I spoke with a friend of mine the other day. Her son of 35 was diagnosed with colon cancer a short time ago. Not only that, but they also found three lesions in his liver indicating that the cancer had metastasized (spread) there as well.
He is now undergoing a brutal course of chemotherapy. As a result of future surgeries he will have to endure he will no longer be able to do the job which he so loves and has done for over a decade now.
As a two-time cancer survivor myself I can understand all too well what that is like. As we spoke, she indicated that despite wanting to understand what he was going through and how he was feeling that she truly could not.
That too is something which is easy for me to understand. Having empathy is not the same as truly understanding their experience.
Cancer affects each individual differently. I refer not to what type of cancer one may have or at what point they received their diagnosis, but how it affects them emotionally. I firmly believe however that no one comes away from cancer unscathed.
We are never the same after having survived cancer. There are survivors whose lives are changed very little while for others, their lives will never be the same.
I have heard many cancer survivors say that having gone through cancer has taught them to learn their true priorities. I believe this to be true, but having learned your priorities does not always mean you will be in a position to fulfill them.
Both my chemotherapy and radiation caused significant and permanent physical damage from which I will never recover. My purpose in mentioning this is one area which patient’s diagnosed with cancer are not warned about nor do others think about -- having to grieve the loss of who we once were.
As I mentioned, cancer and the side effects and/or complications of treatment can affect people differently but inevitably there will be some aspect of who or what they were which they will need to mourn.
The psychological issues encountered are something that even the best oncologist is simply not qualified to deal with.