How can we keep Mom comfortable and relieve bone pain?

5 answers | Last updated: Dec 14, 2014
A fellow caregiver asked...

How can we help mom relieve her bone pain from cancer? My mother is in stage 4 breast cancer and it has now spread to her bones and liver. She is in a lot of pain and taking pain medication. What else can she do to help the bone pain she feels? Also, how long with the spread of the cancer to her liver can one expect? She is still doing bone pain treatments, has a healthy diet, but has decided against chemo and I respect her decision. What can I recommend to her for diet? She does seem not to eat as much as she did before. Last, she is having trouble have a bowel movement. Can she take anything for that or is it the liver?

Expert Answers

Bonnie Bajorek Daneker is author and creator of the The Compassionate Caregiver's Series, which includes "The Compassionate Caregiver's Guide to Caring for Someone with Cancer," "The Journey of Grief," "Handbook on Hospice and Palliative Care," and other titles on cancer diagnosis and end of life. She speaks regularly at cancer research and support functions, including PANCAN and Cancer Survivor's Network. She is a former member of the Executive Committee of the CSN at St. Joseph's Hospital of Atlanta and the Georgia Chapter of the Lymphoma Research Foundation.

You ask a lot of good questions. Let's take them one at a time.

We use our bones with nearly every movement (including breathing and eating). With osteosarcoma, pain can be highly magnified and, unfortunately, usually increases with time as the cancer advances. Because this pain usually comes from inside the bone, there is little besides pain medicines that are given to help it subside. However, depending on her age and agility, you may want to encourage her to exercise slowly and gently (as with yoga or walking) and to soak in a warm bath afterwards. Some patients also find relief with meditation or hynotherapy.

But back to pain medicine -- One of the downsides of pain medicine is the cause of constipation, or inability to have a bowel movement. Be sure to keep her hydrated with plenty of liquids, such as water, broth, sports drinks and juice. My father's oncologist recommended prune juice as a natural way to work the waste through the system.

In terms of survival, the median rate with Stage IV is 20% at 5 years from diagnosis, but you need to directly ask her oncologist for the prognosis, especially without chemotherapy.

In terms of a diet, understand that she will probably want less and less food as time goes on, and she will likely lose weight. One of the terrible characteristics of cancer is that it robs the rest of the body of nutrients to help the tumor grow. You'll want to encourage her to eat small meals when she can. Try nutritional supplements or drinks (like Ensure and fruit smoothies), and flavorful, light meals without a lot of red meat or dairy, and if she's still having trouble with constipation,  go light on the fiber.

Good luck.



Community Answers

Shari answered...

My mother is in the same boat. Her RCC spread to her lungs, intestine, bones, and now, her liver. When you said she was still taking bone treatment, does that mean radiation? That is what my mother was doing. It did help her pain temporarily, but since the latest treatments had to go through her chest she developed swallowing problems as a side effect. She is on hospice now and I had the same question as you - how long does she have with her liver metastisized? No one can give us an answer, but I suppose if her coloring gets yellow, it will be a sign that her liver is failing. Pain relief is the biggest problem right now as bone mets are usually extremely painful. She is on a combo of long term pain meds and codiene for the break through pain. She, too, has had problems with constipation. Right now she eats like a bird, mainly Boost and water, so she isn't as having as much trouble was when she was eating. Frankly, when she was eating, we encouraged her to eat anything she wanted because there were so few things that sounded good to her. The previous response had many good suggestions for you and I can't really add anything new. I just feel like a kindered spirit going through similar experiences with my mom. Sending positive thoughts to you and your mother.

Gabriel answered...

My wife has Stage IV colon cancer. She is able to maintain bowel activity by eating many small meals, often flavored with ginger. Flat Ginger Ale settles her stomach.

Also, you might talk to your doctor about Reglan. It is working well for us.

Frederick p. answered...

First, fire her doctor. There is no reason a person should be in pain. Well, actually, there is. Most doctors are afraid that the patient will become addicted (how stupid is that?). They are also afraid of being called on the carpet for prescribing too much pain medicine. Then, have here seen by a "pain doctor" who will keep her comfortable.That's all they do and they are not afraid of government/medical interference.

Channer wilson answered...

My family has done a great deal of research into this and so I wanted to share what we found so that hopefully it will help some of your family members.

For diet, I would very strongly suggest that she completely drop refined sugars and corn syrups. Cancers feed on things such a glucose, so any things that becomes glucose in the body should be avoided (honey is alright in small increments, but I would strongly suggest Stevia because it's a plant-product and not an artificial sweetener). She should drink lemon before bed (fresh squeezed in a glass of water, a little stevia is fine but nothing that makes glucose). The lemon kind of cleanses the body- then the cancer wont have anything to take into grow. In the morning she should try to wait to eat as long as she can and the first thing she should take in is something like a Vitabev. My mother mixes Terramin clay in with hers for added benefit. This gives the cancer only vitamin to take in, and since it's been starving that's what it will take in. She should wait at least an hour before eating food. Raw vegetables should be eaten plentifully, proteins should be small in comparision. You want her take life in to her body, and most vegetables loose a lot of that when they are cooked. Starches should be eaten sparingly.

Exercise; I agree that exercise is good. I would strongly suggest Qigong (in China it is used a lot in hospitals) because it works with the energy in the body and helps to remove negativity that the cancer might be feeding on.

For pain; Sometimes the Qigong can help but I also suggest massage for muscle and bone pains.

Belief; Don't give up on her. Believe you can overcome is half the battle. The first hospital my mother went to said, "You've got a year at the most, we can give you chemo and that might give you a few more months but you're going to die either way." She went for a second opinion at a more specialized center. The next doctor said, "Well, you can't sue them for it, but that is pretty terrible. If one thing doesn't work then we'll try something else." Imagine how much better everything is with a doctor that believes he can help her recover. Think about how many stories there are where the person goes to the doctor for a sprain ankle, or a migraine, or something to be told they have cancer and it's been there for months (or even years). Then the cancer speeds up its progress and they die soon after (in one story I read the lady died the next day). They hear 'cancer' and think 'well, it's over for me," and they don't believe anything but that they're going to die. They end up being killed by the very belief because it's all that negative energy that's feeding the cancer. I have seen video of cancer tumors receding just by surrounding the person in people who are feeling themselves with the feeling that this person before them is a completely healthy, energized being. Hope, belief, prayer, it matters a lot.

I hope this helps someone, I'm not saying not to listen to your doctors, but it can feel so helpless. These are just things that you can do personally to help yourselves and your loved ones recover.