Coping With Cancer

by Charlene Thurston, RN, ANP,Director of Hospice, from the Fall 1990 Hospice Currents Newsletter
Each year thousands of people are diagnosed as having some form of cancer. For many of these individuals, the news of this diagnosis is extremely frightening, immediately causing them to face their deepest fears- does this mean I might die; will I have to endure a lot of pain; how will my family handle it. Although many of these people will be cured of the cancer after treatment, the fear of this diagnosis, and oftentimes of the treatment, as well as fear of possible recurrence, is frequently pervasive for the individual and his/her family.

How people cope when faced with cancer is of utmost importance to their quality of life. Many cope surprisingly well, even when faced with the most serious circumstances. Others, even when suffering less severe disease, become overwhelmed and remain immobilized with fear. What qualities allow some to cope well while others have much difficulty?

Dr. Avery Weisman, a well known and respected psychiatrist who has worked extensively with persons with cancer, has identified the following attributes that persons who cope best have in common. In his book, Coping With Cancer , he writes that “they tend to:

Avoid avoidance; do not deny.

Confront realities and take appropriate action

Focus on solutions, or redefine a problem into solvable form

Always consider alternatives

Maintain open, mutual communications with significant others

Seek and use constructive help, including decent medical care

Accept support when offered and are assertive when necessary

Keep up morale through self-reliance or use of resources that are available”

Might more people be helped to cope better if more support services were available from the time of diagnosis? If so, what types of services would be helpful and by whom should they be offered?

Although hospices traditionally provide care for persons with advanced stages of illness, it has long been our belief that supportive services are needed from the time of initial diagnosis. To this end our hospice has offered a Supportive & Palliative Care Program for persons facing any stage of any life threatening illness, even if cure of disease is anticipated. Through this program, consultation and follow up are available to provide information, good symptom control, and support for patients and families. Also, a Coping With Cancer Support Group is offered for patients and families/friends who are coping with cancer. We invite anyone who happens to be coping with a life-threatening illness to call us to explore these very helpful services. While helping people die well is certainly an extremely important part of our mission, it is not the only service we offer. Helping people live well in the face of a life-threatening illness is our goal.

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