I want to share a posting by an 80-year-old physician-turned patient. Larry Zaroff is an MD-PhD cardiac surgeon who in his later years successfully scaled the peak of Chulu West (a 22,000 foot ascent) near the Nepal-Tibet border.
Yesterday, Dr. Mikkaela A Sekeres addressed, "Keeping Cancer a Secret." He was prompted to write the essay after learning that a patient had been keeping his diagnosis of myelodysplastic syndrome [a pre-cancerous condition] a secret from his grown children and their children.
The patient explained, “'Our son has been away, doing a couple of tours of duty in Afghanistan,” he said. “We were going to tell our daughter, but. …” He paused, trying to find the right words. “It wouldn’t be fair, for her to know, to have this burden, and not him. We were planning on telling them when we’re together over the holiday.'”
Dr. Sekeres offers a few possible reasons, including "'sometimes the one thing that we can control is whom we tell...Some [reasons] are very personal (it’s my body, and what goes on inside it is my business). Some are professional (the screenwriter Nora Ephron kept her myelodysplastic syndrome a secret because she feared that no insurance company would sign off on any movie she tried to make). And some are altruistic (we don’t want others to bear the emotional weight of knowing).'"
His conclusion? "It’s our job, as doctors and nurses, to be deliberate in asking our patients how they will explain their cancer to others, to make sure they understand. Keeping such a diagnosis hushed, a secret from those who love and care for us, is an unfair burden we shouldn’t allow cancer to dictate, too."
Next: Do Healthy Survivors ever keep such secrets?
How you sound is as important as what words you choose. If you appear confident of being able to deal with your illness and help your children – even if you shed a few tears – they will feel comforted.
In my last post, Hope or Letting Go, I shared the story of a physician, Dr. Youn, still troubled by an incident that happened ten years ago. Since reading it, I've been bothered by some of the questions he posed.
For example, Dr. Youn asked if concern for the needs of the patient's loved ones ever take precedence over the patients' needs?
The Dallas Morning News ran a story on the front page of today's Health section entitled, What Not to Say to a Cancer Patient. For the article, special contributor Melissa T. Schultz interviewed me, two other survivors (scroll through photographs) and Dr. Walter Baile of University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (MDACC).
Faltering Cancer Trials should get everyone's attention. The NYTimes Opinion piece opens, "The nation's most important system for judging the clinical effectiveness of cancer treatments is approaching 'a state of crisis.'"
Panicking is usually counterproductive when a loved one has a health crisis. Staying calm is adaptive, allowing you to think, communicate and act effectively. A fascinating and entertaining YouTube video of a 5-year-old girl, Savannah, demonstrates how it's done.
Imagine a 75-year-old man at a new-patient appointment with a young physician. The patient is meticulously dressed and groomed, and he walks somewhat awkwardly with a cane. His medical history is significant for a fall five months earlier that resulted in two fractures of his pelvis. The fractures are healing nicely, but he now needs help with a problem that developed as a consequence of his treatment.
"You won't believe what happened today," she says. "What happened?" you ask, beginning to worry about all the possible bad things it could be. She then begins the saga, "I was going grocery shopping, and..."
You've survived cancer. Now a friend develops the same type of cancer and is making horrible decisions (in your opinion). She's declining conventional therapies for a treatable cancer or deciding against telling her children she is sick. What's a good friend to do?
Years ago, I was waiting at a red light on my way home from my oncologist's office. A boat-like car slowly pulled up next to me. I looked over and saw a gray-haired woman sitting up straight. Her gnarled fingers gripped the steering wheel at 10 and 2, as if she was doing a pull-up to peer over the front hood.
Last evening I was interviewed by Betsy de Parry on Lymphomation Live, a weekly webcast sponsored by Patients Against Lymphoma. In this show entitled "The Art of Survivorship," we discuss how knowledge, hope and action help people become Healthy Survivors. The information and advice are addressed to patients dealing with any medical challenge (not just cancer) who want to get good care and live as fully as possible.
The hour-long interview is available online by clicking here. I hope it helps. With hope, Wendy
Empathy is the ability to understand and vicariously experience the feelings of someone else. This skill is adaptive, helping you respond to another person's needs in healthy ways.
With the rise of support groups -- and now Internet chats and blogs -- patients sharing similar problems can easily seek out and find each other. And they do. So can a Healthy Survivor ever have too much empathy?