Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

MAY 23, 2017

Fear or anxiety or panic inevitably is sometimes part of living with cancer. Whether it is the temporary distress before a scan or another procedure or more pervasive anxiety about pain or managing treatment or the heart-stopping panic that may accompany thoughts of death, these feelings come to us all. The trick, pretty hard to manage, becomes finding a way to manage or, at least; live with them without being paralyzed.

Yesterday I met with an especially lovely woman who is living with Stage IV pancreatic cancer. She credits years of meditation for her mostly serene acceptance. She is a very thoughtful and expressive woman and also mentioned a book that is new to me; here are her comments:

And the book I am reading is:

The Divine Art of Dying: How to Live Well While Dying by Karen Speerstra and Herbert Anderson

Karen Speerstra did not want to see on her obituary to read, ‘She valiantly fought cancer for ten years.’ Instead she wanted, She lived joyously with cancer for ten years.’ You see the difference?

And Susan Gubar, as always, writes beautifully in this column from The New York Times. She talks about her experience in living with fear as she has lived with ovarian cancer for almost ten years. In a rather novel twist, she wonders if this practice can be helpful in just dealing with the world.

An Expert in Fear
Living With Cancer

Nothing instills fear like cancer: a sometimes unseen and unfelt but murderous presence inside the body that sets out to destroy the body.
At my diagnosis of ovarian cancer in 2008, I stressed about when and why and how it appeared, whether and where it would spread. Then I fretted through grueling regimens that seemed almost as appalling as the disease. Now, years later, each test continues to breed the angst that patients call “scanxiety.”
Cancer and fear go together like love and marriage or a horse and carriage: You can’t have one without the other. And fear of cancer fuels other fears related to the body politic; it makes me vulnerable to an all-pervasive fearfulness.
My British cousin Colin recently asked in an email: “Has anyone coined a word yet for the constant state of unease we are feeling about politics these days?” He was referring to Brexit in his country and the current administration in mine.
Maybe he asked me because people dealing with cancer become experts in fear. Within the current climate of anxiety, my disquiet over cancer treatment, research and future patients’ quality of care ratchets up.
My alarm and that of many other patients with chronic diseases escalated with the latest plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. We fear proposals to slash Medicaid and higher insurance premiums for older citizens as well as those with pre-existing conditions. Doctors, hospital administrators and insurance companies have all opposed the legislation that the House passed last week, saying that millions will be harmed, including people who could avoid cancer altogether or be cured of early stage disease with prevention or detection measures.

Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/18/well/live/an-expert-in-fear.html

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
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