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The cancer experience: Finding similarities in our unique experiences

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cancer experience Finding similarities in our unique experiences.JPGBy Sarah Hines

"We may have all come on different ships, but we're in the same boat now."

-- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., let's reflect on how the ideas of uniqueness and unity expressed in this quote apply to our lives and hold special meaning for those affected by cancer. 

By understanding how your cancer experience is both unique to your own situation and similar to the experience shared by others, there's an opportunity to find both meaning and hope.

Understanding the uniqueness of cancer
The effect of cancer and treatment on the body
Not every type of cancer affects every person in the same way. The same is true for how different patients respond to different treatments and their side effects. Age, gender, physical activity, diet and environmental factors all differ from patient to patient.

Sometimes these can affect the disease, and sometimes they don't. That's why it's important for patients to talk to their medical teams to gain a better understanding of their diagnosis and treatment plan and seek out accurate information about the disease from reliable sources. The Learning Center at MD Anderson is an excellent resource for this information.

The effect of cancer and treatment on the emotions
The emotional response to a cancer diagnosis also is an individual and unique experience. There is no right way for patients and loved ones to react. 

While one person might benefit from talking about their emotions openly, another might benefit more from personal reflection. 

Additionally, while many patients experience nervousness and sadness due to their diagnosis, others suffer from serious depression or high levels of anxiety. MD Anderson patients, caregivers and family members may find it helpful to meet with one of our social work counselors who can help identify healthy coping mechanisms and relaxation techniques that may ease this emotional distress. There is no charge for these services.

Cancer doesn't discriminate
Cancer doesn't discriminate based on age, gender, ethnicity, race, religion or socioeconomic status. As a result, our patients come from extremely diverse backgrounds and have unique needs that must be taken into consideration.

In addition to members of our patients' medical teams, social work counselors, chaplains, business office representatives, patient advocates, medical interpreters/translators and other International Center staff are all available to help meet the needs of our diverse patients.

Embrace the universal

Regardless of what kind  of cancer you or your loved one has, your experience will have some similarities to others' cancer experiences. The following ideas can help patients and their families embrace common aspects of the disease and cope during their cancer journey.

Get involved

Getting involved in cancer-related organizations can enable patients and family members to become part of a cause or movement and give back. Volunteering at MD Anderson is another way to give back and be part of the great work that goes on at our hospital.

Find a support group

Support groups offer a good venue for patients and family members to discuss their emotions and gain insight from the experiences of those in similar situations. Patients and loved ones may benefit from support groups specific to cancer diagnosis, or groups that center around a concern, like anxiety or caregiver needs.

One-on-one support

Patients and caregivers also may benefit from speaking one-on-one with individuals who are experiencing or have experienced a similar cancer diagnosis or treatment. Anderson Network can help facilitate the matching process for MD Anderson patients and caregivers. 

It's possible to benefit from the universal nature of the cancer experience without losing sight of our own unique experiences. Your fellow patients and caregivers can offer valuable support and insight throughout the cancer journey. And whether you know it or not, you have strengths and knowledge to share with those around you.  

If you would like information on support groups or counseling services, contact the Department of Social Work at 713-792-6195 or ask your nurse or doctor to speak with a social work counselor.

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