The Triton


Emotional first aid is best tool for cancer patient


As I write this, my mother has just completed her second week of chemotherapy and ended up in the hospital for six days. The chemo, coupled with her other medication, caused her blood pressure to drop dangerously low. The doctor decided to stop chemo early and begin radiation therapy.

Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses drugs to destroy cancer cells. It is intended to stop or slow the growth of cancer cells, which often grow and divide quickly. A doctor can administer chemo in many ways: orally, topically or through injection into the muscle, an artery, the organ with cancer, or the veins.

One problem with chemo is that it often damages healthy cells that divide quickly, too, such as those that line the mouth and intestines or that cause hair to grow. Hair loss is very common for chemo patients. So is fatigue, which really hit my mom hard.

Often, these columns are focused on first aid and preparing for a medical emergency. When being around someone being treated for cancer, there really is no first aid we can render. Instead, we have to supply emotional first aid.

For those yacht crew interacting with cancer patients — whether they be guests, fellow crew or someone in your family — the best medicine we can give them is our emotional care, patience and understanding.

Cancer can cause a wide range of emotions that may be overwhelming. These emotions may change frequently and are completely normal. Some of the feelings cancer patients may exhibit include anger, fear, stress, depression, loneliness and sadness.



Anger is one of the biggies. They often ask “Why me? I don’t deserve to be sick.” Often, they direct their anger at loved ones, caregivers, or anyone else around. Religious people may even feel angry with God.

They are sad, too, at the loss of their health. Sad they can’t live the life they had before cancer. This sadness may lead to depression and could require medical attention, counseling and possibly medication.

It’s important to remember that these emotions can also be shared by the spouse and family of the cancer patient. We shouldn’t forget about them when we give our emotional care.

All we can do to help is simply to understand that a wide range of emotions is normal. Our job, then, is to treat the patient with kindness and understanding. They may not always want your help or act like they appreciate your efforts, but keep in mind they need you. Even though they may not show it, you are helping them.

One of the symptoms we noticed in my mother was a loss of appetite. According to the American Cancer Society, a poor appetite can be caused by many things, such as trouble swallowing, depression, pain or nausea. A poor appetite can also be due to a changed sense of taste or smell, which was the case for my mother.

So we tried to vary her diet and think of foods that looked good. If a cancer patient is onboard, do not be offended if they complain about the food or do not eat much of it. It’s often a temporary side effect of the cancer treatment. Try to find foods that look appealing and hopefully the patient will be able to eat.

There are many good sources for information on cancer, chemotherapy and radiation treatment. The best place to start is the American Cancer Society at

Keith Murray, a former firefighter EMT, owns The CPR School, a first-aid training company. He provides onboard training for yacht captains and crew and sells and services AEDs. Contact him at 877-6-AED-CPR, 877-623-3277 or Comments on this column are welcome at


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