Cancer: What is the Answer - Part VI
Strategies for Coping after the Diagnosis
What goes through a person’s mind when he/ she is told that “Your test results came back and the diagnosis is cancer?” First, it would be a sense of disbelief, followed by extreme depression, anxiety and sometimes even shock, right? Your world is turned upside down and often there is a sense of hopelessness. “What is going to happen to me? How long will I live? Am I ever going to be normal again?” are some of the questions you want answers for. Yes, these possibilities can be paralyzing, but relax, the diagnosis of ‘cancer’ is not a death sentence anymore; however, there is work to do. First and foremost is to come up with some coping strategies. Here are a few suggestions:
- Don’t panic: In this day and age, there are lots of new treatments in our armamentarium, no matter how extensive the disease is. Many cancers can be cured when detected early and many others can be kept under control. Just like heart disease or autoimmune diseases, cancer is also becoming a chronic disease that you can live with. Jimmy Carter, our past president, was treated for metastatic melanoma, which had spread to his liver and brain, but with proper treatment, he successfully fought the disease and today he is 95 years old!
- Get a second opinion: Whenever I diagnose a serious disease or can only offer a complicated treatment, I always tell the patient, “You’re welcome to get a second opinion.” The patient will feel more comfortable with the diagnosis and treatment, if the second opinion concurs with the initial diagnosis and treatment plan. Ideally, you should go to one of the respected cancer centers. When my friend’s wife was diagnosed with intestinal cancer, he took her straight to Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York for a second opinion.
- Discuss with your doctor: Ask for more details about the cancer – how extensive is the lesion, how bad is the prognosis, can it be cured, what is the treatment plan and explore all your options with the cancer specialist (oncologist). Remember, it’s your body and you need to learn everything about the new enemy.
- Assemble your healthcare team: Try to go to a cancer care center that can put together a team of doctors, nurses and social workers who will take care of all your needs – physical, emotional and mental well being. You may need physical, occupational and psychological therapy. If you feel weak, the nurses and social workers can come to your house to administer therapies or help with management plans.
- Take a friend with you for doctor’s appointments: Sometimes, you may not be able to grasp or retain what the doctor discussed. Doctors feel that “patients hear what they like to hear and tend to forget the unpleasant aspects of their illness or difficult-to-follow instructions.” Often, after a session of chemotherapy, hormone therapy or radiation, you may feel weak and unable to drive home; so, you need the help of somebody who can oversee your necessities.
- Join a cancer support group: Most towns have a support group comprised of cancer patients. It’s always comforting to know that you’re not alone in this difficult journey. The group meets at regular intervals and discusses issues that are common to patients and how each one is handling his/her problems. And you can learn from the experience of others. However, if you want to keep your diagnosis private or discuss with only family and friends, that’s okay too. There are also private Facebook groups that you can join and discuss your personal problems without publicizing it.
- Embracing Spirituality: A detailed analysis performed by the American Cancer Society’s Study of Cancer Survivors found that “Spirituality was an independent predictor of a better quality of life and emotional well-being. Also, faith contributed a significant amount to the cancer survivors’ functional quality of life, with nearly 70 percent of participants reporting that religion and spirituality helped them through their cancer experience.” A spiritual support group can play a major role in the patients’ treatment journey through cancer. It will give them the strength, motivation and inspiration while undergoing cancer therapy.
Ultimately, you have to learn how to live your life without fear, confront all the obstacles and know you can overcome them. But always be vigilant as to any new symptoms or evidence of spread of the disease.
M.P. Ravindra Nathan, M.D., is a cardiologist and Emeritus Editor of AAPI Journal. For further reading, “Second Chance - A Sister’s Act of Love” by Dr. Nathan from Outskirts Press, can be found at www.amazon.com