Caring For Your Own

Skills Lab empowers families to be partners in cancer treatment

Our goal is to help patients and families feel more comfortable about caring for themselves at home.
--Debby Roisen, Nurse Educator

View the Cancer Center's Chemotherapy Handbook [PDF]

Domenico Colapietro received his first round of chemotherapy while he was in the hospital recovering from surgery for lung cancer. The treatment had caused him to lose much of his thick, curly hair and he already had his prescription for anti-nausea medication.

But the next round -- like most rounds of chemotherapy -- would be delivered in one of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center's outpatient infusion areas. There would be no nurse to monitor him once he returned home to Romulus. That's why Colapietro and his son, Salvatore, and daughter, Angela, were meeting with a Cancer Center Skills Lab nurse.

As cancer care has advanced, more and more of it can be delivered on an outpatient basis. While it's a shift that has its benefits -- both in terms of cost and personal comfort -- it has required families to learn how to handle a variety of medical concerns at home.

That's where the Cancer Center's Skills Lab comes in. The Skills Lab provides one-on-one education to patients and families, who are often overwhelmed by all the information that comes with a cancer diagnosis, says Debby Roisen, a nurse educator who heads the Skills Lab.

"Our goal is to help patients and families feel more comfortable about caring for themselves at home," Roisen said. "We educate them so that they feel empowered to be a true partner in their own health care."

The nurses who work in the lab provide patient training on a variety of home health-care needs, including instruction on how to handle a continuous chemotherapy pump, how to take care of intravenous ports, how to give injections and how to monitor blood sugar levels.

The Colapietros are in the Skills Lab for the clinic's best known service: new infusion training. Louise Rushlow, a Skills Lab nurse, is explaining what the Colapietros should expect during chemotherapy treatment. She's offering helpful tips and advice. And, most importantly, she's teaching them how to distinguish expected side effects from serious reactions that warrant medical attention.

Toward the end of their talk, Rushlow pulls out a worksheet that the Cancer Center offers families to help divvy up the responsibilities of home health care. Before she finishes explaining it, the Colapietros begin to laugh.

"We've already got that down!" Salvatore Colapietro says.

Treatment Tips

We asked Debby Roisen, a nurse educator who heads the Skills Lab, for her best advice for families who are dealing with outpatient chemotherapy. Here's a round-up of her suggestions.

Buy a good thermometer.

It's important to take your temperature. If it ever goes above 101 degrees Fahrenheit, call your doctor.

Buy anti-bacterial body wash.

Don't use bar soaps that can harbor bacteria.

Keep hand sanitizer nearby.

You want to keep germs at bay, but you might not feel up to going to the sink frequently to wash your hands. Hand sanitizer can be a good alternative for times when your hands aren't visibly dirty.

Eat well.

It's important to maintain your weight during treatment. Eat before appointments, but avoid spicy or greasy foods that may cause indigestion. If you're having trouble with your appetite, consider consulting with a Cancer Center dietitian.

Opt for gentle dental care.

Buy a new, soft toothbrush.

Drink plenty of fluids.

This is especially important before appointments. It'll make it easier for nurses to find veins for treatment. Remember to drink extra water if you have coffee, which can cause you to lose fluids.

Use paper towels to dry hands.

Communal hand towels should be avoided.

Step back and ask for help.

If you're feeling overwhelmed, the Cancer Center has many options to help. Ask your doctor for a referral to the Skills Lab if you need a refresher course on something. Or, if you're feeling stressed, consider an appointment in our PsychOncology Clinic. Our therapists are trained specifically to help families cope with the strain of cancer and its treatment.

back to top

Thrive Issue: 
Spring, 2010