In The Human Side of Cancer, Jimmie C. Holland, M.D.,
of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, explores the broad
range of emotions people with cancer and their loved ones experience
from the moment of diagnosis through the treatment and its aftermath.
- DON'T believe the old
adage that "cancer equals death." There are eight
million survivors of cancer in the United States today.
- DON'T blame yourself for
causing your cancer. There is no scientific proof linking specific
personalities, emotional states or painful life events to the
development of cancer. Even if you may have raised your cancer
risk through smoking or some other habit, there is no benefit
from blaming yourself or beating yourself up.
- DO rely on ways of coping
that helped you solve problems and handle crises in the past.
If you've been a talker, find someone with whom you feel comfortable
talking about your illness. If you're an inveterate non-talker,
you may find relaxation, meditation or similar approaches helpful.
The secret, however, is: use whatever has worked for you before,
but if what you're doing isn't working, seek out some help to
find another way to cope.
- DO cope with cancer "one
day at a time." The task of dealing with cancer seems less
overwhelming when you break it up this way, and it also allows
you to focus better on getting the most out of each day, despite
- DON'T feel guilty if you
cannot keep a positive attitude all the time, especially when
you don't feel good. Low periods will occur, no matter how good
you are at coping. There is no evidence that those periods have
a negative effect on your health or tumor growth. If they become
frequent or severe, though, seek help.
- DON'T suffer in silence.
Do use support and self-help groups if they make you feel better.
Leave a group that make you feel worse, but don't try to go
it all alone. Get support from your best resources -- your family,
friends, doctor, clergy, or those you meet in support groups
who understand what you are going through.
- DON'T be embarrassed to
seek counseling with a mental health professional for anxiety
or depression that interfere with your sleep, eating, ability
to concentrate, or ability to function normally if you feel
your distress is getting out of hand.
- DO use any methods that
aid you in getting control over your fear or upset feelings,
such as relaxation, meditation, as well as spiritual approaches.
- DO find a doctor who lets
you ask all your questions and for whom you feel mutual respect
and trust. Insist on being a partner with him or her in your
treatment. Ask what side effects you may expect and be prepared
Anticipating problems often makes it easier to handle them if
- DON'T keep your worries
or symptoms (physical or psychological) secret from the person
closest to you. Ask this person to accompany you to visits to
the doctor when treatments are to be discussed. Research shows
that you often don't hear or absorb information when you are
very anxious. A second person will help you interpret what was
- DO reexplore spiritual
and religious beliefs and practices such as prayer that may
have helped you in the past. (If you don't consider yourself
a religious or spiritual person, garner support from any belief
system or philosophy that you value, such as humanism.) These
beliefs may comfort you and may even help you find meaning in
the experience of your illness.
- DON'T abandon your regular
treatment in favor of an alternative or complementary treatment
(see Chapter 10). Use alternative
treatments that do no harm and that can safely be used along
with your regular treatment. Be sure to tell your doctor which
complementary therapies you are using or want to use, since
some should not be used during chemotherapy or radiation treatments.
Discuss the benefits and risks of any alternative or complementary
treatments with someone you trust who can assess them more objectively
than you when you are under stress. Psychological, social and
spiritual approaches are helpful and safe, and doctors encourage
their use today.
- DO keep a personal notebook
with all your dates for treatments, laboratory values, x-ray
reports, symptoms and general status. Information is critical
in cancer treatment, and no one can keep it better than you.
(See Chapter 5.)