Story by: Rebecca Hall on May 6, 2019
How do you tell your family you have incurable brain cancer? How do you go on with life while facing an uncertain prognosis?
These are difficult questions that many of us will never need to answer, but for patients facing brain cancer or a brain tumor, these questions are part of the reality of their diagnosis.
Treatment for brain cancer often involves more than therapies to treat the cancer. Emotional and psychological care can also be important parts of the treatment journey.
Rebecca Reichert, APRN, is a family psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner with Norton Cancer Institute. She provides support to patients with cancer and their families.
Here, she offers her insight on the issues and therapies that are important to patients with a brain cancer or brain tumor diagnosis.
Patients with a brain tumor or brain cancer diagnosis often worry about how to tell their loved ones about their diagnosis and how their illness will impact others. They worry also about medical bills, getting back to work and logistical matters like transportation and medication costs.
Of course, patients with brain cancer or cancer that has spread to the brain, worry about death and dying, especially when they have a terminal diagnosis. They may worry about behavior or personality changes such as whether they’ll be moodier or confused. Sometimes patients ask if they could have done something differently to prevent their brain cancer or brain tumor, or whether they missed signs or symptoms of their cancer.
For patients who have children, I suggest that they meet the kids where they are based on their age, developmental milestones and their ability to understand the cancer diagnosis. Children may need additional support through psychotherapy, art therapy or school involvement. It’s important for patients to emphasize that the cancer diagnosis is not the child’s fault, and for parents to use the word “cancer” instead of “sick” so children know the cancer is not contagious, and they can still be affectionate with their parent without getting sick. I encourage parents to keep expectations and schedules intact as much as possible.
Norton Cancer Institute’s Behavioral Oncology Program offers care for the emotional and mental health needs of patients and their families.
The following are additional recommendations for children.
For kids age 6 to 12 years old:
For teens age 13 to 16 years old:
With an incurable brain cancer prognosis, we focus on short-term goals, as well as finding meaning in the present, and allowing gratitude for each day. We discuss legacy building opportunities, such as letter writing, recording videos or making a bucket list. We often talk about how to optimize quality of life through non-medication and medication interventions. I work with patients to recognize aspects of their life where they have control, such as sleeping, eating, exercising, taking medication and going to treatments, and how to feel empowered by those decisions. Some brain tumors are terminal while others are manageable, so patients may have to look at their tumor as a chronic disease such as diabetes or hypertension that can be managed for a long time.
Norton Cancer Institute’s Behavioral Oncology Program offers patients and immediate adult family members medication management and counseling services. Norton Cancer Institute also offers art therapy, music therapy, social work support and other activities through the Calendar of Hope. Patients can also access resources through Gilda’s Club and other brain tumor groups.
From a psychiatric perspective, cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness therapy are helpful to coping with a brain tumor. There is current research on meaning-centered therapy, which helps with legacy building and defining goals, especially with a terminal or incurable cancer diagnosis. Biofeedback techniques are on the rise, as are complementary therapies such as acupuncture, massage, aromatherapy and others. There is a lot of hope for future treatments given the amount of ongoing research in this area.
Select an appointment date and time from available spots listed below.