Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Optimism in the face of cancer

When one is diagnosed with cancer, all sorts of things flash in our brains - rail thin bald people, iv poles, scars, doctors, hospitals, hospices. All sorts of things loom in our future - medical tests, things that pinch, chemotherapy, and ugly hospital gowns with a draft in the back.

One of the key players in any cancer journey is the oncologist. Oncologists provide hope, direction, leadership and optimism. They offer treatment protocols to heal us, they provide solutions to treatment side effects, they provide answers to our questions.

They do offer optimism as I said. I read this article on an oncologist and his views of optimism a few days ago and have been thinking about it, mulling it through my brain.

What is optimism for an oncologist faced with a patient with advanced cancer? A few weeks/months of symptom free existence? They know what they are providing - a chance at a little longer.

As a patient our desire for optimism is a little different. I know someone who is a stage IV ovarian cancer person of over 30 years and still going strong. I had another friend who was a stage IV breast cancer person for more than 17 years. Those are the optimistic numbers a patient might take comfort in. But is that what an oncologist offers us? Not really.  They measure time in weeks and months, taken in stages until the next round of tests to check for progression.

Is stage IV cancer existence a happy one? Not really. From what I have seen is it is a long adventure in the chemo for life program with changing treatment protocols, CT scans with no concern for lifetime exposure rates, and regular blood work done on burnt out blood vessels.

A patient upon first cancer diagnosis gradually learns to be as optimistic as they can based on their own medical journey. Some are much easier than others. But an optimistic oncologist always provides the guidance. We might just wish they too were looking at years instead of weeks and months.

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