Elderly Cancer Patients: Uncharted Waters With Mom

Are we missing the boat when carling for elderly cancer patients, asks caregiving survivor as she helps her survivor mom.

In my last post about my mom, she decided, at age 83, to have a double mastectomy because of her breast cancer. I knew this was new territory for us as a mother-daughter team, but I did not realize it would also feel a little like uncharted territory in the medical and insurance world. Her surgery went well. It is the long and slow recovery process that worries me.

The nurses, aides and therapy staff at the hospital had a lot of questions for me. These questions included things like: How mobile was she before surgery? How mentally clear was she before surgery? What activities does and doesn’t she normally need help with in her daily life? Does she feed herself? Where does she live? All of this information was very pertinent to Mom’s care and immediate recovery process. I was grateful, as her only child adult daughter and fellow cancer survivor, that I could be there for her much of the time to answer those questions while she slept.

I guess I was surprised. With all the fancy computer systems in doctor offices and hospitals and in assisted living places like Mom’s, there is no entering or tracking of this kind of basic life care information as well. The medical professionals had her PET scan information and her mammogram and her needle biopsy results, yet none of the basic “how do you get through your day” information appeared to be there.

I am grateful that I stuck around closely in the days after her surgery. Why was there no pre-procedure questionnaire or assessment for patients? If caregivers have before-surgery information, it would be helpful to them when dealing with post-surgical care—especially in elderly patients because they often have such a wide range of health circumstances and living situations coming into a major surgery. The expectations and goals in the recovery process would be different for older patients with complex health issues, right?

Mom’s recovery process seems very different from what I have heard from younger cancer patients. Her recovery is slower. It seems harder for her older body to bounce back. Pneumonia, because of her limited mobility and other health issues, is looming as an unwanted specter that was not discussed prior to surgery. Drain tubes are more difficult for her than for a younger person, I suspect. In short, it feels like a longer and more challenging process that even the medical caregivers and insurance companies aren’t as savvy about. I am worried for my mom and a bit disgruntled as I try to help Mom through this process.

Geriatric cancer care and, more broadly, geriatric health care seems to be a small part of a larger discussion that we are only beginning to have. What has been your experience?