Ask The Survivor
This is an article that I originally wrote and was published in the seasonal newsletter “Bridges” for Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, page 7
What prompted you to consult
the MSKCC Counseling Center?
On March 3, 1990, I completed my last treatment for Hodgkin’s disease. I often use the word “cured” or “survived.” Over the last year, I’ve come to realize, I am still fighting my cancer and have not fully survived it, at not least yet. Emotionally, I felt that I got through my cancer fight alone. Physically, I know it was actually a team effort. There were countless other people going through similar cancer battles, but when everything ended and I was in remission, I still felt alone.
Cancer isn’t just a physical battle, it is a mental torture. Despite our similarities, even a cancer patient can’t begin to know the true inner feelings of another cancer patient. We have to deal with lack of control, uncertainty of remission, our mortality, and our recovery. Many of us go through treatment without this mental preparation or support.
Over the past twenty years, I have dealt with several major life events and have taken on everything emotionally just like I did with cancer, on my own. I had the attitude that these problems were my burdens, no one else’s.
It takes courage for a person to admit that he has a problem and to seek help. Just as cancer requires a treatment team, coping with emotional challenges does as well. Through the invaluable support of other survivors who have battled late side effects from treatments and/or emotional distress, I recognized that I needed someone professional to talk to. I had to get beyond the stigma of seeing a “shrink,” as I was certain I would be judged by anyone who knew this.
How does seeing a psychologist
help you as a cancer survivor?
I found a psychologist in the Counseling Center at Memorial Sloan-Kettering who works very closely with the doctors who provide my survivorship care. Antidepressants, anxiety pills, and psychotropic drugs are not pushed on me. I’m talking to a person who is educated in what it means to be diagnosed with cancer, to go through the fight, and to be a survivor. My survival issues began with my first biopsy over 20 years ago. I was not prepared for the fact that I would never feel the same and didn’t know how to accept this new reality. Some of the things we’ve gone through as cancer patients have physically changed us forever. My psychologist works with me to talk through and deal with everything that is running through my mind (usually dozens of things at a time). She does not mask my concernswith “you’ll be fine” or prescribe medications.
This is why I travel five hours each way for an appointment instead of visiting a therapist “approved by my insurance for a limited amount of visits” just minutes from my home.
Today, I seemingly have everything. My wife, Wendy, and I have two beautiful daughters we adopted from China. We have a nice house, with a dog, two cats, and a guinea pig. And I do know that I have survived so much. For that, I am so grateful and happy. I know that with the help of my psychologist, I will continue to work through my challenges and move forward. There has been no shame, no stigma, and no judgment and
I wish that everyone could have the opportunity to speak with her. Just as my treatment required so much help beyond what I would have been able to accomplish on my own, my emotional survival has been no different.