additional information or a referral to another specialist or service. Your health professional can assist you with this. Please speak with your health professional if you have any questions.
What are the benefits of supportive care?
There are supports and services that can help people, their families and carers to cope with cancer and its treatment. These can help you to enhance the benefits of treatment and to live as well as possible during this time.
These supports and services can help you to manage fatigue, anxiety, depression, dietary and eating issues, nausea, vomiting and pain, and increase your knowledge about your treatment. Having these important needs addressed can also assist recovery and improve symptoms and overall quality of life.
Who provides supportive care?
All members of the multidisciplinary team have a role in identifying supportive care needs and providing the relevant supports and services to assist with those needs.
Allied health professionals (AHPs) are key members of the team working to support patients.
Alongside oncology nurses, allied health professionals involved in supportive care for cancer include:
Dietitians – provide dietary recommendations and advice to treat malnutrition which is common for people with cancer. Dietitians can help with limiting weight loss, managing weight gain, minimising discomfort, reducing tiredness, and improving nutrition.
Occupational therapists –assist you to overcome problems that arise as a result of your cancer so you, your family or carer can maintain independence with day to day tasks (such as managing fatigue, and addressing barriers to returning to driving, work and home based activities after treatment).
Physiotherapists – help you improve mobility, breathing, functional ability and independence as well as gain relief from symptoms of physical disability or pain by using hands-on treatments and exercise programs.
Lymphoedema practitioners – have specialist training in prevention and management of lymphoedema (swelling). Treatment includes massage, compression bandages, and exercises.
Speech and language therapists – assess and treat patients with speech, language or swallowing problems.
Psychologists – You and your family and carers may experience sadness, grief, lowered mood or anxiety following a diagnosis of cancer, its treatment and associated life adjustments. Psychologists with experience in oncology can help with adjusting to life changes, relationships and communication, spiritual issues, and emotional support. You do not have to be feeling very distressed in order to seek a referral to psychology.
Psychiatrists – work closely with psychologists to provide a range of psychological care and support. They can assess and treat the effects of cancer treatments on mood, for example depression or anxiety, and thinking or memory changes.
Social workers – provide information on resources, medical and insurance coverage, and how to talk to your family and friends about cancer. Social workers provide assistance in coping with your diagnosis and connect patients and their families with community, state, and national resources.
Art and music therapists – work with you to use the arts to help with communication, and physical and mental health issues such as altered body image, anxiety, tiredness and pain.
Pastoral care workers – Spiritual health and wellbeing can be anything from making some quiet time to reflect to receiving support from trained pastoral care workers. Pastoral care workers can connect patients to organised services or provide support visits.
In addition, support from family, friends, support groups, volunteers and other community-based organisations make an important contribution to supportive care.