Newly Diagnosed With Cancer? Expert Advice
“People often ask what I would do if I got cancer,” says MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant recipient Michael Lerner, Ph.D., a founder of the Commonweal Cancer Help Program in Bolinas, California, and author of Choices in Healing: Integrating the Best of Conventional and Complementary Approaches to Cancer. “Frankly, I’m not sure. I don’t think anyone can know for sure. A cancer diagnosis unleashes powerful unpredictable emotions. But here are my thoughts…
• “I would give careful thought to choosing a mainstream oncologist. I wouldn’t need someone with wonderful empathic skills—I’m fortunate to have other people in my life who provide that. But I would want a doctor who was basically kind, and on top of the medical literature regarding my disease. I would look for a doctor who was willing to take the time to answer my questions, and who supported my commitment to be deeply involved in my treatment decisions, and my commitment to complementary therapies. Finally, I would want a doctor who would stick with me medically and emotionally if recovery were not possible and I faced death.
• “I would use mainstream therapies that offered a real chance for recovery, but I would probably not use experimental therapies or therapies with a low probability of success that were highly toxic or compromised my capacity to live and, if it came to that, die as I chose.
• “I would use complementary therapies. I would look for a good support group and a psychotherapist experienced in working with people with cancer. I’ve been a vegetarian for many years, but I would look for ways to enhance my nutrition. I would meditate and practice yoga more often, and spend more time in Nature, taking walks in the woods, by the ocean, and in the mountains.
• “I would definitely use traditional Chinese medicine, both herbs and acupuncture.
• “I would strive for life, for recovery, with every possible tool and resource I could find. But if recovery were not possible, I would also work to face death in a way that deepened my growth and led to some resolution of my life and relationships.
• “I would pay a great deal of attention to the inner healing process that I hope a cancer diagnosis would trigger in me. I would give careful thought to the meaning of my life, what I had to let go of, and what I wanted to keep.
• “I would spend time with the people I value, and with books, writing, music, and my own vision of God. I would do everything I could do that I didn’t want to leave undone. I would not waste time with old obligations, though I would try to extricate myself from them decently.
• “I would try to live my own life my own way. I would try to accept the pain and sorrow inherent in my situation, but I would also look searchingly for the beauty, wisdom, and joy.”