Cancer patients are often referred to as “warriors” who are “fighting” or “battling” cancer. Many cancer patients find strength and courage in creating an adversarial image that pits them against the evil nemesis of cancer. The desire to paint the gray uncertainties of cancer in the black and white colors of good and evil seems to stem from our very human need to define the things we fear in language that acknowledges our potential ability to conquer those fears.
Painting ourselves as heroes and the cancer therapies we use as weapons for good allows us to more easily visualize ourselves defeating the cancer we have cast in the role of evil villain. Many cancer patients find such battle images empowering and seem to draw strength and courage from such images.
But the good vs. evil scenario isn’t a comfortable fit for everyone. There are many cancer patients who prefer to consider their cancer experience a journey. Rather than a battlefield, they seek the peace of personal discovery that often accompanies the cancer experience. Many patients find peace and comfort in accepting cancer as part of their life experience rather than railing against it. But taking a kinder, gentler approach to the cancer should not be seen as fatalistic. In acceptance, these patients are not giving up but are freeing themselves to discover the small delights of ordinary days and focus on positive healing.
When someone receives a cancer diagnosis, their world turns upside down. The need to evaluate and make treatment choices, the devastating effect standard cancer treatments can have on mind and body, the uncertain outcome of treatment and the impact of the cancer experience on the patient’s family can overwhelm all other aspects of the individual’s life. As we noted in our previous post, when friends and family want to help, cancer patients appreciate specific offers of aid that make their lives easier or that make life feel more normal for their families.
While help navigating the responsibilities of everyday life is necessary and always appreciated, what many cancer patients say they need most is emotional support from their friends and family members. Making time to listen to your friend with a sympathetic ear, provide a sounding board as your friend struggles to evaluate options and make cancer treatment decisions, doing little things to boost your friend’s spirits, and serving as a communications conduit to other friends and family members can be of tremendous help to cancer patients.
Cancer can be an isolating experience. The alternative cancer treatment experts at Issels Medical Center in Santa Barbara, California have found that cancer patients who have supportive friends and family members that are willing to share their cancer journey are best able to cope with the stress and fear that follows cancer diagnosis.
When learning that a friend has cancer, most people will offer to help. But as heartfelt as their friend’s offer of aid may be, cancer patients are often reluctant to call and ask for help. A friend’s vague offer of “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help” may be heartfelt; but it’s a hollow promise if not backed by action.
The best way to help a friend with cancer is to consider the type of help you can realistically provide. This will allow you to make a specific offer of help; such as: ”I can shop for groceries on Tuesday evening” or “I’m free on Fridays to drive you to chemo.” Then follow through by calling a few days beforehand to pick up her grocery list or get her chemo appointment on your calendar. By specifically defining your offer to help, you reassure your friend that accepting your offer will not place an uncomfortable burden on your other responsibilities and allow her to accept your offer without guilt.
If you want to help a friend with cancer, offer to do things that will make life easier for your friend or will make life feel more normal for her family. Consider these additional ways to help:
• Take children to music lessons and soccer practices
• Babysit young children one or two mornings or afternoons a week
• Pick up prescriptions
• Mow the lawn, rake leaves, shovel snow or weed the garden
An unexpected link between autism and cancer has been discovered by researchers. While the cause of autism remains unknown in the majority of cases, mutated cancer or tumor genes appear to have caused the brain disorder in a small percentage of people. According to a New York Times review of the new findings:
10% of children with mutations of the PTEN (P-10) gene have autism. PTEN has been linked to breast, thyroid, colon and other organ cancers.
50% of children with the genetic disorder tuberous sclerosis have autism. Tuberous sclerosis has been linked to brain and kidney cancer and brain and organ tumors.
Researchers noted that while the risk is considerably higher than for the general population, not everyone with these genetic mutations will develop either autism or cancer. Yet for those with autism who do have one of these genetic mutations, the discovery opens the door to new avenues of research and potential discovery of a cure. In fact, a clinical trial is already underway to see if autistic children who carry the targeted genetic mutation will respond to a drug used to treat tumors that share that same genetic footprint.
Both cancer and autism involve unregulated cell growth and both genes being studied act to halt cell growth. Genetic manipulation of cell growth is proving to be a fertile field for cancer research and treatment. Issels integrated immunotherapy utilizes targeted cell therapies in our cancer vaccine program to target and manipulate the tumor microenvironment that triggers the progression or regression of cancer. For many of our patients, Issels cancer treatments have resulted in long-term cancer remission.
When a parent is diagnosed with cancer, moms and dads struggle with what, when and how much to tell their children. Immediately after diagnosis, parents are understandably struggling to educate themselves, cope with their own emotions and make cancer treatment decisions. Until they have had a chance to assimilate the diagnosis and all it entails, they may make not feel ready to discuss cancer with their children. Many parents feel a need to have some level of certainty about what will happen before trying to answer their children’s questions.
Unfortunately, there are few certainties when it comes to cancer. Individual response to cancer treatments allows for a range of possible outcomes. While statistics allow oncologists to tell their patients what is most likely to happen, your own cancer experience many not follow the normal pattern. While the desire to wait until your know what is going to happen is understandable, with cancer it is an unachievable goal.
Trying to shield your children by failing to discuss cancer may only make them worry more. Even very young children are surprisingly attuned to the normal rhythms of family life. Cancer disrupts those rhythms and children are quick to notice. Giving children an explanation for the changes cancer brings to family life and a parent’s health prevent children from imaging all kinds of horrible things or feeling guilt that they may have caused the problem.
Bringing cancer into the open allows children to express their fears and talk about their feelings. Even when there are no firm answers to their questions, being able to talk openly about what is happening in the family can be immensely reassuring to children.