Resiliency: A Key to Living With Cancer

Tuesday, 02 Jul 2013 10:42 AM

By Ronni Gordon

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Some people are surprised by their resiliency when faced with cancer.
 
I thought of this recently when I went to my local doctor, Ronald Berger, M.D., for a check-up after not having seen him in ages. I am followed so closely by experts at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute that I didn’t see the need, but I was glad I went after the Boston doctors suggested doing so. It’s actually a good idea to maintain these ties in case you need attention close to home.
 
Berger was thumbing through a mile-high pile of reports that Dana-Farber had sent him. Also I was telling him about my latest medical "adventures" and updating him on my long list of medications.
 
"I guess leukemia isn’t for sissies, " he said.
 
I took that as a compliment meaning I have held up well.
 
As a natural worrier, I thought in the beginning of this cancer journey that I might not be able to handle it. When I was diagnosed 10 years ago, I made an emergency appointment with a therapist I had been seeing for anxiety. He said that worriers often surprise themselves by rising to the occasion when confronted with something serious. I guess it's your mind and body's way of saying, "Come on, you need your energy to be really focused on this crisis."
 
I didn’t have the energy to worry anymore about things like why someone wasn’t calling me back or what it meant that a person seemed to slight me, and so forth.
 
References to cancer patients and resiliency are all over the Internet, with doctors and researchers looking into who has it naturally, who has to work at it and why it helps emotional well-being. The characteristic is difficult to quantify, but a study published in April by the National Center for Biotechnology Information concluded what the headline states: "Psychological resilience contributes to low emotional distress in cancer patients."
 
One-hundred-fifty-two cancer patients consecutively hospitalized in Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital were assessed using the Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale and Hospital Anxiety Depression Scale, which measure resilience and emotional distress. With resilience so obviously helpful, the researchers concluded that interventions to enhance resilience might be useful in overcoming cancer-related distress.
 
Being resilient is not the same as having your worry-meter turned off. In fact, one nurse called me "Nervous Nellie." He always said, "They’ll figure it out." Back in 2008, I wrote a post on my personal blog about a painful biopsy guided by CAT scan to determine the cause of a mass on my lung. (It was a fungal pneumonia.)
 
Afterwards, I coughed up blood and could hardly breathe. I muttered about death to a friend who sat with me. "I’m sick and tired of the D-word," she said. "I don’t want to hear it anymore."
 
Another friend brought me a red toy jeep as a reminder to keep the keep the car on the road.
 
Sometimes, all it takes is a little help from your friends.

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