The hide and seek of side effects

Do you feel that you are bothering your medical team when you notify them of treatment side effects? Patient navigator, Zamokuhle Mguli, shares her personal experiences with patients.

Out with the old, in with the new. Happy New Year! While choosing    your new year resolution and putting everything in place to achieve it, there are, unfortunately, certain things you’ll never get rid of. One of them is cancer treatment side effects.

Side effects experienced differ from patient to patient simply because every person is unique. Your body responds differently to the foreign substances, such as chemotherapy, that are being introduced to it.

At no stage should you feel like a burden to your doctor or feel that you are disappointing your doctor. At the start of treatment, your doctor goes through the treatment plan with you; here it’s explained to you what side effects to expect. 

Your duty is to report all side effects experienced. Note, there are no minor or silly side effects. And never think, “I’ll get over this!” Remember, you have the right to access health services. Report each and every side effect experienced so your doctor can treat each one accordingly.

Personal experiences with patients

In my contact with patients, I sometimes get calls about side effects they are experiencing, and often patients plea with me not to bother their doctor with the news of the side effect as they don’t want to ruin their relationship with the doctor, or disturb the doctor’s busy schedule.

When I tell patients that they need to see their doctor asap, they feel like they are causing trouble. But at the same time, they are grateful that they said something, as the silence would have created even bigger problems for them. 

A ‘little’ side effect is of ‘big’ importance

I always encourage patients to report side effects as sometimes a little side effect that can be treated at home, like a fever, might mean there are treatment-related problems. Thus, you need to see the treating physician to get treated. 

To be honest, doctors like it when they are ‘bothered’ with side effects by patients as this gives an indication of the patient’s insight to their condition and whether they comprehended what was discussed in the treatment plan.

If you experience severe side effects that means your body can’t deal with the treatment. The intial treatment should be changed or adjusted for your benefit. 

Note, severe side effects doesn’t mean it’s over! Our bodies are different and will respond differently to everything. It’s not your fault and please don’t blame yourself. Just keep in touch with your healthcare team.

Remember you are an individual. Your cancer journey is yours and it will be uniquely yours. Do not compare notes with your neighbour because simply…you are different to her!

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Zamokuhle Mguli is a clinical patient navigator at the Netcare Breast Care Centre of Excellence. She has a diploma in Nursing, a certificate in Palliative Care, Bcur Education and Admin. She has worked at Helen Joseph Hospital and Hospice.

MEET OUR EXPERT – Zamokuhle Mguli

Zamokuhle Mguli is a clinical patient navigator at the Netcare Breast Care Centre of Excellence. She has a diploma in Nursing, a certificate in Palliative Care, Bcur Education and Admin. She has worked at Helen Joseph Hospital and Hospice.


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