By Dr. Stewart Fleishman
Many of us take great pride in controlling our lives, or at least the parts of our daily life that we can control. Our access to information online or through other media gives us some measure of control right at our fingertips.
Counting on that ability falls short when we face a cancer diagnosis in ourselves or a loved one. By definition, cancer is cell growth that is out of control. If we have done the things we are supposed to do to promote and preserve our health, our disappointment becomes palpable when we are diagnosed with cancer. Our bodies, our brains, our spirit, our sense of control have all let us down, failing to shield us.
What we did before cancer is what we can do after cancer strikes – only more so. Those of us who spend hours online gathering information to decide what car to buy, what airline to use or what hotel to stay at, will make the effort to collect cancer information from whatever source we can: family, friends, traditional media and online.
When it comes to cancer, it seems that everyone has a story to share — everyone knows someone who had cancer and was treated by “the chief of the department” — and feels free to offer well-meaning advice, some of which may not be applicable. The quality of information, face-to-face or online, can vary from timely and excellent, to old and scary.
Late at night when the noise of daily life is low, we tend to focus on the information that’s skewed toward the pessimistic. Everything seems worse at night, when the sense of control seems less effective.
A more sensible and practical approach is to control what can be controlled, and in the midst of cancer there are many ways to do that. Control how each day is lived and valued, even when the side effects of treatment may get in the way. Learn about your cancer and its treatment. Think about what you want your life to be like during and after treatment.
Well-done studies and expert opinions agree that particular and careful attention to activity and nutrition make the recovery process easier and shorter. Getting rest, sleep and diversion not only helps how we spend our days, but makes getting better a part of treatment and minimizes disabling fatigue and weight changes.
The specific tasks and techniques to keep control are actually what we need to do every day for health maintenance and wellness. Yet during the explosive growth in cancer treatments since World War II, these routine activities of daily life have been given low priority, despite their role in recovery.
Ironically, we have thus far done a better job for patients whose cancer does not respond to treatment in end-of-life care than we have supporting patients whose cancer responds to treatment into long-term survivorship. Medical and nursing colleagues, as well as the public at large, mistakenly associate such care as palliative, traditionally used at the end-of-life. Beyond these misconceptions, these tasks are part of wellness for all of us. Even more important is the notion that these are the kinds of activities we can control during and after treatment.
Let’s all put our energies where they pay off the most. Take charge of the everyday; the things you and your family can do, working in tandem with the best treatment available.
Stewart Fleishman, MD, is the former Director of Cancer Supportive Services at the Continuum Cancer Centers of New York and the Associate Chief Medical Officer of Continuum Hospice Care-Jacob Perlow Hospice. His practice was focused on pain management, symptom control and palliative care. Dr. Fleishman’s was actively involved in research focused on quality of life and symptom control in people with cancer, and serves on national committees dedicated to this work. He is Board Certified in both Hospice and Palliative Medicine and Psychiatry/Neurology.
Dr. Fleishman’s book Learn to Live Through Cancer: What You Need to Know and Do presents a step-by-step guide to improve the length and quality of life for cancer survivors, helping them to manage the variety of physical, emotional, and spiritual issues they face proactively.
Dr. Fleishman also writes for Demos Health Publishing’s blog.
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Oh boy...Your right we hate to hear this. You know why people in pain
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Saying there is a 'twist' is the worst type of spoile