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Coping with a cancer diagnosis

Published:Wednesday | May 5, 2010 | 12:00 AM

I can still remember that day when my father's doctor called me. He read out the laboratory results. My worst fears had become real; my father was diagnosed with cancer. That day was the beginning of a long and sometimes painful journey. If you or a loved one have received a diagnosis of cancer, this article is intended to help you cope.

Share your feelings

Dealing with my emotions was the greatest challenge. The day I was informed of my father's diagnosis, I was overcome by a sense of disbelief and anger. I didn't have the cancer, but the anger lasted for a long time. There were days when I questioned God. Here I was, as a doctor, caring for other people and my father was not allowed to live longer. I am sharing this experience to remind us that our feelings are real, normal and natural. Share your feelings and deal with them.

We all need support

Dealing with cancer can be an emotionally draining experience for both the person diagnosed as well as for family members and friends. It is sometimes difficult to survive the process alone. Reach out to family, friends and other resources in the community for support. The Jamaica Cancer Society has many support resources available.

Survivors find great support in each other. They offer advice, share experiences and provide tremendous emotional support for each other.

Communicate with family and friends

A diagnosis of cancer does not always mean the end of one's life. It is important that we have open and honest communication with the person diagnosed with cancer, the doctors, other health-care providers, family and friends. Some of us may choose to keep the diagnosis a private matter but remember, there is no need to suffer in silence and secrecy. Communication allows everyone to explore the best option.

Accept help

Throughout my career as a doctor, I have seen many people who have suffered needlessly or who have died prematurely simply because they refused to accept help. Research has shown that people who deal with their emotions and reach out for support have better outcomes, emotionally and physically.

Support the Relay for Life

The Jamaica Cancer Society's Relay for Life provides a tremendous opportunity for us to deal with our emotions, to grieve, and to grow emotionally. In addition, it provides a great opportunity to tap into the vast support system that exists. Most importantly, The Relay for Life is another opportunity to learn about cancer and how it affects different people.

It also provides a useful reminder that many people have survived cancer and therefore creates hope. For some people, the Relay for Life provides an opportunity to memorialise and celebrate the lives of our loved ones and friends who have passed on. This year, we encourage individuals, organisations and groups to participate in this great experience. Why not call the Jamaica Cancer Society to find out more about the Relay for Life?

Dr Wendel Abel is a consultant psychiatrist and head, Section of Psychiatry, Dept of Community Health and Psychiatry, University of the West Indies, Mona, 977-1108; email: yourhealth@gleanerjm.com.