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A close-up of a newly opened delphinium flower (Summer 2013).

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Surviving Cancer: A Postscript

I received some comments based from the article I wrote the other day about cancer. One was from a former Xavier University student who told me of her mother dying of lung cancer in 2004 and of her father dying in 2007 of pancreatic mass, complicated with diabetes. A new friend from Illinois shared her story about her aunt Sarah who died of womb cancer.

Their stories are heart-breaking. Any person who has witnessed a loved one suffer and then die of cancer will know the pain associated with it. My mother died of stomach cancer in 1998 when she was 77 years old. I was a rebel child, her only child, but when cancer struck her I suffered with her. I agonized day after day at the thought of losing her. I researched the area of oncology, looking for the best treatment for her. I made a wager with God that I will give up all my material possessions if He will heal her. She eventually died after so much suffering on her part and on my mine.
Not all people who has cancer dies. Some survive. My Ph.D. supervisor, who used to climb the Three Sisters Mountains in Kananaskis, survived. He had cancer of the blood. A good friend of mine, also a professor at the University of Calgary, had a similar cancer. He travels all over the world, including the Philippines, to help marginalized people. He survived. A former co-worker of mine, who worked in the same non-profit organization where I used to work, had colo-rectal cancer. He too, survived.
So what do these three people have in common that helped them defy the odds of dying from cancer? First of all, they are middle-age. Their ages ranged from 55 to 66. Second, they are male. Third, they are all living in Canada. These demographics might have something to do with their survival but there could be other factors as discussed below:
Positive Attitude. These three survivors have one thing in common: a positive attitude. They might have been shocked and traumatized upon being told by their doctor that they have cancer. Initially, they were probably depressed. However, they did not sulk in the corner and blamed God. Nor did they wallow in self-pity. They maintained a positive attitude which includes hope, acceptance, fighting spirit, and looking on the bright side.
There are contradictory reports on the relationship between positive attitude and cancer patient survival. Some studies suggest that a positive attitude has no bearing on cancer survival. However, some studies show that a positive attitude is an important component in surviving cancer (Kamloops Daily News; Journal of Advanced NursingThe Kingston Whig Standard). Conversely, a negative attitude, such as hopelessness and helplessness, is associated with decreased cancer survival (The Lancet).
Social SupportNumerous research show the importance of social support, in the form of cohesive family and caring friends, in surviving cancer. For instance, cancer patients who are socially isolated show a higher death rate compared to those who are socially integrated and having the most social ties (Journal of Clinical Oncology). Health care providers (doctors, nurses) are also important sources of support, with emotional support considered as very helpful to cancer patients  (Journal of Social Issues). The number of supportive friends, supportive persons, the extent of contact with friends, and the size of social network are considered statistically important for survival (Social Science and Medicine).

The three cancer survivors I have mentioned have strong social support from their family, friends, and co-workers. The two professors continued working despite having cancer, meeting students, editing theses, giving lectures. My co-worker immersed himself in helping problematic kids stay away from trouble. They may have looked like hell on some days but they carried on, with family and friends acting like cheerleaders. One of the two professors wore a hat for two years to hide his baldness as a result of chemotherapy, yet he was always wearing his brightest smile, always sincerely curious about how other people are doing.

Early Detection. Stage of cancer at diagnosis is the best predictor of survival (Journal of Psychosomatic Research). This means medical screening and early detection is crucial in surviving cancer. Some cancers do not have any symptoms but if you are experiencing any or some of the symptoms listed below, you should go to your doctor immediately:

For a detailed discussion of the symptoms of cancer, go to: emedicinehealth

The three individuals I have mentioned who survived cancer had their cancer detected early. They did not wait until they were feeling worse. At the onset of a symptom they immediately went to their doctor and this singular act was probably one of the reasons why they survived cancer.

To conclude, take good care of yourself. Eat healthy. Minimize red meat in your diet and choose plant foods. Try to have more than 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. 

Sleep well, at least 7 hours. Engage in physical activity daily, at least 30 to 45 minutes.  Avoid carcinogens in your food and in your environment.

Stay positive. Have lots of good friends, the ones you can count on. Manage your stress. Develop a resilient attitude. Pray. 

Go to your doctor as soon as you notice something abnormal.

You are important.

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