Time is Tight

There is no denying the fast pace of our modern world. Living in a big city adds an additional layer in the form of traffic, something that I have noticed is making an ever greater impact even in less populous areas like the sleepy midwest town I grew up in. And with technology, something that was supposedly going to make life more productive and easier at the same time, it seems like there is simply more and more vying for our attention at any given moment. Add in the requirements of cancer treatment -- not to mention dealing with the side-effects -- and suddenly there may be precious little time left in the day to get anything personal accomplished.

The treatment commute

Cancer treatment on its own is always time-consuming. It requires regular visits to doctors' offices, often separate from treatment locations, and for most patients, these are not in the most convenient of locations. The number and diversity of patients far exceed the number of treatment centers and specialists qualified to treat any given form of cancer. Commuting quickly becomes a regular part of most cancer patients' lives, and needs to be scheduled in accordingly, whether it is just once a month or several times each week.

An at-home treatment option

Many treatments allow patients to take pills at home rather than go in for scheduled infusions. At first blush, this seems like it should be a massive time saver, and it certainly cuts down on the commuting time on infusion days. While infusions might themselves take anywhere from 45 minutes to several hours, and in some cases may require more than one consecutive day to complete, they generally only happen once every three or four weeks -- especially after the patient goes into maintenance mode. But the pill options, while administered at home and occasionally only requiring one daily dose, may quickly become all-day-long considerations.

Administering pills for cancer treatment may mean taking more than just the cancer medication itself. For example, there might be additional pills to control diarrhea, nausea, inflammation, or more. Patients could have additional antihistamines, antibiotics, or pain medications added to the regimen. All together, it is possible that there might be ten or more times over the course of a day when the patient needs to stop and take medication and delaying one could cause the delay of another since not all medications can be taken together.

Juggling side effects

Then there are the issues of the side-effects themselves. Just like patients whose cancer treatment is administered orally at home, patients who get infusions may also have a selection of pills to take either as needed or at prescribed schedules to deal with side-effects. But beyond that, the patients still must deal with the interruptions caused by unpredictable digestive issues, delayed drug interactions, or just the cumulative effects of treatment. Fatigue and sleeplessness combine to provide one of the greatest challenges that patients face when dealing with time management. (And let's not forget chemo brain.) Being constantly tired makes it almost impossible to be even remotely productive, even when it comes to the most basic of tasks.

Using apps to stay on track

But there are tools available that can make all of these issues less of a problem. Making the use of them a habit, working them into the daily routine, can free up a lot of time that would otherwise be lost.

Several free apps are available for mobile devices or web browsers that keep track of a patient's medicines, with notifications for when it is time to take each one. Having a tool like this can remove a lot of the worry associated with staying on track, and some of these also allow the patient to make notes about how the medications are working or what specific side-effects they may have, which makes planning ahead even easier. By using devices to set reminders and keep track of events, technology can be used to make life easier and free up time -- and mental space -- for being productive or creative in other areas.

Keeping lists and other tricks

And of course, there is the old standby: the list. Whether electronic or old-fashioned pen and paper, lists are often the cancer patient's best friend. Checking off items can offer its own sense of fulfillment. But at its most basic, lists help everyone to keep their tasks in line.

One simple "life hack" in the list department includes making two separate lists, one of which is a selection of tasks that can be accomplished without a lot of energy or focus. This could include things like watering a small garden or feeding a pet, or even vacuuming a rug, if these things are not too physically demanding. This kind of task can be done on "autopilot" for most people, and so things are "getting done" even when the patient might feel more like a zombie than a human.

Getting into the habit of using simple tools like these (and please add your own suggestions to the comments section below), can do a lot to help cancer patients make the most of their time. It may not help to overcome the lack of sleep -- but it might make those hours when the patient is rested feel more directed and offer a sense of accomplishment.

Editor’s Note: We are extremely saddened to say that on October 21, 2018, Jeffrey Poehlmann passed away. Jeffrey’s advocacy efforts and writing continue to reach many. He will be deeply missed.

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