Q:

 

Dear Doctor George...

I am a sixty-year-old man and I have been recently diagnosed with cancer. The doctor says it will be curable because it was found early during a routine colonoscopy and is very small. So far I have no symptoms. Of course my family knows and I also decided not to keep it a secret from my friends and business associates. But now people are giving me so much advice about who are the best doctors and they're inundating me with all kinds of information about their experiences with cancer. Also, I looked it up on the internet and that only increased my anxiety and made me feel overwhelmed. How can I best deal with this life crisis?

... Anxious Cancer Patient

 

A:

 

Dear Anxious Cancer Patient...

Cancer is something Doctor George knows about personally because he was recently successfully treated for cancer himself. So, if he may, Doctor George will be addressing some extra things beyond what you asked in your question. Of course, each person's experiences are unique, but there are some common emotions people go through in a life crisis like this, such as feelings of loss, anger, a sense of unfairness, anxiety and depression.

Not all doctors are able to deal with a patient's emotions. When the doctor said that Doctor George had cancer, Doctor George broke down in tears. This made the doctor visibly uncomfortable and he told Doctor George to be strong and not to cry. The doctor had done a great job in detecting the cancer but he didn't understand the importance of experiencing one's emotions.

In spite of their doctor's discomfort, the patient needs to know that letting one's emotions surface relieves stress. You need to release the feelings that get pent up inside of you. Accept your feelings; it's normal for you to be upset. Doctor George cried everyday during his treatments. It helped relieve his anxiety. It wasn't depression; it was sadness and acceptance of the loss of his image of himself as a person who had never had a major illness.

Once you've been diagnosed with cancer, you'll need to choose an oncologist (or cancer team) whom you trust to coordinate your treatment. When you've chosen this person (or team), it is important that you go with what they tell you and not get diverted by what other people say. If your friends want to give you helpful advice, you may have to politely tell them that you're overwhelmed, can't take in any more advice at that moment, and that you've chosen physicians you trust and are going to go put your faith in them.

You'll need to decide how much information you want to know about your disease. Some people want to know as much as possible, but others are only freaked out by learning more. If you are the latter type, and if you go on the internet to learn about your disease, go only to legitimate medical websites recommended by your doctor.

To undergo your cancer treatments (whether they involve surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or a combination) you'll need to diligently restrict your life to only what you have energy for. You can welcome and accept the love and concern of those around you, but it's important to distinguish between those who are merely curious and those who are really offering to help. If you feel someone is too intrusive, you have the right to cut the conversation short. You could say, "I'm feeling tired right now, so I'll have to go."

Be selective with whom you talk and spend time. Talk only to those you feel like talking to and only see the people you feel like seeing (the ones who make you feel good). Your focus is on surviving this period in your life, so do whatever it takes to conserve your energy and help you go through the stresses of the treatments.

You'll need to be open to support from others because it's just too difficult to do this on your own. You may want to join a cancer patients' support group that can give you a deeper connection to others who will understand what you are going through.

Be open to learning about yourself and others. Doctor George learned about the love and compassion of other people and how to trust others more. Overall, even with the difficulties involved in the cancer treatments, it was a positive experience for Doctor George.

Doctor George encourages you to have faith and he wishes you the very best in your treatments and recovery.

Sincerely,
   Doctor George