Cancer Patients Going the Distance

July 21, 2014
Daniel C. McFarland, DO
Daniel C. McFarland, DO

The conversation was about metaphors for coping with cancer:

“You know, it’s been 10 years and I’m tired of thinking of myself as a race“ and "It may be that I’m a survivor, but I didn’t know I was signing up for a triathlon. It’s not how I want to live my life.”

Everyone in the group was living with lung cancer for a longer period of time with fewer side effects compared to receiving a standard chemotherapy regimen, thanks to the targeted therapy drug crizotinib. While this is good news for these patients, it also means living a life of ongoing uncertainty.

Although they were running a long race, they were trying to find ways to relate to their spouses, children, friends, and perhaps even to a new "normal" for themselves as they lived with the uncertainty of life with lung cancer.  Indeed, they constantly felt the "sword of Damocles" over their heads and how to live their lives despite that was the question. With each new CT scan, side effect, ache, or pain creates ongoing fear for these folks.

“How do we deal with it?” said one group member.

The "marathon runners" of the group remembered that they had faced adversity and uncertainty many times in the past and had coped with it.  They did this by recognizing their own character strengths along with maintaining their resiliency.  The bottom line, they felt, was to live each day and to make the most of now.

The marathon race analogy is easy for the imagination to grasp, but it falls short of capturing the nuances of a life that has become more complicated by surveillance scans that determine life in 3 to 6 month increments.  It is not a matter of winning or losing the race as much as it is a matter of learning to live with uncertainty--that is what I learned from the marathon runners.

While cancer survivorship may be considered a marathon and not a sprint, how do you help patients cope with the ongoing uncertainty?

Disclosures:

Daniel McFarland is a clinical fellow in hematology and medical oncology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City and a member of the American Psychosocial Oncology Society. He is dually trained in internal medicine and psychiatry. As part of the American Psychosocial Oncology Society, Dr. McFarland is currently collaborating with Dr. Jimmie Holland at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in an effort to bring psychosocial issues to the attention of oncologists as they treat patients in the new era of personalized medicine. The views expressed are his own.

Daniel McFarland is a clinical fellow in hematology and medical oncology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City and a member of the American Psychosocial Oncology Society. He is dually trained in internal medicine and psychiatry. As part of the American Psychosocial Oncology Society, Dr. McFarland is currently collaborating with Dr. Jimmie Holland at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in an effort to bring psychosocial issues to the attention of oncologists as they treat patients in the new era of personalized medicine. The views expressed are his own. - See more at: http://www.oncotherapynetwork.com/skin-cancer-melanoma-targets/call-qol-experiences-targeted-therapies#sthash.9PY1R06S.dpuf

Daniel McFarland is a clinical fellow in hematology and medical oncology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City and a member of the American Psychosocial Oncology Society. He is dually trained in internal medicine and psychiatry. As part of the American Psychosocial Oncology Society, Dr. McFarland is currently collaborating with Dr. Jimmie Holland at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in an effort to bring psychosocial issues to the attention of oncologists as they treat patients in the new era of personalized medicine. The views expressed are his own.