Self-monitoring: Recognizing symptoms and side effects

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Learn what self-monitoring means, why it is important during treatment and how you can practice it.

Key points

  • Self-monitoring means noticing any changes in how your body looks or feels, and being aware of your thoughts and emotions, to notice any problems or strengths.
  • It is important for you to self-monitor so that you can tell your health-care team as soon as possible if something changes in your body.
  • Use a journal to regularly track your self-monitoring and bring this with you to your appointments.
  • To guide your self-monitoring, remember the phrase "head to toe" so that you can track any changes in all areas of your body.

What is self-monitoring?

Self-monitoring means noticing or being aware of your body, and taking the right action. This includes noticing any changes in how your body looks and feels, as well as being aware of your thoughts and emotions.

Self-monitoring means noticing problems, but it also means noticing your strengths and being aware of your abilities. It’s a skill that you can learn and develop with practice. Becoming skilled at self-monitoring will help you maintain your health throughout your life.

Why is self-monitoring important during treatment for cancer?

When it comes to cancer and treatment, the earlier you recognize symptoms, the sooner you can get treatment for them. Of course, the members of your health-care team are the experts on cancer and will monitor you closely with tests and physical exams. However, you are the expert on you and what's happening in your body, your mind and your life.

You are often the first person to notice when something changes. When you practice self-monitoring, you have a better chance of noticing a problem sooner than your health-care team can. When a problem is spotted early, there is usually a better chance of finding a solution.

How can I practice self-monitoring?

The challenge: : Changes can happen slowly, which often makes them hard to notice. For example, fatigue or symptoms of depression can slowly get worse over time until you eventually realize you are not able to enjoy the things you once did. Slow changes like these might make it difficult to remember what you felt like before the symptoms started.

Other changes, such as some types of pain, happen over a short time and then go away. This may make them difficult to remember and describe to your health-care team.

The solution: Create a self-monitoring journal. You can use a notebook, your laptop, your phone or an app. You can ask your parents or your health-care team to help you set it up and remind you to write in it.

Whichever tool you use, the key thing is that you use the journal frequently. This way, you and your health-care team can look back and track symptoms and changes over time. This will also help you remember and describe how you felt between appointments.

How do I describe what I'm feeling?

When you recognize a change in your body, thoughts, emotions, or lifestyle, ask yourself the following questions:

  • When did it start?
  • How would I describe it? (Use as many words as possible.)
  • What makes it better or worse?
  • How is it impacting the way I live my life?

Write the answers in your self-monitoring journal.

How will I know what to look for?

When you are self-monitoring, it really helps to have a guide to direct your attention to the right places. Try to remember the phrase "head to toe". Think about any differences you’ve noticed: start from your head and work downward towards your toes. Use the chart below to guide you.

You can use the same headings in your own journal. Write down any changes you notice or think are important so you won't forget. We've also included a column that lists changes that your health-care team should know about right away!

Ask your doctors, nurses, and other members of your health-care team for a list of the possible symptoms and side effects of your specific cancer and treatment that you should be looking out for. This information can also be provided to your parents.

You can also ask your health-care team the following questions.

  • What symptoms should I tell you about right away?
  • Who do I call if my symptoms or side effects get worse or don’t go away?

I’m not sure if I’m ready for self-monitoring. What can I do?

Taking on the responsibility of self-monitoring is not something that happens right away. It can take time before you are comfortable recognizing changes and communicating them to your health-care team. With practice, you will be able to do this.

Sometimes, teens keep their symptoms and side effects to themselves. Why?

  • They may want to protect other people from worrying.
  • They may not realize the symptom is a serious problem or that it could be treated.
  • They could want to avoid having to go to the hospital or an appointment.
  • They may be nervous or afraid.

Keeping your symptoms or side effects to yourself may seem like an easier option at the time; but if you delay dealing with them, it can make things worse in the long run. It is really important that your health-care team knows what you are going through so that they can address any problems early on. Keeping them informed will also help prevent symptoms and side effects from getting in the way of your treatment plan and your daily life as much as possible.

Last updated: September 3rd 2019