The Case for Cancer Neurosis
Posted Sun, Oct 10, 2010

The blessing and the curse of being a cancer patient is the very present knowledge that today may be one’s last on earth. The blessing is that God gives most of us some warning and we can plan the rest of our lives as we see fit. “Why me” makes no sense since we have not only lived the blessing of life, we are now given the privilege of enjoying what is a finite time left on earth. This is different than the person who’s sudden and untimely death occurs in an inopportune moment and there is no time to say good-bye, no time to make peace with the present and the past. It is the sense of knowing a recurrence of cancer can occur at any time just as it did the first time that gives us a sense of living in the present and the fear that we may have to leave.
This is the plight of the cancer patient. This is the cancer paranoia that each of us lives with in some degree of consciousness. A friend once said to me that only the paranoid Jews survived the Holocaust. The others blindly ignored their fate. So it is with the cancer patient. The subtle pain in the back, the indigestion following dinner, the recurrent cough – all may portend the recurrence that signal a resetting of priorities, a new allocation of time.
In 2002 I had pancreatic cancer and for reasons too ethereal for my understanding I survived. With due credit to my magnificent doctors there is some luck involved. The cancer was in the right spot to cause the jaundice to alarm my office manager who rushed me to the emergency room and on and on and the rest is my history. Several times in the past 8 years I have relived the fears and concerns as symptoms once considered inconsequential now become portents of my future. And so my indigestion and back pain led me to repeat my CAT scan 3 months ago with the disappointing news that there was a spot in my liver that could not be explained. What followed was the mandatory 3 month wait until I could repeat the scan to see if the lesion was real or ephemeral, was one that would realign my reality or would be followed by an all-clear signal. And so my wife and I waited and we waited and much of the time we put all of these thoughts out of our mind. But of a quiet moment, when we had time to reflect and to be thankful, the dark possibility always returned. Last week the repeat scan took place and to our relief and gratitude the “spot” was not present.
This is the fate of the cancer patient. This is our reality. We hope that groundless fears and neurotic pre-occupation will help protect us and at least serve as an early warning system. At worst it will give us time to share what is important and dispense with the rest. This hyperawareness is the domain of all who have brushed death and felt what might have been an imminent demise. This is the domain of all who are undergoing treatment or who support loved ones traversing the space of potential terminal illness.
I hope you will understand my sharing. I thought you might want to know.

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Edward Lack
Edward Lack MD is a board certified dermatologist and a board certified dermatologic cosmetic surgeon. He is President and Medical Director of MetropolitanMD, a multispecialty cosmetic surgery center in Chicago,which is unique in having a double board certified cosmetic dermatologic surgeon, a double board certified facial plastic surgeon, and a double board certified cosmetic plastic surgeon. Dr. Lack is also the Past President of The American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery.

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