Kenneth L Abbott, MD, FACP  |  12/27/2021

Grappling with Reality

In this two-part post, I tie together some ideas I introduced in earlier pieces, specifically encouragement to ask questions, to learn as much about your illness and its treatment as you want or need to know in order to understand and make good decisions, and to communicate openly and honestly with family members and care givers at all levels, especially your health care providers. I’ll focus on this last point.

Cancer is a serious matter. That is perhaps the most obvious thing to say about the disease. Some may consider it too obvious to mention, practically an insult to intelligence. But many physical ailments are serious. Heart disease, diabetes mellitus, liver cirrhosis—each has its own malign capacity to affect quality and length of life. Yet cancer has an almost unrivalled power to command attention. People fear a cancer diagnosis more than just about anything else in life. They associate it with pain, suffering, wasting, hopelessness, and a slow and agonizing death. Cancer has a severe public relations problem, one that it often—not always, and much less so today than in times past—deserves. It commands your attention. And it forces you to confront unhappy, distasteful realities as well as some of the most important questions in life as you face, often for the first time, the real possibility of death. Death not in the abstract, but in the painfully personal.

Everyone dies, eventually. We know this in a back-of-the-brain manner. But we don’t normally dwell on our mortality. We would struggle to get through the matters of each day if we kept death in the foreground every moment. Most of us put off thinking about end-of-life concerns until a serious illness threatens us. In this narrow sense, receiving a cancer diagnosis can spur us to address and make some important life decisions.

In the following post, I will explore some of the tools available to help you with this.
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