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Mental Attitude

November 25, 2009

22nd Jan 2008

Statistically, with Stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer, Mrs D has only a 15-35% chance of being alive 12 months after diagnosis. She was diagnosed with cancer 9 months ago. Will she still be here come April? That’s a question that’s always on our minds.

Why do some folk with cancer survive longer than others? No doubt, researchers will have looked into this. I haven’t read any of their studies but I have a few thoughts of my own.

Granted, the statistics will in part reflect differences in whether Stage 4 lung cancer is detected early or late. However, I’m convinced mental attitude has an important role to play in determining survival rates.

Do cancer patients living on their own, with no family support, have the same will to live as those surrounded by friends and family?

Do cancer patients who have lost a partner have the same incentive to cling to life as those who still have a partner? Or is their will to live weakened by the thought that they will soon be joining their deceased partner on ‘the other side’?

Do the expectations of those around them affect the survival rates of cancer patients? I am sure in my own mind that this is the case.

Mrs D has been depressed since Xmas. There are a number of reasons for this: she has lost a lot of weight, her physical strength has noticeably decreased, she has been suffering constant chest pain, her co-ordination is shot to pieces, and she is constantly tired. More recently, she has been experiencing bouts of nausea and racking coughing/sneezing fits. These obvious signs of physical decline would have been enough to dampen her spirits but there has also been preying on her mind the thought that her next chest X-ray might be bad news. (More on that in a minute) The thought I really want to articulate here though is that Mrs D’s mental state has in part been affected by the well-meaning intentions of friends and family.

Mrs D has always enjoyed Xmas and this year was no exception. In fact, this year everyone seemed to make that little extra effort to make it a special occasion. And that, to my mind, was the problem. Folk went out of their way to make Xmas memorable – because they thought it very likely it would be Mrs D’s last. It is very hard to keep a positive attitude, a determination to fight the cancer as long as possible when folk around you give off the unintentional impression they think you are a walking corpse!

Mrs D had her last session of radiotherapy on 30th Nov. On Monday 14th Jan, she had a follow-up chest X-ray. This showed that, while the radiotherapy hadn’t rid her of the cancer, it had reduced the growth to about ½ its original size. This was the first bit of good news we’d had in a long time and Mrs D’s spirit was visibly restored after meeting with the Consultant to discuss the results of her Xray. For the first time since Xmas she perked up a bit. Perhaps she wasn’t destined for an early demise after all. While her body still lets her down (She has been poorly the last few days) at least she is starting to think again of a future longer than a few weeks.

Will she still be alive April 20th – a year after being diagnosed with cancer in both lungs? Will she be amongst the minority 15-35% of patients still alive 12 months after diagnosis? ABSOLUTELY YES!Certainly if I have any bloody thing to do with it!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Julie permalink
    November 25, 2009 10:14 am

    Duncs, I believe that Mrs D is still here because she had a reason to carry on – the relationship that you two share is amazing. You are both very strong willed people, and the desire to be together is stronger than any statisticians numbers or doctor’s predictions.

    Hugs to u both.

    • November 27, 2009 8:57 pm

      You’re right about Mrs D being ‘strong-willed’, Julie – she can be a right stroppy cow if she doesn’t get her own way !!! 😉

  2. November 25, 2009 1:57 pm

    I agree with your last statement.. your desire to be a part of Mrs. D’s life, to nurture and sustain her, as best you can is surely a large part of why she’s beat those odds.

    People don’t know how to deal with an illness, and not knowing what to say they act so strange. When my husband was first diagnosed with MS it was so difficult to be in the presence of others.. we just wanted to hide out. People got this pained look and said such well meaning but awkward stuff… We don’t know how to deal with illness and death and it’s inevitability means that we ought to find a way to come to grips with it. Your blog is a lesson for us all, I think. And, a gift.

  3. November 25, 2009 5:48 pm

    Commonsense suggests that mental health and physical health are very closely linked. Down in former must impair the latter. So a positive outlook is essential. The core of your friends ‘problem’ may well be the assumption, Metastatic Cancer = Imminent Death. Such an assumption drives people to be “too nice” as a compensation. Needs a fine balance, which you have achieved.

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