Toolbox Focuses on Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

NASW has collaborated with the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship to produce the latest Cancer Survivor Toolbox module for people with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The Cancer Survival Toolbox is a free, self-learning audio program that helps people understand and develop skills to address the challenges of their illness. NASW continues to work with NCCS to develop the award-winning toolbox and its subsequent modules that address different types of cancer.

The latest component explains that there are two major types of lymphoma: Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin. Each has several different subtypes. While both are cancers of the lymphatic or immune system, non-Hodgkin lymphoma — or NHL — is much more common and is diagnosed eight times more frequently than Hodgkin lymphoma.

The module contains comments from health care professionals, including oncology social workers, oncology nurses, cancer survivors and their loved ones.

The series starts by pointing out that the disease can be difficult to explain.

"It is very important that the diagnosis of the type of lymphoma is accurate, as treatment options and outcomes will vary with each type," the narrator states.

"Due to the large number of types of lymphoma, it is important that a doctor specializing in lymphoma review your biopsy and other diagnostic test results to determine the type of lymphoma."

The module offers tips as well. For example, it suggests that the health care team draw diagrams and carefully explain the type of lymphoma the listener has to aid understanding.

"Because NHL has so many different forms, some survivors will need only one course of treatment, others will need multiple courses over many years, some will need to change the type of treatment they get, and some may need stem cell transplants," the narrator states.

One cancer survivor talks about how she has been living with lymphoma since 1998. She will always have lymphoma, yet she lives with periods of remission when the disease is not active. Some types of lymphoma can be cured, while others can be treated effectively throughout a person's life.

The module includes a conversation of an educational support group. An oncology social worker leads the group discussion while a doctor answers specific medical questions. The doctor points out that besides the specific type and stage of lymphoma, other factors play an important role in treatment, including age, general health, lifestyle and personal quality-of-life wishes, symptoms from the lymphoma and co-morbidity -- those conditions or chronic illnesses that may limit treatment options.

"In general, patients are treated with a combination of chemotherapy and biotherapy medicines called monoclonal antibodies," the doctor says.

He states later that researchers are continuing to look for better treatments, including new drugs and vaccines. "There are many clinical trials in progress now, a good sign that we will continue to see new forms of treatment for lymphoma. We are very hopeful," he adds.

The series explains that a social worker, doctor, nurse or other professionals can assist in finding additional resources for the cancer survivor. "Before you begin treatment, talk with your doctor, nurse, social worker, nutritionist or dietician and other people on your health care team about possible side effects and ways you and your family members can deal with the changes you could face along the way," an oncology nurse says.

The module, which was made possible by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, concludes by encouraging listeners to find support. "There are people all around to help you through this," the narrator says. "You only have to let someone know you need help."

The accompanying Living with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Resource Guide includes a booklet that lists resources, including NASW's free online courses on cancer, cancer care giving, and end-of-life care for consumers and professionals.

The Cancer Survival Toolbox® programs are designed to support all cancer survivors. They are available for free online or by calling NCCS at (877) 622-7937.