It has been said that a cancer diagnosis signals the first day of the rest of your life. Hearing the “C word” is shocking, scary, and anxiety-producing all at the same time. Many patients who have come to me with cancer diagnoses – recent or longstanding – have expressed frustration because they felt that their doctors did not adequately explain their diagnosis. They also frequently state that they wish that their doctor had explained more about what to expect with regard to treatments, side effects, and potential outcomes.
I always remind my patients that cancer is a lifelong diagnosis; a journey filled with winding roads, peaks valleys, and potentially bad weather along the way. Fighting cancer successfully requires a significant lifestyle overhaul, because we must address the many factors which allowed cancer to develop in the first place. I believe that treatment must not only entail targeting the cancer, but stimulating the immune system and protecting healthy cells as well. And of course, we must nourish the soul as well. These important aspects of proper cancer treatment are a full-time job for most people, as cancer is a viable foe.
Once we know the strengths and weaknesses of this foe, we face it head-on. While we certainly must consider prognoses for given types of cancer, we must also realize that such statistics are based on groups of people and do not necessarily apply in this case. Thus, we proceed with confidence and expectation that we will succeed.
I never use the word cure when it comes to cancer, because beating cancer requires eternal vigilance. Even when scans are clear and tumor markers are normal, the potential exists for cells to turn cancerous at any point in the future. I have learned that approaching cancer in this fashion is key, because the temptation is to become complacent when improvements have occurred. Cancer is serious business, and leaves no room for complacency.
For this reason, I tell patients once they are under my care, they are stuck with me forever. Thankfully, they don’t seem to mind because we make a pretty awesome team.