Sunday, March 6, 2011

What Are the Odds? Why information discovery about cancer on the internet might be like online gambling

By Linda Timmerman, Ed.D.

You might think the first place you visit after being told you have cancer would be to a cancer doctor, or oncologist.

But you'd be wrong.

The first stop for most of us? The internet.

Google any form of cancer, and a plethora of websites are instantly available. Some are good, and some are downright dangerous (but that's for another blog).

We tell ourselves we're looking for information about the disease, where to seek treatment, what types of treatments are available.

But what we really want to know is "what's the prognosis?"

"Can I survive this cancer?"

"What are my chances?"

"How long do I have?"

I remember the evening a friend and colleague called and said, "Can you come over? The doctor says I have esophageal cancer, and my wife and I just need to talk."

Truthfully, I didn't even know there was such a thing as esophageal cancer -- so before grabbing my car keys and husband, I starting Googling.

Unfortunately, my friend and his wife were doing the same thing.

By the time we arrived at their home, they were completely focused on the statistics: the 5-year survival rate ranges from 70% to 5% depending on the stage of the cancer at diagnosis.

His first words were, "this thing is going to kill me."

I certainly advocate knowing everything you can about your disease. Some cancers have low survival rates primarily because by the time symptoms appear the cancer is too entrenched or has spread.

It's the nature of the beast.

But how one copes with and acts on this information is vital, I believe, for every survivor traveling the road to the new normal.

Greg Anderson, diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer and given 30 days to live in 1984, went on to found the Cancer Recovery Foundation. He interviewed over 16,000 cancer survivors who had been told they were "terminal" and shares their wisdom in his book, Cancer: 50 Essential Things To Do.

It's a "must read" for survivors. Cancer, say Anderson, must be dealt with on all levels: physical, psychological, and spiritual.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997, my first act was to look to the sky and ask, "Oh God, what am I supposed to learn from this?"

On hearing the diagnosis of bladder cancer just last year, my first thoughts were, "Obviously, I'm a slow learner."

To live with cancer, we must know and believe that we can have a quality life and achieve wellness. If the five-year survival rate is 2%, then focus your energy on being in that 2% group.

Emile Coue, a nineteenth century pharmacist in France, encouraged his patients to practice positive affirmation rather than focusing on the fears associated with a serious illness.

His words still ring true: "Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better."

Linda Timmerman, Ed. D. is a two-time cancer survivor and life long educator.  She blogs regularly about cancer survival and real information from real people with the disease.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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