Facing Cancer positively:
‘ Being positive’ is an advice that reaches every person diagnosed with cancer. The challenge is to find methods to be positive. Here is one such method-by sharing and creating a support network.
Of the many challenges facing a diagnosis of cancer, is the decision to keep it a secret or share with those who care for you. It is significant to note that even recent scientific studies from India, show that in nearly half of the patients, families do not allow the treating doctor to communicate the diagnosis to the person with illness-a situation described by professionals for the first time about 30 years back!
There are growing evidence that sharing and having network is important for recovery. For example, in a paper published in February 2018, titled, ‘ Social integration and survival after diagnosis of colorectal cancer’. 896 women in the Nurses’ Health Study who were diagnosed with stage I, II, or III CRC between 1992 and 2012. Social integration was assessed every 4 years since 1992. Study concluded that ‘Socially integrated women were found to have better survival(live longer) after a diagnosis of CRC, possibly due to beneficial caregiving from their family and friends’.
In an another study, of breast cancer, Participants included 2,835 women from the Nurses’ Health Study who were diagnosed with stages 1 to 4 breast cancer between 1992 and 2002. The study concluded that Socially isolated women had an elevated risk of mortality after a diagnosis of breast cancer, likely because of a lack of access to care, specifically beneficial caregiving from friends, relatives, and adult children.
I have read a thoughtful article in the Guardian newspaper of Mar 13,2018, with an unusual title of ‘I have prostate cancer. But I am happy’. In this article, George Monbiot
shares his initial feeling on being told of the diagnosis of cancer, ‘like a gunshot on a quiet street: shocking and disorienting’.
He shares, “ It would be easy to curse my luck and start to ask, “Why me?” I have never smoked and hardly drink; I have a ridiculously healthy diet and follow a severe fitness regime. I’m 20 or 30 years younger than most of the men I see in the waiting rooms. In other words, I would have had a lower risk of prostate cancer only if I had been female. And yet … I am happy. In fact, I’m happier than I was before my diagnosis.”
He presents three principles which sit at the heart of a good life. These are: Firstly, imagine how much worse it could be, rather than how much better. Secondly, change what you can change, accept what you can’t. Thirdly, do not let fear rule your life.
Further, he share three steps to overcoming fear: (i) name it, (ii) normalize it, (iii) socialize it.
He elaborates the above as follows: “For too long, cancer has been locked in the drawer labelled Things We Don’t Talk About. When we call it the Big C, it becomes, as the term suggests, not smaller, but larger in our minds. He Who Must Not Be Named is diminished by being identified, and diminished further when he becomes a topic of daily conversation (normalizing). So I have sought to discuss my prostate cancer as I would discuss any other issue. I make no apologies for subjecting you to the grisly details: the more familiar they become, the less horrifying.” In doing so, I socialise my condition. …..The old strategy of suffering in silence could not have been more misguided.
George Monbiot ends the article with “I will ride this out. I will own this disease, but I won’t be defined by it”.
In my personal life, when I was diagnosed with colon cancer in July 2013, one of the first things my wife and I did was to communicate the news to all dear friends and relatives. It is our best decision as this resulted in support to us, at different stages of recovery.
What are the implications for each of us diagnosed with cancer.
These are my 3 lessons that I have identified for myself:
- It is important to share the diagnosis with ALL those who matter to you. Such a step will ensure the maximum support and such support improves outcome. Journey of cancer is lonely, the more support better for recovery;
- It is important to talk about it as we talk about diabetes, hypertension, arthritic etc so that the fear of cancer is reduced and cancer is ‘normalised’.
- It is important to share experiences with others in a situation, so that mutual learning can occur.