When a parent is diagnosed with cancer, doctors, relatives, and friends frequently start using a new set of words such as "lymph nodes," "biopsy" and "infusion." This can be confusing, especially to children.
Here are some of the terms that you and your team of supporters will probably need at some point. You might find it helpful to share these definitions with your family as your circumstances require, simplifying them when necessary so that younger kids can understand.
As new terms come up, and you are not sure how to explain a word, test, or procedure to your children, ask your doctor, nurse, or other member of the health care team. They may be able to give you some simpler language that will help. The patient resource room or library where you receive care is another place to turn to as well.
A medicine that is given to a patient to prevent side effects rather than to treat the disease. For example, anti-nausea medicine may be given before chemotherapy to prevent or reduce a patient's feeling nauseated.
However, "prophylactic" is not just used in reference to side effects. A prophylactic procedure may be performed to prevent the development of a primary cancer. For example, some women at increased risk for breast cancer may decide to have a prophylactic mastectomy (surgery to remove a breast).
Treatment of cancer with high-energy rays (similar to X-rays) that destroy cancer cells. The side effects of radiation therapy depend on what part of your body is being treated. For example, your skin might get red in the location where you receive radiation. If your head is being treated, you might lose your hair. If your stomach is being treated, you might get nauseated. And if your head and neck are being treated, you might have a hard time swallowing and eating.
Most people complain of being tired after receiving radiation treatments over time. Children sometimes mistakenly think that radiation can make someone radioactive, but that's not true.
Cells that help the body fight infection
Adapted from: Heiney SP, Hermann JF, Bruss KV, Fincannon JL. Cancer in the family: Helping children cope with a parent's illness. Atlanta: American Cancer Society, 2001: 38. Reprinted with permission. Also adapted from "Commonly used cancer terms: A guide for people living with cancer," published in 2002 by Pharmacia Corporation (now owned by Pfizer Corporation).
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