|CANCER & TREATMENTS FOR CANCER CENTER PATIENTS PREVENTION & RISK ASSESSMENT CLINICAL TRIALS & RESEARCH LIVING WITH CANCER|
Help in Healing
A leukemia diagnosis last spring took Ralph May, 64, by
surprise. In a matter of weeks, he’d gone from hauling automotive machinery and equipment in his Kenworth rig to receiving chemotherapy in Clarkston, Mich.
During his three-week stay at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center for a bone marrow transplant, he developed a sacral wound
that wouldn’t heal and persisted into the summer.
Wounds are a common side effect of cancer and cancer treatments, says Nurse Practitioner Suzette Walker, co-director of the Cancer Center's Symptom Management and Supportive Care Clinic. Chemotherapy or oral drugs can cause skin toxicities like rashes and dry skin that can be uncomfortable and bothersome to patients. Certain cancers develop tumors underneath the skin that can break down, leak and cause unpleasant odor and infection.
Or, as was May's case, during hospitalization, pressure wounds can develop from unrelieved pressure that damages the skin and underlying tissue.
"When the wound wasn't healing I was just having terrible pains," May says. "I have an upbeat attitude and laughed and giggled about its location, but it was hurting. When I was sitting and lying, I had to be just right to keep it from aggravating me."
Pain relief is just one reason it is important to care for open wounds, says Dawna Allore, R.N., who manages the clinic's new wound care program. Healing a wound takes energy away from a patient’s ability to tolerate chemotherapy and other cancer treatments.
In addition, wounds have a significant social impact. Not only does a wound cause physical discomfort, it is in many cases right there for everyone to see. Patients often isolate themselves because they’re worried about their physical appearance or because a wound has an unpleasant odor.
"Some wounds we can heal, so this is the focus," Allore says. "Other wounds, such as those caused by a tumor, are ongoing so we are teaching patients how to live with it. There are many things people can do to create a new normal in which living with a wound is much more tolerable."
May experienced a significant reduction in pain after his first visit to the wound care clinic when Allore introduced a new antibacterial bandage with a heart-shaped bandage to wear over it.
"People sometimes think changing a dressing several times a day is best," Allore says. "You actually lose healing time when you change a dressing because the temperature of the wound bed changes. Each time you change it, you can lose up to four hours of healing time."
May has also tried a variety of creams to help with pain.
Another important part of wound care is nutrition. May sees Registered Dietitian Danielle Karsies each time he visits the clinic; they discuss the kinds of foods that promote healing.
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