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‘Time Toxicity’ – 5 Ways To Handle Burden of Living with Cancer

June 05, 2023

Beyond the obvious trauma of having cancer, there is a lesser-known cost: a seemingly endless drain on your time. This phenomenon, known as time toxicity, refers to the amount of time and energy you spend getting treatment for your disease.

It includes the minutes and hours devoted to driving to and from appointments, in waiting rooms, receiving treatment, recovering from those treatments, dealing with unexpected complications and planning for the next treatment cycle. As fatigue grows, you may also find that it takes longer to do ordinary life tasks than it did in the past. It’s not uncommon for people to describe this emotional time sink as akin to having a full-time job.

Making these commitments all the more painful to endure is the knowledge that they come at the expense of all the other things you want to be doing with family and friends while you are on your cancer journey.

It’s an issue that’s part of a bigger question every cancer patient may have about the value of a particular treatment versus that treatment’s impact on quality of life. But there are steps you can take to reduce the toll of time toxicity.

Ask Questions

Don’t be afraid to ask for more detailed information about a proposed treatment and its impact on your life. You don’t have to be a passive recipient of health care.

It’s important to have an open conversation with your oncologist about their expectations for treatment and how it will affect you and your ability to function at the level you desire. This is information many people don’t ask for out of fear, hope or anxiety. But it can help you plan for the future.

Take the Long View

Having a goal attached to your treatment can be critical. If you are undergoing a three-month course of chemotherapy, put the end date on a wall or desktop calendar. Each day that you put an X on that calendar gets you one step closer to the finish line. It’s a highly visible reminder that there is an end in sight.

Don’t Forget To Enjoy Life

Do your best to keep doing the things that you enjoy. The more you put off these things, the harder it is later to get back into them. Anything you can do that gets you up and on your feet can improve your quality of life during your treatment. If you are a marathon runner, maybe you won’t feel strong enough during treatment to run. But you can still volunteer at a marathon or watch it with your family.

Take a Treatment Holiday

If you have a special event coming up – a family wedding or a vacation, for example – talk to your oncologist about a “treatment holiday.” Your doctor may be able to arrange your treatment schedule to help you get the most out of your upcoming event.

This also goes back to the importance of having open communication with your care team. There is a lot they can do to help you, but only if they know what’s going on in your life. Be a squeaky wheel and be your own advocate.

Ask for Help

Don’t be afraid to reach out to reach out to friends, family members and your care providers if you need assistance. This is important both for your time and safety. There are resources that can help you with things like transportation or household tasks. It may be tempting to go it alone, but your care team can make a significant difference in helping you be as efficient as possible with your time.

As with many diseases and treatments, social isolation can hinder your recovery prospects. Your care team can connect you with support groups that will help you cope with what’s happening in your life.

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