“Cancer involves abnormal cells that divide uncontrollably and have the ability to invade and destroy normal body tissue.” CNN reported that cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States after heart disease. According to an scholarly article written by Jenna J. Garrett and Clare Barrington, in Honduras, cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for women. In contrast, it is the 15th leading cause of cancer death in the USA, where cervical cancer incidence rates are also significantly lower. Today, there are better survival rates due to improvements in cancer screening and treatments.
According to Harvard Mental Health Letter in an academic article titled Psychological Challenges of Surviving Cancer “the psychological terrain of survivorship is dynamic, with the most difficult times occurring during transitions. Dr. William Pirl, a Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) psychiatrist who works frequently with cancer survivors, believes that one transition in particular is likely to cause psychological distress: the period immediately following completion of intensive (primary) cancer treatment. For some patients, this transition may be as stressful, if not more so, as undergoing treatment itself”.
How do cancer patients, survivors and their families take control? How do they write their own stories, beat cancer mentally and live freely?
Heather Fues, Emily, Daun Davis, Margaret Wineglass, Katrina Mellerson and Tiffany Collins, through their stories told how cancer is survivable and controlled with the mind. These women point out the mental and emotional challenges of surviving cancer, while having the fear of possible recurrence and guilt knowing that they have survived completely or mentally while other patients like them don’t. These women tell what inspires them to fight, live freely and at what point was it when they realized that they have won the fight against cancer.
Heather Fues, RN, ONC Oncology Nurse at Palmetto Health Tuomey Hospital in Sumter, SC was asked to explain how cancer patients and survivors overcome cancer mentally. She said, “As a nurse, I don’t get to see patients overcome a lot of times.” She stated that working in the oncology department she works with patients who have complications from the different types of cancer they have. Feus said that there is not a lot that the hospital itself offers to patients to help them overcome. “ That’s why my department refer patients to the American Cancer Society. We don’t have a lot of programs here at the hospital to help them deal with the mental issues of overcoming but we do have multiple outside programs in place.”
After Heather pointed out that the hospital did not have a lot to offer patients in overcoming. She was asked to name a few of the programs that the hospital has in place to aid in patients overcoming. She said, “The hospital has educational departments, a breast cancer support group, a medical office boutique, pet therapy, church groups and a chaplain.”
The medical boutique, according to Feus, is named “The Wig Boutique”. She said that as patients go through treatment they sometimes use a drug called Adriamycin. This drug often causes hair loss. The boutique, according to Heather, is a place where patients who are experiencing hair loss can go to receive help, feel better and look good. Heather stated that the boutique provides more than hair wigs and scarfs. They also provide prosthetic bras to help both breasts appear when a patient only has one left.
The chaplain, according to Fues, provides patients with counseling, transportation, meals on wheels and makes sure that patients overall needs are being met. She said that the chaplain even provides help to caner patients who don’t have insurance or are in need of help at home.
Heather said, that a licensed pet therapist provides pet therapy to patients throughout their treatment process at the hospital just to put a bright spot in their day. She said that the pet therapy made a lot of patients happy. The church groups, according to Fues provided patients with get well cards; painted birdhouses, crochet pillows and prayer for patients who wanted it.
Fues was asked to explain the daily routine of a stage four-cancer patient. She said, “ Not all cancers are stage one to four and stage one to four is not how good or bad the patient is doing”. She stated that different stages determine the size of the tumor, its location and if the disease has spread anywhere. “ Stage four is more difficult but it doesn’t mean the outcome will be worse.”
Heather originally said that she didn’t really get to see patients overcome mentally. However, she did describe the attitudes of the patients she worked with once they completed chemo. She said, “They show relief, excitement and some even say that they finally have their life back.” Fues mentioned that during treatment everything in life resolves around that treatment. Some patients experience a loss of income, others have no one to care for them and some have to put everything in their life on hold until they can finish treatment.
Radiation Oncology is across the street from the hospital according to Heather. She stated that in that center is a silver bell that patients get to ring on their very last day of radiation. They also receive a certificate of completion. Fues stated that the hospital doesn’t offer a lot to cancer patients in overcoming, but the programs that are offered help with the overall process of patients overcoming cancer mentally.
Emily, Cancer Information Specialist for the American Cancer Society Hotline is employed at the National Cancer Information Center. She stated that her job is to explain to cancer patients and survivors what they might not understand. “As a specialist, I answer questions to empower cancer patients and survivors with accurate, up to date information to help them make educated heath decisions”. Emily stated that she answers questions about specific concerns, treatment options, side effects, coping with cancer, medications, pain control, clinical trials, prevention, screening and quitting tobacco.
In order to help patients and survivors overcome cancer mentally, Emily said, that she connects them with valuable services and resources. They include: patient services, support groups, social services, medical equipment, wigs and prostheses, transportation, lodging, financial programs and quitline. Emily was asked to provide her contact information and the best times to reach her. She stated that the phone lines are open every minute of every day to help give people the answers they need about cancer. She said, “Knowledge is power. We want patients and survivors to be empowered”.
She also mentioned that she could be reached along with other Cancer Information Specialist at 1(800) 227-2345. That’s the direct number to the American Cancer Society Hotline according to Emily.
According to Dawn Stacy and an implementation study talked about in her article, “cancer call centers provide patients, their family members, and the public with telephone access to health information, navigation of cancer services, and links to other supportive care services. Such centers may be positioned to also provide decision support.
Stacy reported that in the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Australia, and Canada, cancer call center services are toll free, are staffed with healthcare professionals, and provide easy access to information and psychosocial support. By using telecommunications, the programs overcome geographic barriers to access and therefore are able to reach more dispersed and disadvantaged populations, allow more flexible scheduling of support to further improve access, and provide anonymity and privacy that can reduce stigma associated with seeking help.”
“I know, that I know, that I know, that God has kept watch over me through the years” she said.
Winning Against Colon Cancer from Ashley Singletary on Vimeo.
She is Daun Davis, colon cancer survivor of 14 years. Daun said that through most of her childhood and young adult years, she has gone through, like most kids do. Back in 1999 she had a mild stroke. She lost use of her left arm and could not see out of her left eye. She was given medication to reverse the effects and she had surgery to clean out a carotid artery in her neck. She now has a long scar on her neck from the surgery, but all of her body functions have been 99.9% restored. Daun was 44 years old at this time, not overweight, had no high blood pressure and no others symptoms for strokes. She was able to return to work full-time and eventually moved from Baltimore, MD to South Carolina. She said, “God restored me!”
The 20th of June 2002 Daun was scheduled for a normal check up with her family doctor. She said, “During my visit, my doctor asked if I had any questions or concerns. I said I had none, other than I was eating huge amounts of ice.” Davis stated that she was having a strange craving for ice and not just any old kind; she had a particular type that she would eat. She ate the shaven kind, the small clumps of ice like the ice they sell at Sonic “I was buying it by the bag like it was my treat.”
Daun stated that her doctor wanted to run some test to determine if she had an iron deficiency. The test results showed blood where it should not have been. She was then scheduled to take a colonoscopy. “They removed some polyps and found cancer on my colon. I was stage four.” Davis was then scheduled on the 5th of July to have surgery to try to remove the cancerous sections. “Everything was happening so fast.”
Surgery was a success, doctors were able to remove the cancerous sections and put her colon back together. She did not have to wear a colostomy bag. During surgery, however, doctors saw some spots on her liver and recommended that she have chemotherapy for three months. “I saw an oncologist who was very bleak. He couldn’t really look me in the eye during my visits. He looked sad when he would talk to me.” After treatment, Daun was scheduled to have a CAT scan to make sure that the spots they saw, which they could not conclude was cancer, did not change. She stated that her doctors were baffled when they got the results. Daun said that they could not explain why she was doing so well. “I KNEW IT WAS BECAUSE OF GOD. He heard my cry and interceded on my behalf! He spoke to me and told me that there was more work for me to do!”
“HE RESTORED ME AGAIN”
Daun was able to take chemo treatments, rest for a day and return to work the next. She said, “The day of treatment, I was wiped out.” She was told that her medicine could cause nausea and hair loss. Her hair never fell out and she didn’t experience any nausea until the end of treatment. “God was with me all around this whole situation.” When Daun finished treatment she was extremely happy. She said that she was dancing in the office and was happy to get out of there.
When asked how she overcame cancer mentally she replied “My faith in God.” She said she was never going to give up. That she would have fought until her very last breath. She mentioned that walking, exercising when she could, encouragement from family and friends and joining a cancer support group also helped her overcome cancer mentally.
Daun would like to encourage cancer patients and survivors to stay positive and never give up. To have your family talk to each other about their health issues so that they will know their history. She said, “We all know our family tree, but talk about your HEALTH TREE. Don’t be ASHAMED!”
“I’m a survivor of 14 years! I praise God for his grace!”
MENTALLY OVERCOMING ADENOCARCINOMA from Ashley Singletary on Vimeo.
Margret Wineglass, Adenocarcinoma Survivor was diagnosed back in 2000. She said that she always had this lump on the side of her neck. It was a movable lump that gave her no problems until she caught sinus infections. These sinus infections would make her entire left side hurt. Margret decided to get the lump checked out. She went to see her ENT who decided that it was best to do a biopsy.
Margret received overnight results because of a major cut to a nerve n her neck. Once the results came back it was confirmed that she had cancer. She said, “No one likes to hear that word cancer. All sorts of thoughts went through my head”. Wineglass stated that she knew lots of people with cancer who didn’t make it.
All Margret could think about after being diagnosed was her kids and the rest of her family. She said that her four boys were grown men and at least she got to see them grow up. “It worried me”. When asked to describe her feeling of hurt she said, “ It was overwhelming”. Margret worked at Georgetown Hospital in Pawley’s Island for years. She said she saw cancer patients come and go. Some would make it, others wouldn’t. She said it was always sad to see others go through the tough times cancer brings. “It’s different when it’s you”. Wineglass had surgery and everything was removed from her neck. However, she still had to take Chemo and radiation. Before treatment she had x-rays, CAT scans, markings on her neck and face mask that she wore often. She stated that treatment lasted for six weeks.
Radiation wasn’t awful until the very last weeks. At first Margret could drive back and forth to her appointments successfully. By the fifth week she was extremely tired and needed help. She could no longer eat and she dropped from a size 24 to a size 10 in no time. “I was just sick”. Margret said that she wasn’t able to eat because her throat was raw. “All you could see was white meat because radiation cooked the skin on my neck.
Her hair came out straight across the back of her head!
The last day of treatment finally came. Margret said that she was so happy she could hardly believe it. “ I survived”. When asked how she overcame mentally she smiled. She said that the support and prayers she received from her family is what kept her going.
Her older sister Rovena was diagnosed with colon cancer years prior to her diagnosis. Her sister survived cancer even when doctors told her she wouldn’t. Margret said that her sister told her that is she made it through she knew Margret would too. Margret said that she held onto her sister’s words, she believed it and she won the fight against Adenocarcinoma.
Christine Henry reported in an academic journal “About one-third of patients with newly diagnosed cancer experience psychological distress, and one in five patients experience clinical depression. A number of studies have indicated that religion and spirituality might reduce distress and improve mental adjustment to cancer. The concepts of religion and spirituality have been defined in multiple ways. Religion and spirituality are often polarized as, e.g. institutional religion versus individual spirituality or they are collapsed into one. Unfortunately, such simplistic contrasts limit our understanding of the diverse ways in which religion and spirituality emerge in peoples’ lives.”
Katrina Mellerson first noticed a lump on her right breast back in 2005. She said “ I had just got home from work and was about to take a shower when I noticed a lump on my right breast. It felt like a rock.” Mellerson stated that she then had her first biopsy done where doctors stuck a needle into her breast to pull out fluid. She had what she called a lumpectomy.
Years went by and it wasn’t until 2008 when she felt a lump again. Katrina said “ Everything was good until 2008”. This time, she saw a different doctor at New York Hospital. This particular doctor told her that her previous lump was cancerous and that the current lump was too. Katrina was very upset because she was told something different from before. “I was diagnosed with cancer.” She said that if she had known then that it was cancerous she would have started treatment then instead of waiting. “I could have done treatment then instead of waiting”.
Mellerson stated that at her second doctor’s appointment she had to get the lump removed. She said, “I was given the choice to remove my right boob or get a mastectomy”. Removing her boob, she said, would have made her feel like she was less of a woman. She decided to get the mastectomy and keep her boob.
“I was distraught and not prepared at all for this news”.
After the lump removal, Katrina began treatment at Trident Hospital in Charleston Hospital. Treatment began on April 28, 2009 and lasted until June 6, 2010. During treatment, Mellerson said that most of her stress came from her non-supportive mother, how her diagnosis affected her daughter Jasmine, her four hour-long treatment sessions and this medicine called The Red Devil.
She said that her mother wouldn’t attend doctor appointments regularly or help out with her daughter after her treatment sessions. She said, “I would be very tired and sleepy after treatment when I got home and my mother would ask me to get up out the bed and feed my daughter.” Katrina stated that she moved back to South Carolina from New York after being diagnosed with cancer so that she could get some help, but that it didn’t turn out that way. She said most days after treatment she even had to drive herself home.
During treatment, Jasmine started to act out but never admitted that she didn’t like or want to see her mom battling with cancer. The four-hour treatment sessions were once a week in the beginning, but eventually slowed up to once every two weeks. She said it was the Benadryl they gave her during treatments that always knocked her out.
The Red Devil, according to Katrina, was an all red medication that caused her hair and eyebrows to fall out. She said, “I ran from treatment for four months because I wasn’t ready for the transition.”
When asked to describe how she felt in two words about her overall situation she said “ Why me?”
When asked how she overcame cancer mentally she talked about her goals and receiving encouragement. Mellerson said that her main goal was to complete treatment so she could get back to her normal life. Focusing on what her outcome would be is what she said helped her to stay focus and maintain. She said, “I had to complete treatment because I wanted my hair and eyebrows to grow back. I was ready to get back to doing me.”
She also stated that family members would often encourage her and that the encouragement was a big help along her journey to recovery.
CastellanoTejedor reports in an academic journal “A life-threatening illness such as cancer can challenge personal resources and trigger clinically significant distress. As it applies to cancer, distress is defined as a multifactorial unpleasant experience of an emotional, psychological, social or spiritual nature that, if excessive, could interfere with the individuals’ ability to cope with cancer, its physical symptoms or even its demands with regard to the compliance of the treatment and medical advices”.
Tiffany Collins, daughter of Deloris Bracey was devastated when she found her mother had Stomach Cancer. Bracey died just a few months after she was diagnosed in 2015. While she was sick, Tiffany took care of her. Tiffany said that everything happened so fast and that it was extremely hard to accept her mother’s diagnosis and then her death just months later.
Tiffany was asked to describe how she felt losing her mom to cancer so suddenly. She said, “I definitely appreciate life more”. Collins stated that she felt helpless and often wished that she could find a cure for stomach cancer. Tiffany also mentioned that she constantly felt like the world was on her shoulders.
Collins said, that after her mom passed she was depressed. She still had to work, go to school and take care of her children. “A lot of times I couldn’t focus at work but I had to be there because I needed the money.” Tiffany said that mentally, she was messed up.
Overcoming wasn’t easy but she was able to attend counseling and get the support she needed from family and friends. Tiffany also said that going to church helped out a lot during the process of trying to overcome cancer mentally. “Staying in the word is what kept me. Believing that God is a healer and that he makes no mistakes is how I overcame”.