The term cancer is one that causes fear in many people. Once a person gets the diagnosis, they often become irrational and grasp at any and every bit of advice they are offered. Sometimes, people end up with the wrong advice from certain people who do not even know as much or better than the patients do and they end up with all the wrong choices in treatment that eventually bring about many complications. When such complications become the norm rather than the exception in the course of treatment, death is the result. For the people who belong to this category, such an outcome is painful. Often, they choose alternative therapies that emphasise the consumption of vegetables and other foods devoid of artificial preservatives and condiments. Very often, what the patients end up taking is a mixture of the items named here and soothsayers’ concoctions that make the whole experience such a deadly mixture. Others combine organic foods with faith and end up in the same way. For the cancer patients among us in our troubled country, this becomes the fate of many.
People who have cancer can die because the growths either insinuate themselves into other organs or squeeze them up gradually but eventually in such a complete manner that their ability to function normally is compromised. Over time, the reduction in normal functioning becomes so severe that all ability to do anything for the body is lost and the organ dies. As other organs succumb to the ceaseless march of the cancer cells, they too die off one after another until one organ that is vital to life is lost and death results. Therefore, people who are in the earlier stages of any type of cancer may not have any symptoms and they may not even know that they have any problems. Others have subtle features of the disease and will manifest certain unusual signs that will make them complain in a hospital. Usually, with the passage of time and the progressive growth in the size of the tumour, cancer can also spread to other parts of the body causing widespread damage and destruction to those organs thereby making death more likely.
This inexorable spread of cancer causes increased physical exhaustion and weakness such that even when one has a dedicated care-person, there may be an inability to even communicate one’s basic needs to such a person. There is also a decreased ability to think properly and concentrate on things around the immediate physical space thus increasing the likelihood of sustaining personal injuries and even worse. As time progresses, there is an increased level of anxiety suffered by the person and the heart rate begins to change. It becomes more faint and irregular and could eventually fail. As the heart rate begins to fall, so does the blood pressure. From this point onwards, the person experiences a loss of interest in food with associated anorexia because cancer itself produces and releases into the body a certain protein that both depresses the appetite and causes fever. The feeling generated by these events going on at the same time causes a profound lack of interest in the things going on around the person and of sickness to the extent that loneliness supervenes even when other people are present.
As the final days approach, people could experience a slowed breathing rate and there may even be pauses between the breaths. Such pauses can be as short as 10 seconds or maybe as long as half of a minute. The eyelids then become difficult to close and there may be little or no response to calls or speech around them. The skin also then becomes dry and cool to the touch. The mouth becomes dry and the amount of urine produced gradually reduces. At the same time, there is the loss of control of the passage of urine and even stool such that in the course of home care, adult diapers are often the common resort to keep the patient as comfortable as possible, while in-hospital care, a urinary catheter may be inserted into the bladder to help keep the patient dry. Adult diapers will similarly be employed for the purpose of collecting the stool. The ability to help the patient keep that area of the body dry is vital for the control of infection which can hasten the patient’s death as there is a diminished ability to combat infections.
There is then also a tendency to drift in and out of the state of consciousness. The ability to hear is steadily reduced over time so that routine questions asked about wellbeing and other types of inquiry usually go unanswered. The vision is steadily blurred as well and confusion sets in about the time and place as well as the identity of the people around them. Certain involuntary movements become repetitive and may also become restless. As the end nears, breathing often sounds wet and noisy with clear evidence of a struggle to breathe. Some people refer to that status as a death rattle and is often heard as the patient reaches a point of no return. Beyond this point, the bladder and the bowel are completely emptied usually in an uncontrollable manner. The breathing develops an abnormal pattern that is unpredictable before eventually stopping completely. The eyes will stop moving at this point and the pupils, the dark round windows in the middle of the eyes, become larger and remain so even when a beam of harsh light from a torch is focused on them.
The blood pressure continues to fall and many attempts to raise it often do not succeed and after a while, there is no detectable blood pressure. The heart rate at this point cannot be detected and the pulse cannot be felt as well. Cancer kills people by growing into key organs, spreading through the blood and lymphatic vessels, and invading the nerves so that their normal range of functionality is interfered with to the degree that death ensues. Cancer disrupts the normal way in which the cells and organs function. This means that when new cells form, they do so abnormally while the old cells which the body should normally kill off continue to live and acquire abnormal patterns of behaviour. It is the loss of this ability to regulate normal cell growth and development that causes cancer to develop. And that development can take place in any type of cell in the body ranging from the skin and blood vessels to the bone.
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