Cancer is not a before and after event in your life.
20 October 2020 | Health
"Once you hear those words, you can't go back. Your life as you knew it is over. So that in itself is a pretty profound impact,” says Nancy Stordahl, breast cancer survivor, blogger of nancyspoint.com and writer of the book Cancer Was Not a Gift & It Didn’t Make Me a Better Person
"Obviously there was a lot of stress, fear, worry, and uncertainty not only for myself but for my family as well," she recalls.
Individuals like Stordahl and their families fighting, coping, and living with cancer face a challenge to their emotional and mental well-being from the moment of diagnosis through—hopefully—the years of recovery. "Cancer is not a before and after event in your life. It's never really over, at least this is the case for me and for the majority of my readers as well," says Stordahl.
Of her book Stordahl in an interview with anticancerclub.com said she wants women (and men) diagnosed with breast cancer “to know what he/she is getting”.
“I am beyond weary of the ‘cancer is a gift’ mentality that is out there. The main messages of the book in a nutshell are: having cancer is bad enough, no one should feel pressured to smile their way through it. You are allowed to do cancer (and grief) your way. Ditch the societal expectations for both, and there are so many.”
It is those who start to accept their diagnoses and choose life which are the most rewarding part of her work, says Angelique Kotzee, oncology social worker at the Namibian Oncology Centre in Windhoek.
“Those patients inspire me everyday.”
Describing the difference to a social worker working in the field of oncology, Angelique says the difference is that
“patients choose you to be part of their journey; they want you to be by their side throughout everything and you become part of the patient’s family.”
Her role is to help patients on the stages they are experiencing during their cancer journey, from the stage of denial and anger to acceptance.
Angelique offer assistance in patients’ other areas of their lives that can also affect their treatment, ranging from their married life, their work and finances. I also assist with discharge planning to support patients who have been hospitalised once they can go home and have a support group for cancer patients from all walks of life.”
“I get to be part of the emotional experience that the patient goes through from the point of diagnosis to the point of the patient ending their treatmen. If I’m lucky, I get to see patients during their follow ups if they wish to continue the journey with me as their social worker.”
As patients also need their families’ support on their journey, the family is also involved, with marriage counselling, family therapy as well as counselling for caregivers offered.
Angelique says each patient is different but most have a fear of death.
“This is most often because most patients don’t always understand their condition or their treatment. Many patients see cancer as a death sentence in the beginning. The further they advance with their treatment, the more their general attitude changes and they become positive, seeing a life after cancer,” she explains.
As a Christian she always try to find out about the patients’ spiritual beliefs.
“I always try my best to encourage a patient if they are open to try and work on their spiritual life, because with a cancer diagnosis you really do need God. His strength is what helps a patient to overcome all the fears and emotions they are experiencing.”
She loves working in a hospital, says Angelique, the reason why she has chosen this career path, as well as the fact that she can from the start be a part of the patient’s journey.
“I love the intimacy I find in this work. I really get to form a close relationship with my patients. The scope of oncology social work is so interesting too: I do everything from counselling to staff wellness and group therapy. There are so many areas of this work I enjoy, and it is a field where I can be creative and make it my own.”
The most difficult part of her job is when a patient has successfully completed treatment but later on has a relapse. The patient must relive the trauma all over again and at times it is more difficult than the first time they were diagnosed, says Angelique.
It does affect her emotionally, she admits, as she wants the best for her patients.
“It makes me sad seeing them going through this battle again and you tend to have so many questions that pop in your head.”
There is however also the realisation that one needs to appreciate life every single day.
“It forces me to value the little things we take for granted, such as our health and our daily routines. Working at the Namibian Oncology Centre drives me to live according to what matters most in life which is my spirituality, family, and friends.”
Her patients have left many impressions but the biggest is seeing the mothers with their children that are fighting cancer.
“The fact that the mother must leave their work, household, and family to support their child that needs them. This takes so much strength and courage each and everyday.”
A report by David Spiegel et al. Meeting Psychosocial Needs of Women with Breast Cancer,
that appeared in The Lancet in 1989 suggested, for the first time, that a psychological intervention (supportive–expressive group therapy) might prolong survival in women living with metastatic breast cancer (Spiegel et al., 1989). The benefits reported in this and other studies that followed, included improved mood, enhanced coping, reduced phobias, reduced traumatic stress symptoms, enhanced vitality, social and role functioning, reduced severity of psychiatric symptoms, enhanced quality of life, and enhanced spiritual integration.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates
that by 2030 the incidence of cancer will reach 26 million people and 17 million of them will die. . Breast cancer is the first rank in the number of cases of cancer in the world, and the biggest cause of death due to cancer every year.
*Sources: nancyspoint.com; nat.cancerinstitute, fda.gov, sciencedaily.com