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Out with the Fear, In with the New

December 2022 Vol 8 No 6
Lillie D. Shockney, RN, BS, MAS, HON-ONN-CG
University Distinguished Service Professor of Breast Cancer,
Professor of Surgery, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Co-Developer of Work Stride—Managing Cancer at Work
Johns Hopkins Healthcare Solutions

Hello everyone and happy holidays! This issue of CONQUER: the patient voice presents several articles that I am confident you’ll find of interest and personally relatable.

In this issue, we focus on men with cancer, in addition to other topics. One article is about a testicular cancer survivor who was diagnosed in his twenties, more than 3 decades ago, and the impact it had on his life. No matter what type of life-threatening cancer you have had, such a diagnosis is life-altering, and it will remain so for the rest of your life. I am personally aware of this as a now 30-year breast cancer survivor myself. This experience is eye-opening, it puts us in touch with our mortality, and changes how we view the world.

We have the opportunity during and after treatment to choose if we want to continue doing things as before, or make changes. Often we do both. One patient story enlightens us about his need to continue doing triathlons, something that has brought him joy for years, even though he is now dealing with a life-threatening cancer. Setting new goals and embracing life is important for all of us, at any stage of our life.

We have been hearing a lot about mental health in the media, which is long overdue to be brought to light, and out of darkness. A cancer diagnosis can change how we see ourselves. It becomes part of our new identity. For some, it takes over their old identity. Maintaining normalcy during cancer can be hard, but is important. There is no shame in seeing a therapist or a psychiatrist. Clinical depression is a common side effect of a cancer diagnosis and its treatment. So give it a try! You’ll be surprised how much better you feel by unloading your concerns and fears with a trained specialist who can give you new coping skills that will benefit you and those who love you.

One article in this issue is titled “You Only Live T-W-I-C-E.” Great title! This young woman was diagnosed with cancer at age 26 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and her story tells us just how complicated things can be when you are dealing with cancer and disability during the pandemic, and forge onwards anyway. Read the story to find out what “twice” means here.

Also in this issue is a thoughtful article from a physician about prostate cancer, translating information into laymen’s terms to ensure everyone can understand this disease, how screening is done today, and current treatments. (I recently met the leader of the PA Prostate Cancer Coalition, who showed me literature they have created with the slogan: Don’t Fear the Finger!, which relates to prostate cancer screening. I love it!)

In this issue I discuss the issue of side effects. Although we know that all cancer treatments have side effects, some of them can be diminished or even prevented. So speak up and ask your doctor or navigator about that!

Finally, I am a strong advocate of clinical trials. I still enroll in clinical trials that are focused on issues of cancer survivorship. Many barriers prevent people from participating in a clinical trial. But to identify and offer patients new and better treatments, we need patients to participate in clinical trials. Talk with your navigator about any barriers you may have to joining a clinical trial, and how to resolve those.

Have a wonderful holiday and a healthy New Year. Most likely, 2023 will bring all of us new challenges, but also new possibilities. Embrace both.

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