Hello and welcome. For many people, diseases are a part of life. With these medical posts, the aim is to share real-life stories. Please feel free to send me your story and I will turn it into an article. My contact is to the right. This week we look at cancer in general. The main question is why is cancer diagnosis so scary?
8 million people disappear from this life every year because of cancer. With that 14 million people find out they have cancer each year. Most likely cancer has been growing inside them for the past three to six years. Generally speaking, they are likely to live five more years. Cancer treatment has taken many approaches, a lot of them still in experimental stages. In chemo and radiation therapy, stage 4 cancers have been largely proven as incurable.
Stage 4 cancer means that cancer has spread to another part of the body, most often lungs, brain or bone, where it forms secondary cancers (metastases). Many patients end up with no real benefit from enduring chemotherapy after surgical removal of a tumour. Immunotherapy is not an ideal solution either. Half of the patients who try it can handle it. There is a risk the drugs will attack your vital organs as well as cancer, and the survival rate hasn’t been proved longer than 5 years.
It takes many years for a normal cell to progress to a cancer cell fully capable of metastasizing and killing its host. Most cancers develop 50% due to genetic predispositions and 35% due to lifestyle choices such as smoking, obesity, unhealthy eating, sedentary lifestyle and even alcohol.
Treatment and Coping
Immunotherapy has become a hot topic in cancer treatment. It works by making the body’s immune system attacks cancer cells and it is one of many alternatives to conventional chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Before any treatments are done the patient has to face diagnosis. A lot of people react with despair. Even for those who have social support, fear and suffering are ahead. Coping with cancer isn’t easy. What should be the focus of the patient is to observe the quality of their lives. The aim is to keep the quality of life at a good level, maybe even better than before, as long as possible. The other focus should be invested to face the sadness of change cancer imposes on plans and dreams the person has.
There is a difference between grief coping and depression coping. In grief, bad feelings come in waves, patients fantasize about a short term illness, they withdraw socially, lose all usual patterns of behaviour, lose their appetite, sleep and nerves. Even though those who cope with the diagnosis in this way can still feel pleasure and look forward to the future, grief has been associated with disease progression.
In depression, patients lose their routine as well, but also experience feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, they fantasize about death and suicide. They enjoy nothing, don’t have a positive future outlook, and can’t seem to snap out of this state. Advanced disease and major pain are almost certain to have this sort of a psychological response to it (up to 80% of patients). When working with people, it becomes almost clear that the changes to the physical body have damaged psyche in a way that there is no return. Then, pain management helps to ease the pressure of a hopeless situation, and in many cases religious coping.
It is worth remembering that sometimes fierce anger and frustration may indicate depression in the background. In addition to that, results from multilevel models indicated that family functioning is important. Families that were able to act openly, express feelings directly, and solve problems effectively had lower levels of depression. Direct communication of information within the family was associated with lower levels of anxiety, known as a prolonged fear response. Moreover, studies document that spouses and close ones are as distressed as cancer patients and that the distress of a patient and the distress experienced by the loved one are interconnected.
With treatment prognosis and outcome statistics, things can get tough. Managing treatment and side effects can be even worse. Through the worst parts of a cancer journey, the patient can always remember who he is, what he stands for, how much he means to his loved ones, and what joy he can still create in his life. On good days, life should be lead, as usual, meaning the way it was before cancer because that to a patient is the augmented quality of life. There is still a life to be lived, even if it’s short or hard.
One of the worst-case scenarios is that the doctors can’t say whether the treatment will work successfully or not. Facing uncertainty can drive any person crazy. What a patient can hold on to is time. Take things hour by hour, step by step. No one can say for sure how your body is going to react to treatment. You have to see for yourself. One of the hardest things to do is to psychologically go from the “patient mode” to the “former self” or maybe even “better self” mode. I mean that the way of thinking and relating to loved ones can change drastically after a cancer diagnosis.
For the patient, the sadness of leaving this earth is scary. For loved ones, the sadness of saying goodbye is heartbreaking. All of these emotions are normal and natural. But think about the big picture of life. Could you still have nice and joyous moments today? If the worst happens, years after the grief has passed, those joyous moments are going to be what loved ones will remember and cherish.
This approach is also valid for long term survivors. Living with the fear will cancer return or having people around you treat you like nothing ever happened can be a problem for some people. Return to normal life can be a challenge. Two things that can be an indicator of good adjustment to cancer survival are less thought about being gone from this world and getting a good sound night sleep after which you can wake to a new day with interest in what good is going to occur on that day. If you add a sense that you can do something with the rest of your life that shows the world and you that you are helpful and worthy, then you can say that you have truly shifted the helplessness that the cancer diagnosis brings.