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Learning to live with cancer

Thanks to the advances in cancer treatment and technology that exist today, many patients are able to live long and happy lives. However, that doesn’t mean that living with cancer is easy. Patients can endure months, even years, of treatments and recovery that take a huge toll on the body, mind and spirit.

“Patients, and their families as well, need to understand that living with cancer is more like a marathon than a sprint. It’s rarely a situation like, ‘I’m going to get treatment, and then I’m going to be done with this’,” explained Tarek M. Sabagh, MD, medical oncologist with Dayton Physicians Network. “It’s not that you won’t go into remission, but dealing with everything takes time and patience.”

Dr. Sabagh has identified five key areas that tend to be affected the most by a cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment. He provides recommendations for how to best deal with them:

Perception of losing control

If you ask a cancer patient before treatment what are the things they are most anxious about, hair loss is usually right at the top of the list. Specifically, the not knowing when or how it will happen.

For many, the answer to the angst is to pre-emptively shave it off. Why? Because it gives them a sense of control over something at a time when so many things in their life seem out of their control.

“That sense of the loss of control is all the more reason that friends and family need to continue to be supportive and be present for the patient,” said Dr. Sabagh. “Never underestimate the lift you can give someone, even if you haven’t talked to them in a long while.”

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Cancer treatment can be brutal. Hair loss, weight loss, and isolation due to feeling ill, or out of necessity because of a compromised immune system, are almost inevitable.

“It’s never going to be easy, but don’t let cancer lock you in. Try to find a way to accept your appearance,” advised Dr. Sabagh. “Unless you are under doctor’s orders to stay out of public places, try to have as much contact with people as possible. Being interactive with others can lift your spirits and help you in fighting the cancer.”


Dayton Physicians NetworkWhen you are undergoing chemotherapy, chances are you aren’t going to want to eat much. This occurs not only because it can make you feel nauseous, but also because it affects the way food tastes. Usually, this is temporary.

Dr. Sabagh recommends the following:

  • If food lacks flavor, try adding: herbs and spices, extracts or other flavoring, soy sauce, barbecue sauce, ketchup, mustards, meat marinades, teriyaki sauce or vinegar.
  • Salty foods like cured meats, cheeses and snack chips tend to have more flavor.
  • Try brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, cinnamon, dates or raisins on your cereal, instead of white sugar.
  • If food is too sweet, tone it down by adding a little salt or lemon juice. You also can reduce the sweetness of milkshakes, instant beverage mixes or other nutritional drinks by adding plain yogurt, buttermilk, instant coffee granules or extra milk.

“If you have any doubt about whether or not you should eat a certain food or take a certain supplement, check with your doctor first,” said Dr. Sabagh.

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Physical activity

Dayton Physicians NetworkWhen people mention exercise, we tend to think of it being strenuous, but it doesn’t have to be.

“Walking at a comfortable pace is an excellent way to get in some physical activity at a time when you don’t feel like doing anything except laying in bed and sleeping,” said Dr. Sabagh. “Patients often need encouragement to get moving. Getting outside and going for a walk in the fresh air has a lot of physical and mental benefits. It really can help get your mind off the cancer.”

Financial burden

Cancer treatments can create a big financial burden on patients and their families, resulting in a tremendous amount of stress. Sometimes, physicians’ offices can apply for grants with pharmaceutical companies to help patients pay for the cost of chemotherapy drugs.

“At Dayton Physicians Network, we have a financial advisor on staff for our patients and their families to talk to,” said Dr. Sabagh. “I am proud of our financial advisors and how much we’ve been able to help our patients better afford the cost of their treatment and maintenance.”

Dayton Physicians Network has 13 locations, from Greenville to Middletown, to enable patients to receive treatment and care close to home. Click here to learn more about the oncology options available through Dayton Physicians’ offices.