My God, the horrible thoughts that come to mind!
You’ll no doubt see the world in darker tones during the first days, weeks and even months after being diagnosed with cancer. Your future will suddenly be threatened. You’ll walk through life in a haze. You’ll supposedly talk and listen to people, but you won’t be able to concentrate. This is completely normal and most cancer patients struggle with this. It will take time to get used to your new status and to understand the new rules of the game. It’s important that this phase doesn’t last too long, so it doesn’t affect your treatment.
During this phase people are usually tearful, they experience insomnia, they lose interest in their everyday lives, they lose interest in their hobbies and passions, they lose their appetite and they fall into a kind of automatic routine, perhaps contemplating the pointlessness of life and perhaps even suicide. These are all signs of depression and during this time patients, as well as their loved ones, often experience this to some degree. The depth of the depression and its duration will determine whether or not it can be treated with medication. Sometimes patients even refuse medication claiming that they can cope with the problem on their own. This is what happens in most cases. People have to get over this just like they do with any other kind of mourning. But if these symptoms continue for longer than three weeks, if you can’t get a good night’s sleep for weeks on end and if you have nightmares and frequent thoughts about death you should consult your doctor. These days a large variety of anti-depressants are available and they can be a great help. This doesn’t mean that you’ll have a diagnosis of depression for the rest of your life. Prescription drugs may only be necessary for a short time, but it can improve your mood and will help you to make better, more informed decisions regarding your illness.
Over time these unpleasant symptoms will subside. The more you know about your illness and the more you acknowledge that treatment or other helpful procedures are about to begin, the less you will have these thoughts. You’ll no longer be the only one fighting this battle. If your doctor doesn’t readily share information, you can consult another specialist or search for information on the internet. The latter may not always be the best place to receive easily understandable information (especially if you only speak one language), but it can be a good source for all kinds of general facts. You’d be surprised to know how often I’ve spoken to patients at cancer support camps who have been ill for years, yet have been suffering from irrational fears because they haven’t fully understood their disease.
What should I do now?
This is a logical and appropriate question given the situation. The moment you discover that you have cancer most people feel like the ground has given way beneath their feet. Once again, it’s worth repeating how important it is to have someone at your side at this time who can hold your hand and offer a shoulder to cry on.
The faster you try to agree on a strategy with your doctor, the better. It’s also important to acknowledge that no matter how unacceptable it may seem at this point to involve your loved ones, deep down you’ll be desperate for their advice and acceptance of any potential treatment plan.
I’m afraid to tell someone…
Many patients would prefer that no one discovered that they have cancer. Others expect the sympathy, concern and pity of their loved ones. Patients often fear that they will lose their self-esteem, their role in their family and their social status. They fear that they could lose their job or that their contract won’t be renewed, which in turn could threaten their financial situation and the welfare of their family. This is especially true of women who often times are the glue that keeps a family together, but now, due to their illness, can no longer maintain this role. They not only fear what will happen to their children, parents, husband, house or family farm, but also if they will lose their status as an integral part of their family. Becoming a burden or becoming dependent on family members is often a big blow to the self-esteem of both men and women.
However, the most important thing now is your own emotional, spiritual and physical well-being, which have suffered due to your illness. Isn’t deceiving your loved ones by not telling them about your illness, your fears and despair akin to a betrayal, a signal of mistrust and an attempt to push them away? It’s only natural that you would want to protect them from the awful truth. But the old Latvian proverb teach us that you can’t hide a sharp tool in a small bag – so if you try to do this you’ll only disappoint them. It’s another thing entirely to carefully consider who should know. No matter how much you hide your illness, people will begin to whisper about the horrible news. It’s better to be honest from the beginning, but with the understanding that you and your loved ones are ready for it. In another section of the blog I’ll discuss the best ways to talk about your illness.
Maybe I should see a different doctor?
Yes, of course, if you feel that it is necessary and possible, definitely talk to another specialist. This is called seeking a second opinion. This does not mean that you do not trust your doctor. The other doctor will most likely tell you something similar, but perhaps in a different way. This will only strengthen your confidence and faith in your treatment plan. However, it’s also possible that another doctor may, after looking more thoroughly at your overall health problems, spot some potential risks in your proposed therapy plan. In any event, you shouldn’t hesitate to seek another opinion, especially if, for whatever reason, you haven’t been able to develop a clear channel of communication with your physician.
Maybe I should see a psychic?
The desire to seek the services of a psychic or some other practitioner of non-traditional medicine is rooted in a lack of faith in conventional medicine or perhaps due to popular myths about malignant tumours and their treatment (surgery mutilates, radiation burns, chemotherapy poisons). The more you’re informed about your illness and the more you’re willing to have frank discussions with your doctor, the less you’ll be tempted to consider the supernatural, things that are supposedly unknown to medicine or supposedly beyond the knowledge of ordinary doctors.
You’ll only do yourself more harm by visiting a whole slew of psychics and faith healers trying one unorthodox method after the next, while delaying a proper diagnosis and the beginning of your treatment.
It’s normal to subconsciously want to believe in a miracle. This is our will to live and our hope that allows us to consider the possibility of something that science cannot explain. After all, modern medicine isn’t all-powerful and our imaginations always leave room for something beyond our consciousness. If you strictly adhere to your doctor’s treatment plan, without any transgressions, then alternative, non-traditional recommendations as additional methods won’t do any harm. Cancer is too serious an illness to entrust to a non-specialist.