Before starting chemotherapy for cancer patients, nurses take the time to explain all the possible side effects to the patients. However, what the patients hear and their own expectations of how they are going to handle the treatments, are sometimes at odds. Chemotherapy for mesothelioma patients involves some side effects, like neuropathy, that not all patients experience, but a significant number do.
While talking with a patient who had recently started chemotherapy for breast cancer, I discovered that she had some interesting points that I had not really considered about cancer treatments in general. Her major complaint was that the side effects of the chemotherapy – losing her hair, nausea, exhaustion – had all been explained, and she thought she knew what to expect. What she didn’t anticipate was her inability to plan and get things done, and that was really bothering her. She had planned to keep working through the chemotherapy, but she was disappointed that she needed to take more time off than she originally thought. She was experiencing insomnia, a problem that she had never had before.
Difficulty with insomnia, the inability to fall and stay asleep, is reported in 30% to 50% of all cancer patients, according to one study. Other studies say the rate might be as high as 75% of all cancer patients. The circadian rhythms are disturbed during cancer treatments. This is the internal biological clock located in the brain that helps regulate our body’s normal rhythms, including temperature, and hormone levels to maintain the natural sleep- wake cycle, during the 24 hour day. There is also some research that shows that circadian rhythm disruptions may even contribute to cancer itself.
What can help with insomnia?
- Relaxation exercises before bed, such as breathing, guided imagery, meditation, and relaxing your mind and body.
- Lifestyle changes like watching what and when you eat and drink might help. Limiting caffeine intake after a certain hour.
- Exercising and being more active also may help.
Are you anxious or depressed? These emotions are real and important to recognize. Cancer has upset your world and your family’s. Are you sleeping and napping in the day because you are tired or because you are depressed? Let your care team know about this problem. There are medications that might help. Don’t let this go- you need your strength to fight cancer and to give the chemotherapy a chance to work. There is treatment for insomnia- reach out.
If you have questions about any aspect of your mesothelioma care, please email me at [email protected].