Technology isn’t everyone’s forte, and cancer treatment can lead to chemo-brain (cognitive difficulties), which makes learning and remembering how to use tech tools even more of a challenge.
Do you find it hard to keep up with all the apps out there? Do you have trouble simply remembering all of your various passwords? Here are five simple ways technology can help you as a cancer survivor every day.
Note: You’ll need a smartphone, a laptop computer or tablet, and an email address to make best use of these tips.
Track daily exercise
Exercise is a positive for all of us, and especially for breast cancer survivors. The more fit you are, the less chance you have of a recurrence. There’s no simpler way to see how much you’re moving every day than to track how many steps you take — which happens automatically on most smartphones (i.e., cell phones that can connect to the internet).
On your iPhone (version 5 and newer):
Open your phone and log in to your home screen (the one with the little squares, like “Settings” and “Notes.”)
Find the white square with a red heart labeled “Health.” Click on it.
At bottom right, click on “Health Data.”
At top left, click on “Activity.” You’ll see a summary of how many steps you’ve taken, how many miles you’ve gone, and how many floors you’ve climbed today.
On your Android phone (version 4 and newer):
Open your phone and log in to your home screen.
Look for the square with a heart labeled “Fit.”
Click on it: You’ll see a summary of workout minutes, miles walked, calories burned, and steps taken.
Use your medical provider’s patient portal
These days, most doctors and hospitals offer what’s called a “patient portal” — your very own site on the internet where you can see all the details of your interactions with that particular provider or hospital.
Waiting to hear the results of a lab test or bloodwork? They’ll be in your patient portal — potentially even sooner than you hear from the doctor’s office. Can’t remember whether or not you had a pneumonia vaccine? Your vaccination record is there in the portal. And when’s your next appointment with the pain specialist? Check your portal. Some providers even allow you to request specific appointment times via this online tool.
How do you find this “patient portal”? Ask your doctor. Or even better, one of the nurses, who are perhaps more likely to know the details of how their particular portal works. Typically, you’re emailed a link to the portal, your user name, and a temporary (complicated) password; you can then get into your personal portal, and change your password to something more user-friendly.
Use your phone’s camera for more than snapshots
The camera on your smartphone can become a valuable tool beyond preserving family pictures and travel memories:
You know how you always forget to bring your list of medications with you when you go to a new specialist? Type up a list of all your medications. Take a picture of the list with your phone, and keep it right there on your phone. When the nurse asks you what medications you’re currently taking, show her the picture. Remember to keep the list updated, and to re-photograph it when it changes.
Often side effects from treatment are cyclical, getting worse and then improving over time; thus what you’re able to show the doctor may look very different than what you experienced five days earlier. If you have any visual side effects (e.g., a nasty radiation burn), photograph it at its worst; and when you finally see your doctor, you’ll have evidence of how bad the burn was.
Can’t read the fine print on the directions that come with your prescription — even with a magnifying glass? Take a picture of what you’re trying to read; then blow the picture up right on your phone. If you don’t know how to expand a photo on your phone, ask someone to help you; it’s very simple.
How to Google simply and effectively
If you have a computer of any kind, you probably know what it means “to Google” something. But do you know how to do it most effectively, so that you find exactly what you’re looking for?
It’s actually very simple: Go to Google, and write a question in the search box just as you would if you were asking someone. The question can be abbreviated if you like.
For instance, if you’re wondering about chemotherapy side effects, you can ask, “What are the side effects of doxorubicin?”, or simply type “Doxorubicin side effects.” Either way you’ll get a long list of results. It’s best to look for the first result whose source ends in .org or .gov, rather than .com. While .com (commercial) sites may offer good results, there’s also a chance they’re skewed toward whatever business is paying for the sites. Sites ending in .org or .gov are non-commercial sites (usually non-profits and government). Without any commercial irons in the fire, the information they offer should be neutral.
For those of you with the tech skills to get around comfortably on a tablet or laptop, CaringBridge is a non-profit devoted to helping people with serious health issues share their updates with family and friends. Unlike some popular social media sites, where you might worry about hitting the wrong button and sending your personal information out there for the world to see, CaringBridge is completely private: only the people you invite to receive your updates will see them.
Get started by going to CaringBridge’s How it works page. You’ll watch a short video overview; when it’s done, click “Start a Site” below the video box. You’ll be guided through the steps to set up your site; the whole process will take only a couple of minutes. When you reach the final page, scroll down until you see a box that says “Invite friends and family to visit the site;” this is where you tell CaringBridge exactly whom should be contacted each time you post an update. There! You’re now ready to share your health news with your own selected group of friends and family members all at once; no multiple phone calls, no group emails.
See more helpful articles:
PJ Hamel is senior digital content editor and food writer at King Arthur Flour, and a James Beard award-winning author. A 16-year breast cancer survivor, her passion is helping women through this devastating disease. She manages a large and active online survivor support network based at her local hospital and shares her wisdom and experience with the greater community via HealthCentral.com.