I started this blog as a way to address the emotional aspect of a cancer diagnosis. My website www.appendix-cancer.com deals with disease and treatment information about the cancer, but an equally important aspect of a cancer diagnosis that also requires attention is the impact the disease has on our minds, emotions and our souls. From my perspective, the emotional ramifications of a cancer diagnosis far out way the physical pain and discomfort associated with surgeries and chemotherapy. The medical treatment in the end is the easy part.
Cancers like appendix cancer that have poor prognosis statistics, high recurrence rates and long and intense medical treatments are especially associated with depression, post traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. Through my own cancer journey I’ve at times struggled with depressions, fear and anxiety. Over my 7 year history I’ve had a few symptoms of PTSD. It’s been really hard at times. I know I’ve communicated with those who have never had cancer who feel that after we complete treatment and have a few normal follow-up exams we should be happier and more grateful for our lives than we were before cancer. That we should praise God and thank our lucky stars for being cancer-free, even if only for a short time, and that we should move on leaving cancer behind with a more grateful and appreciative demeanor.
But those of us who have gone through cancer know that’s not how it works. It’s not that simple, it’s not that easy.
What has made me really think about it is nothing actually related to cancer. A man my age I’ve known casually for many years, about 9 years, killed himself this week. Within 24 hours of his daughter’s (and my daughter’s) high school graduation, less than a week from Father’s Day. I talked to him just a few weeks ago. Should I have said more? Could I have started a conversation that would have led to him talking about his depression? Could something maybe have happened as a result of that conversation that would have prevented his final act? I think very many people are thinking what I am. His funeral was standing room only. So many people cared.
At first I was so angry with him. His daughter’s graduation will always be associated with his suicide in her mind. Her celebrated entrance to college away from home will be marred by his absence. His wife, kids, friends and extended family will probably forever wonder if they could have said or done something to change his mind, to have prevented his suicide. I can’t imagine how they felt today, Father’s Day. They just buried their dad two days ago; their dad who chose not to be present, who chose to leave them, who chose not to take his daughter to college, who chose not to see his younger daughter graduate. I continue to try to wrap my mind around that. My greatest fear was that of abandoning my children. How could someone choose to forever leave their kids?
But then I thought more. About some of the really dark days I’ve had. About the desperation I’ve felt at times. About the trouble I’ve had at times in my cancer journey facing just one more day. I don’t know what his demons were or how long he lived in darkness, but if his life was even more desperate and dark than mine felt at it’s worst, maybe I can understand his being desperate for a way out.
I just wish he had been able to tell someone how desperate he was. I wish he had been able to share with someone how dark he felt his world had become. I wish he would have asked someone for help. All I can think of now was how permanent his solution was to what could have been a temporary problem. I so wish we could turn the clock back. I so wish he could have a “do over”. For his kids, for his wife…..even for me. For all of us left behind who wish he would have let us help him.
I talk to cancer patients sometimes who wish the cancer would just come back and do them in so they could quit living in the limbo of fear and uncertainty. At least they’d know what they were dealing with, at least they could have the enemy in site. I understand that. I talk to people almost daily who are struggling with depression and PTSD.
I just want to say here that it’s okay to seek help and support for the mental issues we all deal with, to ask for help finding light in our darkness. Seeking help in discovering our light is just as important as battling the physical implications of cancer on our bodies. It’s okay to ask for help. Please ask for help on all fronts of the cancer battle. Do it for yourself. Do it for the people who love you. Please know that your heart, soul and mind deserve as much care as your body.
This is a link to a service that includes a hotline number:
This is part of the American Psycosocial Oncology Society that is in part the work of Jimmie Holland, the woman I admire and met in San Diego who has made it her life’s work to help us with the psychosocial aspects of a cancer diagnosis. Please use this service if you are struggling. It’s there for those of us fighting cancer. It’s there to help brighten a dark place.