Patient Update: “I knew I would come out the other side just fine.”

Paul FitzpatrickWhen Paul was diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer in 2008, he wasn’t sure where to turn. “It was quite a shock being diagnosed with cancer at 27, and I felt like I’d been thrown into completely uncharted waters. But the doctors who the T.J. Martell Foundation referred me to at Mount Sinai in Manhattan took fantastic care of me. It was clear from the start that they were the experts in their field. When another team first recommended an aggressive course of chemo that could have been debilitating, Dr. James Holland reviewed my case and recommended a less invasive course of oral chemo so I never missed a day of work because of side effects.”

That was almost nine years ago, and Paul is now in remission. At the time, his doctors were unsure what quality of life he would be able to maintain longterm. But he has since welcomed three beautiful children and a few summers ago he rode 105 miles to support cancer patients and survivors in his home state of Connecticut.

“I don’t want to trivialize anything, but looking back almost a decade later, it almost feels like a non-event,” says Paul. “Thanks to the talented people at the T.J. Martell Foundation, I knew from the beginning of this process that I would come out the other side just fine.”

 

Guest Blog Post: The Fight Of Our Lives

My Wife’s Battle Against Cancer
by Cameron Von St. James 

My wife, Heather received her diagnosis of malignant pleural mesothelioma in November of 2005. It was the beginning of what would be the hardest challenge either of us would ever face. Just three months before, my wife and I had been on top of the world, celebrating the birth of our first and only child, Lily. We had expected to spend the next month excitedly preparing for Lily’s first holiday season, but life had other plans.  In an instant, our focus shifted to fighting cancer.

After giving us the diagnosis, the doctor made several recommendations for treatment.  We could visit a local hospital, a very good regional hospital that unfortunately lacked a mesothelioma program, or a specialist in Boston that dealt frequently in the treatment of Heather’s cancer.  I waited for Heather to express interest in any of the options, but it was clear to me that she was still paralyzed with shock and fear, and needed help.  I turned to the doctor and said, “Get us to Boston!”

For two months after her initial diagnosis, life seemed to spiral out of control. Between taking care of Heather, caring for Lily, scheduling trips to Boston, taking care of housework, and working full-time, my life was overwhelming to the point of tears sometimes. There were times when I just wanted to crawl in bed and never move again. I just felt a sense of unfairness for a new mother to be going through this. What should have been the happiest time of our lives was turned into a nightmare of painful cancer treatments and medical bills that were through the roof. I feared losing Heather and having to raise Lily alone and broke.  Despite having these fears in my head, I never let Heather see them.  I knew she needed me to be strong for her.

In time, I gradually grew into my new roles and learned to deal with them better. I learned to let go of my pride and ask for help when I needed it.  Our family and friends came through time and time again and helped lift the weight from my shoulders.  I learned to allow myself to have bad days, those are inevitable and sometimes even necessary, but through it all I never allowed myself to give up hope that we would make it through this. Heather underwent intense treatment including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation over the following months.  It was tough on our family, but we were able to pull together and fight through it.

This ending is a happy one. Despite the frightening odds against her, Heather beat mesothelioma and is now cancer free, and we’re raising Lily together, having learned so much during our experience. We’re stronger for it.

I credit my stubbornness with having lived through this and become a better person for it. I learned how to take care of my family, no matter what.

Now, Heather and I strive to provide help and support to those currently fighting cancer today.  We hope that by sharing our story, we can inspire those people to never, ever give up hope, and to always keep fighting.

 

 

Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and we are excited to feature several guest bloggers on this topic. Today’s post is from Jimmie C. Holland, MD, Wayne E. Chapman Chair in Psychiatric Oncology and Attending Psychiatrist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. She offers these tips for families who are dealing with a recent diagnosis:

1)      Communication is critically important between all members of the family. The more open and transparent it is, the better. Secrets usually turn out not to be helpful.

2)      Recognition of the stress on all family members. There is often a need for a family member to take on a new role (eg managing the household, cooking and caring for the patient) while also assuring that the job of the breadwinner continues. The role changes are difficult, both for those taking the new role, and for the person who is ill who must relinquish control and prior role to others; a “new normal” must be accepted by all.

3)      Frustration and even anger are going to occur; it should be identified as normal in these circumstances and become a topic for discussion among family members, often bringing them closer to one another by understanding how it feels to each one.

4)      There are families who pull together under stress and become all the stronger for it. They usually manage without help. However, some families lack cohesiveness and members are unable to support one another as would be helpful. It is important that these families ask for help. The American Psychosocial Oncology Helpline can help you find counselors in your community who can help: 1-866-276-7443.

Jimmie C. Holland, MD
Wayne E. Chapman Chair in Psychiatric Oncology
Attending Psychiatrist
Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center