The emotional costs of cancer: testimonials and advice

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In 2014, there were an estimated 1,665,540 new diagnoses of cancer and 585,720 cancer deaths in the US alone. Cancer also remains the second most common cause of death in the US, accounting for nearly 1 out of every 4 deaths. In a World Cancer Report released by the World Health Organization (WHO), the rate of individuals affected by cancer is expected to increase by 50%, which amounts to roughly 15 million new cases by 2020.

With such an alarmingly high number of cancer cases around the world, people often wonder why we haven’t discovered a cure given today’s advances in science and technology. There are also those who suspect the existence of a vast conspiracy among pharmaceutical giants intent on raking in exorbitant profits by focusing on treating the symptoms of cancer rather than investing in an outright cure. While the business side of cancer research warrants plenty of criticism, scientists around the world are in fact working hard to find a cure and to develop a variety of new treatments. Unfortunately, and given the nature of cancer, finding a cure is a slow and arduous process.

What is cancer?

Cancer is the result of cells in the body growing out of control. Instead of completing the natural life cycle of a normal cell, cancer cells continue to multiply. And depending on the severity of certain types of cancer cells, they can also invade (grow into) surrounding tissue, something that normal cells don’t do.

In a normal cell, when DNA is damaged the cell either repairs the damage or dies. In cancer cells, the damaged DNA is not repaired, and instead of dying, the cells continue to replicate newer cells that the body doesn’t need. These newer cells also exhibit the same damaged DNA.

People can inherit abnormal DNA, but most often DNA damage is caused by mistakes that happen while normal cells are reproducing or by something in the environment negatively affecting our bodies, like extreme levels of radiation.

Are there such things as ‘super foods’?

Unfortunately, current scientific literature does not support the existence of super foods that can help reverse cancer. Just like those foreign princes who need help transferring a million dollars into your bank account, this assumption is completely false. That said, maintaining a healthy diet is indeed vital to your overall health, and does help prevent and delay many diseases and illnesses.

How about marijuana?

The U.S. National Institute of Cancer has stated, “At this time, there is not enough evidence to recommend that patients inhale or ingest Cannabis as a treatment for cancer-related symptoms or side effects of cancer therapy.”

While many cancer sufferers do claim that cannabis helps ease their pain and increase their appetite thanks to the active ingredient in cannabis, THC, there is no direct scientific evidence of THC reversing cancer.

On the other hand, there are plenty of confirmed benefits to the consumption of medical cannabis in patients suffering from cancer. According to cancer.gov, THC offers positive effects in helping treat anorexia, early satiety, weight loss, and cachexia. THC can also be used in the form of oil, which patients can use to mix with food or to take orally.

Testimonials

Seldom discussed in equal measure is the emotional toll experienced by families with loved ones suffering from cancer. The disheartening truth is that almost all of us know someone who has been affected by cancer.

Take William Pettey, whose mother Karen Pettey passed away in 2009. When asked about the effect it had on him and his father, William states,

I did the best I could. I just wanted to be alone and a way to get my anger out was playing video games. I lost my job right after my mom died due to losing sight of what was important in life. My dad’s way of coping was to do what he loved so he bought a new bike and he went on a bike ride. I don’t know exactly where to but I do know he just rode his bike to help distract the pain he was going through.

And then there is Savannah Bosler, who at 14 helped her grandmother Vedia Bosler fight cancer until she passed away on her 82nd birthday.

It’s hard to accept that someone that close to you is dying, she was like my mother. And I felt hopeless because I didn’t know what I was going to do when she was gone. It was later in the evening on her birthday when she died after our family had already left. I thought I heard her heaving because the chemotherapy always made her sick, but the noise I heard was her gasping for breath.

I went in to go check on her and I sat her up hoping she would breath, then I began to beat on her chest. I quickly called 911 and they told me to drag her out of bed and put her on the floor to give her CPR. I got her about halfway out when I just knew she was already dead so I put her back in bed, covered her up and ran outside. I saw them trying to shock her back to life but mentally my brain blocks those images. I felt numb for so long, I still get sad over it. Just knowing how miserable she was at the end of her life, it put me in a dark place for a long time.

I have personally watched my grandmother Rose Crawford suffer through bone cancer. And currently, my uncle Jim Crawford is suffering from lung cancer. These struggles against cancer are personal to me just as they are with many other families. Recently, Jim Crawford’s sister Pam spoke to me about the emotional toll her family members experience first-hand.

I felt helpless seeing my brother cry for the first time. I felt like someone stuck a knife in my heart, and it’s extremely draining emotionally. Sometimes, I feel alone like no one cares like I do, and that no one is willing to help us and the

Pam with her brother Jim who suffers from lung cancer

Pam with her brother Jim

world seems cold and empty most of the time. I feel like my world is ending and there won’t be a happy ending to this nightmare. I am not working because there is no one else who can get my brother back and forth to all the doctors we have to see.

My life has changed drastically as before my life was my grandchildren, my children and my job. Now, I focus on my brother’s life of constant doctor visits and hospital rooms. Financially we are broke, I pray every day and all night for a miracle. Sleep doesn’t come easy for me any more. I love my baby brother as we have both been through so much together. Even through all of this pain and stress, I will always be at his side holding his hand during every step.

Tracy Martin with her son and daughter

Tracy Martin enjoying a moment with family.

I have also held my spouse’s hand when he first heard about the troubling news that his mother Tracy Martin was diagnosed with breast cancer. As of today, Tracy survived thanks in part to an early diagnosis. The earlier you are diagnosed the better your chances will be in the long term.

Here is a quote from Tracy talking about her experience with breast cancer:

First thought was ‘how bad is it’, then, ‘I want this out of me’. Even though it was only in one breast, I decided to have both removed so it wouldn’t spread to the second one and make me go through it twice. I never cried until the first time I saw my chest after surgery.

A saving moment in Tracy’s life was the habit of checking her own breast, and soon after discovering a lump immediately meet with a specialist. Tracy also added, “Especially younger women AND males. Males can get breast cancer too!” Tracy is in agreement with the advice of medical professionals that males should also get in the habit of checking for lumps. According to the American Cancer Society, 440 men in the US are expected to die this year from breast cancer.

There are several variations of breast cancer that affects both men and women. We suggest you explore a guide on all the different types of breast cancer and their symptoms to ensure an early diagnosis.

Married for 37 years, Richard Stuckmeyer refused to lose hope in the face of overwhelming odds during his wife’s battle. Richard spoke to me about the frustrating process of the healthcare industry and the toll it took on him and his wife.

The beginning was protracted over two years before they finally made the correct diagnosis. Our family doctor gleefully made an initial diagnosis of a rare cancer and referred us to a endocrinologist, only to find it wasn’t that. He informed us that it was located somewhere else and referred us to a specialist for that part of the body. We went to that doctor and he said it wasn’t there and finally referred us to a gynecologist that specialized in cancer. This doctor told us that she definitely had cancer somewhere in the reproductive system but wasn’t sure where so he recommended a complete hysterectomy.

He did that and because of his stupidity we had severe complications. Then he told my wife that he could definitely cure her of her cancer and began chemo. From there she went downhill fast. Finally, she was at stage four so he put her in hospice and transferred her to another hospital.

A wonderful female doctor in that hospital finally told me the truth, that she originally had endometrial cancer and that it had spread throughout her body and there was nothing that could be done and she didn’t have long to live. We transferred her to a nursing home of hospice and she died very soon thereafter. Later, I found out that the original family doctor was working up a study. He had more interest in using my wife for his study than being honest with us and letting us know what was going on.

Every family member I spoke to has expressed a frustration with our healthcare industry and the lack of alternative medicine available for each individual. These are areas that must be addressed.

Advice for cancer victims, survivors and their families

For the millions of others who are just now beginning their fight against cancer, take comfort knowing there is an abundance of support groups and resources available to help you.

For those of you not afflicted, always follow through on your annual check-ups.Cancer rates in America

The American Cancer Society publishes Cancer Facts & Figures each year, which offers projections of mortality rates and the number of expected cancer cases based on SEER data.

“SEER has been there for a long time and is the gold standard,” said Ahmedin Jemal, program director for Cancer Occurrence in the American Cancer Society’s Department of Epidemiology and Surveillance Research. The projections are used by the organization to encourage cancer control, including increasing funding for research and focusing on prevention efforts.

And finally, don’t hesitate to seek help not only from other family members, but also support groups and organizations. You are not alone, and receiving advice and support from other sufferers and survivors will go a long way in helping you cope and get through the experience of fighting cancer. Start by asking your doctor for a list of these available resources, and then using the internet to search for support groups nationally and in your community.

Please visit http://www.cancer.gov/ to help donate to cancer research.

Featured image courtesy of pixshark.com

About Author

As a student majoring in psychology and minoring in science, I understand the importance of keeping a human element in today’s growing technological world. I have been an avid gamer since the early Super Nintendo days. I believe the characters and stories that video games and films tell do play an important role in our society. I hope that one day with the use of technology and science that the quality of our lives will greatly improve.

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