Surviving The Diagnosis Of Cancer


Imagine the shock and fear of being told you have cancer. It is a scene faced by many thousands of individuals every day of the year. When the initial fear, anger and confusion decrease it is time to consider the course of action we must take against this disease. Information is the key to making the wisest and most educated decisions.

In the US, information is readily available through the internet on all cancers such as breast cancer, mesothelioma and prostate cancer and others. The American Cancer Society, Center for Disease Control, Breast Cancer Society, and Pubmed are web sites and sources of information which are easily accessed. These sources and others provide information for those needing guidance in order to make the most informed decisions. Numerous books have been written which discuss the relationships between lifestyle, stress, diet and exercise on disease – especially cancer. Moreover there are numerous books on alternative approaches to cancer treatment and all can be found in any major bookstore. These resources as well as research journals such as Cancer, Journal of Clinical Oncology and The New England Journal of Medicine to name but a few are of great value. They can provide the patient with a clear understanding of the disease and also inform and update the patient on the latest research developments and the whole range of possible interventions available.

Numerous local support groups exist which help inform cancer patients about all the possibilities. The major treatment centers maintain lists of these groups for all kinds of medical problems and encourage patients to utilize them. These support groups are composed mostly of individuals who themselves have gone through the whole process and have valuable insights and perspectives to share with a person newly diagnosed with cancer. These groups also provide comfort and support which decreases the stress of dealing with the cancer on your own. All of these avenues should be part of an individuals search for information to base their decisions on. If one has access to other well informed clinicians and a medical library to call on these can be great sources of updated and extremely valuable information. A medical library at your local hospital would certainly have access to many of the relevant journals and other reference materials.

In my home country of Vietnam I worked as a Physical Therapist for nearly 25 years. After arriving here in the US it became my goal to help people in the best way I could to a better and more healthy way of life. In Vietnam as a Physical Therapist I treated many patients who were diagnosed with cancer and had undergone surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. They had very little choice in the type of treatments they received as there was little information available to them to base an informed treatment decision on. Neither were there organizations to turn to for support. Their lives and future health were solely in the hands of the medical profession. That is certainly not the case here for a well informed person.

Through my years as a Physical Therapist working in a large hospital, I acquired first hand knowledge of how devastating this disease could be – not just physically but emotionally and not just for the patient but for their families as well. People were left without support or hope and without the knowledge that there are often many alternatives to the types of treatment available. Knowledge and understanding are what can give people hope for the future. Had I been given such a diagnosis in Vietnam I too would have felt devastated and hopeless as well. With a diagnosis of cancer here in the US, I now know that there are many avenues I could turn to to help me with making decisions. They would all begin with the information gathering process from the vast number of sources out there to draw from. From there I could make the best informed decision regarding my treatment.

There are numerous inspiring stories that can give one hope and help individuals to cope in a positive way. The story of James Rhio O’Conner related in is one of those stories which can inspire people and give them a measure of hope for their future. He received a diagnosis of mesothelioma and a prognosis of 6 months to live. However, he was not simply a victim but was an active participant in the whole process of determining his treatment. Through his own search for information and for alternatives in his treatment he was able to survive a full six years.

Being a strong advocate in the process of determining what course your treatment should take is very important in making the best choices. Becoming informed is the key. The process of gathering information takes a lot of work but in the end the effort spent is worth it.

One should not be afraid of seeking out second or even third opinions from the medical establishment. In reality there can be a great deal of variation in the medical approaches to treatment for a single cancer from doctor to doctor and from one treatment center to another so one medical opinion should not be the sole deciding factor in ones search. The worry and fear that one experiences is hard to put away but the more informed we are the more at ease we can be about our decisions. In the end you must feel that you have made the right decision and be at peace with that decision. In that frame of mind one can face the future with hope and a positive outlook.

For any individual who receives a diagnosis of cancer it is important to keep in mind that we are living in an age and in a place where there are often many options and certainly much more information and hope. There are many other sources of information available in addition to the ones mentioned above and we must be diligent in searching them all out. We are also living in an age in which many cancers are treatable but we must be informed in order to make the right choices for treatment. The diagnosis of cancer does not have to carry the same weight it once did but we must learn as much as possible in order to make the best choices for an optimal outcome and be at peace with that choice.

By: Rich, Duong Vu

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