Patient and Caregiver Resources
A diagnosis of cancer can be unnerving, as it brings with it many new and complex challenges. Your emotional, informational and social needs are an important part of your total medical care. The information below will empower you and your caregivers with the latest information regarding treatment, resources and support, so that you can move through all phases of your cancer—from diagnosis on—with greater ease and a sense of control.
Cancer Support Services & Caregiver Support
American Cancer Society
- Phone: 1.800.237.2345
- A nationwide, community-based voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem by preventing cancer, saving lives, and diminishing suffering from cancer, through research, education, advocacy, and service.
CancerCare: Counseling. Support Groups. Resources. Financial Assistance.
- CancerCare is a national organization committed to helping people cope with the emotional, practical and financial challenges of cancer. CancerCare’s comprehensive network of services includes telephone, online and in-person counseling and support groups, education, publications, resources and financial and co-payment assistance. All CancerCare services are provided by professional oncology social workers and are completely free of charge. Learn more.
- Phone: 206.297.2500 or 800.255.5505
- Cancer Lifeline is a local cancer organization that provides emotional support, resources, educational classes, artistic expression and exercise support programs for people living with cancer. Patients, survivors, their families, friends, co-workers and caregivers are all welcome. Services are offered free of charge and are offered here at Valley Medical Center as well as throughout the Puget Sound area.The phone Lifeline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. View list of Cancer Lifeline's current classes and support programs held on VMC's campus.
Cancer Resource Center (CRC)
- Phone: 425.690.3507
- Hours: Monday through Friday from 10 AM to 4 PM
The Cancer Resource Center is currently closed. Please check back soon.
- Our friendly volunteers provide the following free services to cancer patients and their families or friends:
- Printed information on cancer and its treatment
- Referrals to and information on local resources and support
- Programs such as our Compassionate Care Program; Reach to Recovery; and Road to Recovery
- Personal Health Manager Kits
- Free wigs, hats and scarves to people dealing with hair loss due to cancer treatment
Caring Bridge: Finding Comfort Through Connections
- CaringBridge.org uses the power of the Internet to bring patients, caregivers, family and friends together to share information and support during life-changing health events such as cancer, premature birth, critical illness and serious accidents. CaringBridge is free and is a meaningful way to help friends and family from around the world stay connected and informed. Patients and caregivers post journal entries about their healthcare journey and in return, family and friends provide vital support through guestbook messages and a photo gallery.
- Create your own CaringBridge page today. It’s quick, easy and free. Click here to get started!
Gilda’s Club Seattle
- Named in honor of Gilda Radner, Gilda's Club Seattle offers a broad, community-based program of social, emotional, and educational support for cancer survivors, their loved ones and friends. The program serves anyone touched by cancer across the cancer continuum—from diagnosis, through treatment and post-treatment, survivorship, and bereavement, including children, teens, and whole families. Learn more.
National Cancer Institute
- The National Cancer Institute provides comprehensive information about cancer causes and prevention, screening and diagnosis, treatment and survivorship; clinical trials; statistics; and the institute and its programs. You can also get cancer information online through the LiveHelp instant messaging service. If you live in the United States, you may call the NCI's Cancer Information Service toll-free at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) for cancer information in English and Spanish.
Financial Counseling & Assistance
- Valley Medical Center financial counselors are available to assist with setting up payment plans, as well as evaluating discount, charity care and public assistance options. In addition, CancerCare may offer other financial assistance.
Glossary of Terms
Unfamiliar with a term? Look it up in this medical glossary.
Nutrition Services and Support
Overview of Nutrition in Cancer Care
- Good nutrition is important for cancer patients.
- Nutrition is a process in which food is taken in and used by the body for growth, to keep the body healthy, and to replace tissue. Eating the right kinds of foods before, during, and after cancer treatment can help patients feel better and stay stronger.
A healthy diet includes eating and drinking enough of the foods and liquids that have the important nutrients (vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates, fat, and water) the body needs. When the body does not get or cannot absorb enough of the nutrients needed for health, it causes a condition called malnutrition or malnourishment.
- Healthy eating habits are important during cancer treatment.
- Nutrition therapy is used to help cancer patients get the nutrients they need to maintain their body weight and strength, keep body tissue healthy, and fight infection. Eating habits that are good for cancer patients can be very different from “typical” healthy eating guidelines.
Healthy eating habits and good nutrition can help patients deal with the effects of cancer and its treatment. Most cancer treatments work better when the patient is well nourished and gets enough calories and protein in their diet. Patients who are well nourished may have a better prognosis (chance of recovery) and quality of life.
- Cancer and cancer treatments may affect nutrition.
- For many patients, the effects of cancer and cancer treatments make it hard to eat well. Cancer treatments that affect nutrition include:
- Radiation therapy
- Stem cell transplant
- The side effects of cancer and cancer treatment that can affect eating include:
- Anorexia (loss of appetite)
- Mouth sores
- Dry mouth or thick saliva
- Taste changes
- Difficulty swallowing
- When cancer and cancer treatments affect the ability to eat enough food or absorb the nutrients from food, this can cause malnutrition (a condition caused by a lack of key nutrients). Malnutrition can cause the patient to be weak, tired, and unable to fight infections or get through cancer treatment. Eating too little protein and calories is a very common problem for cancer patients. Having enough protein and calories is important for healing, fighting infection, and having enough energy.
Nutrition Therapy in Cancer Care
- Nutritional screening is done at consultation by the physician before cancer treatment begins, and assessment continues throughout treatment. Screening and assessment may include questions about the following:
- Type and location of cancer and the treatment plan.
- Weight changes.
- Changes in the amount and type of food eaten compared to what is usual for the patient.
- Problems that may affect eating such as loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, mouth sores, dry mouth, changes in taste and smell, or pain.
- Ability to walk and do other activities of daily living (dressing, getting into or out of a bed or chair, taking a bath or shower, and using the toilet).
- Patients who are underweight or malnourished may not be able to get through treatment as well as a well-nourished patient. Finding and treating nutrition problems early may improve a patient's prognosis (chance of recovery) and help a patient gain weight or prevent weight loss and decrease problems with the treatment.
- A nutrition support team will check the patient's nutritional health often during cancer treatment and recovery. The team may include the following specialists:
- Registered dietitian
- Social worker
- It is important to treat weight loss caused by cancer and its treatment.
- It is important that cancer symptoms and side effects that affect eating and cause weight loss are treated early. Both nutrition therapy and medicine can help the patient stay at a healthy weight. Medicine may be used for the following:
- To help increase appetite
- To help digest food
- To help the muscles of the stomach and intestines contract (to keep food moving along)
- To prevent or treat nausea and vomiting
- To prevent or treat diarrhea
- To prevent or treat constipation
- To prevent and treat mouth problems (such as dry mouth, infection, pain, and sores)
- To prevent and treat pain
- A patient whose religion doesn't allow eating certain foods may want to talk with a religious advisor about allowing those foods during cancer treatment and recovery.
- The main goals of nutrition therapy for patients in active treatment and recovery are to provide nutrients that are missing, maintain nutritional health, and prevent problems. The health care team will use nutrition therapy to do the following:
- Prevent or treat nutrition problems, including preventing muscle and bone loss.
- Decrease side effects of cancer treatment and problems that affect nutrition.
- Maintain the patient's strength and energy.
- Help the immune system fight infection.
- Help the body recover and heal.
- Maintain or improve the patient's quality of life.
- Good nutrition continues to be important for patients who are in remission or whose cancer has been cured. The goals of nutrition therapy for patients who have advanced cancer include the following:
- Control side effects.
- Lower the risk of infection.
- Keep up strength and energy.
- Improve or maintain quality of life.
The National Cancer Institute provides helpful Eating Hints: Before, During, and After Cancer Treatment.
Radiation Therapy and Nutrition
- Radiation therapy can affect cancer cells and healthy cells in the treatment area.
- Radiation therapy can kill cancer cells and healthy cells in the treatment area. The amount of damage depends on the following:
- The part of the body that is treated
- The total dose of radiation and how it is given
- Radiation therapy may affect nutrition.
- Radiation therapy to any part of the digestive system often has side effects that cause nutrition problems. Most of the side effects begin a few weeks after radiation therapy begins and go away a few weeks after it is finished. Some side effects can continue for months or years after treatment ends.
- The following are some of the more common side effects:
- For radiation therapy to the head and neck
- Loss of appetite
- Changes in the way food tastes
- Pain when swallowing
- Dry mouth or thick saliva
- Sore mouth and gums
- Narrowing of the upper esophagus, which can cause choking, breathing, and swallowing problems
- For radiation therapy to the chest
- Infection of the esophagus
- Trouble swallowing
- Esophageal reflux (a backward flow of the stomach contents into the esophagus).
- For radiation therapy to the abdomen or pelvis
- Inflamed intestines or rectum
- A decrease in the amount of nutrients absorbed by the intestines
- Radiation therapy may also cause tiredness, which can lead to a decrease in appetite.
- Nutrition therapy can help relieve the nutrition problems caused by radiation therapy.
- Nutrition therapy during radiation treatment can help a patient get enough protein and calories to get through treatment, prevent weight loss, help wound and skin healing, and maintain general health. Nutrition therapy may include the following (see your dietitian for a more individualized plan):
- Nutritional supplement drinks between meals.
- Enteral nutrition (tube feedings).
- Changes in the diet, such as eating small meals throughout the day.
- This summary was adapted from the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health – Nutrition in Cancer Care PDQ. PDQ is a comprehensive cancer database available on NCI's Website)
Oncology Social Work
- The oncology social worker is available to assist you and your loved ones in addressing the new and complex challenges a diagnosis of cancer can bring. Our oncology social worker is a licensed, master’s level social worker with specialized training and experience in assisting people impacted by cancer. Services are available throughout all phases of your cancer care from diagnosis, through treatment and into recovery. These services are offered at no additional cost as they are considered an important part of your total medical care.
- The oncology social worker can help:
- Access information to assist you in understanding your diagnosis and treatment plan.
- Cope with your cancer diagnosis and the different emotions you may experience while dealing with cancer and its treatment.
- Consider decisions about treatment options in light of other factors in your life, including work, family, personal goals, needs and responsibilities.
- Understand and complete durable power of attorney (DPOA) and advanced directives.
- Understand social security, disability benefits and medical insurance.
- Obtain information on, and apply for, programs and services in your local community and nationally that may be able to help during this time.
- The oncology social worker can offer you:
- Counseling for you and your loved ones, to address issues related to your cancer diagnosis and deal with things such as depression, anxiety, stress, the effects of cancer on the family and relationships, etc.
- Referrals to community based counseling as needed.
- Support groups and educational programs for you and your caregivers.
- Support, education and referrals for parents or caregivers of minor children regarding how to best support children when a loved one has cancer.
- Information about and referrals to community resources for assistance with financial concerns, housing concerns, food assistance, transportation issues, etc.
- Information about, and referral to, cancer-related information and service organizations.
- Resources and education related to workplace issues and schooling.
Resources to help you cope with common treatment side effects.
- The oncology social worker can teach you about:
- Talking effectively with your treatment team members to get the care you want.
- Talking with your children, family, friends, and co-workers about your cancer diagnosis and treatments.
- Coping with your emotions, such as sadness, anger, grief and worry or fear.
- Reducing stress and using relaxation skills, such as guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, etc.
- How cancer can affect sexuality, intimacy, fertility, and general feelings about your body and appearance.
- Living with cancer; issues commonly experienced and resources to help you.
- Planning for your care with the use of advance directives.
- Dealing with transitions during and after treatment and life as a cancer survivor.
- The oncology social worker can help you access:
- Affordable medical care and prescription drug coverage
- Prescription drug assistance programs
- Financial assistance programs and help with daily living needs
- Transportation to and from medical care
- Referrals for help at home, home health care and hospice care
- Durable medical equipment, such as a cane, walker, etc.The social worker is available via self-referral by calling 425.228.3440 ext. 5949 or by asking one of your healthcare team members to make a referral. Questions and concerns can be discussed over the telephone or in person during a time convenient to you.
Spiritual Care Services
The team in Spiritual Care Services recognizes that the many different traditions, faiths, and spiritualities—whether religious or secular—are an important part of each individual's care and well-being. Our warm, supportive and non-judgmental care is available to every patient. Learn about the services available to you.
Transportation resources to and from medical appointments are available within the community. Please see our resource list below and/or contact the Cancer Resource Center (425.690.3507) or the oncology social worker (425.228.34440 ext. 5949) for assistance.
Learn more about transportation assistance options.
Video Introduction to External Radiation Therapy
Watch this video about external radiation therapy.