Keeping Hope Alive

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By: Katy Hewson, LCSW

The first question that naturally comes to mind when someone is diagnosed with cancer is, "Am I going to die?" How do we face this cancer and its quest to invade our bodies, wreck our minds, and ravage our souls?

Everyone has this weapon at their disposal. It's called hope. At the point of diagnosis, our thoughts are usually focused on hope for one thing: a cure. Hope, in some shape or form, is essential throughout the cancer journey. Sometimes it is the only thing that gets us out of bed in the morning. But what if your physician tells you there is no cure? Or informs you that you might have six months to live? How do you have hope then?

Hope is dynamic, ever-changing and evolving. Your hope may look different from day to day or even hour to hour. There is a continuum of hope that many cancer survivors walk through, sometimes unintentionally but usually it is deliberate. I find that those who have the most difficulty along their cancer journey are those who feel they have "lost hope." This is when depression and despair creeps in and hopelessness pervades. I believe that hope is never lost; it just needs to be re-framed at different times during the journey.

There are different forms of hope as a person's illness progresses and refocusing this hope will help survivors cope throughout the cancer journey.

Hope of a miracle cure or spontaneous disease remission
Hope of living longer than expected
Hope of controlling disease progression
Hope of making it to certain events
Hope of every day living
Hope in a person's worth as an individual and finding meaning in their own life
Hope in the healing of relationships and having special times with family and friends
Hope of good pain and symptom control
Hope of being well cared for and supported
Hope in finding spiritual meaning
Hope of a peaceful death

Examine where you or your loved one is on the battlefield of cancer. And then look at the weapon of hope you have been given and ask yourself today, "What am I hopeful for?"

For a lot of patients and their families exploring ways to find hope in the midst of a cancer diagnosis can be an overwhelming process. If you feel that talking with a licensed professional social worker could help you or your loved ones cope during this time, please contact the Department of Social Work at 713-792-6195 to find out what free support services are offered to patients and families at MD Anderson Cancer Center.

References: Clayton, Josephine; Butow, Phyllis; et. al, "Fostering Coping and Nurturing Hope When Discussing the Future with Terminally Ill Cancer Patients and Their Caregivers," American Cancer Society, March 2005

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