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Hope: An Essential When Talking to Newly Diagnosed Cancer Patients

When I was diagnosed with lung cancer six and a half years ago, it turned my life upside down. First, I was in the emergency room for three days, and then I was in the observation room for nine days because the situation was dire due to my lung cancer metastasis to the brain. I was nervous and devastated to numb. My husband, children, and parents were all in a panic state.

I got out of the hospital and had no idea what to do next. So I skipped through some information from the hospital, saw the psychological counseling for cancer patients, and decided to give it a try.

Poor experience with counseling

My husband and I never had psychological counseling in our lives. At the moment, we just knew that we couldn’t function to carry on our lives, from my plan of subsequent step treatment to my lung cancer journey, my children, and my career.

We arranged one-hour counseling with the psychologists at the cancer center. The psychologist looked depressed as if tomorrow was the end of the world. Maybe it was because she talked to cancer patients, so she shouldn’t look happy. The atmosphere in her office was depressed and sad. She spoke slowly, but whatever she talked about didn’t “cure or kill.” I didn’t expect her to cheer me up or tell me what to do, but I was drowning; I desperately wanted to talk to somebody. I felt displaced, and the psychologist and I spoke at “different frequencies.” About half an hour later, I was thinking about excuses to finish the meeting. However, I still thought maybe she could say something helpful, so I stayed on spending the hour.

That was absolutely a waste of my time. I went in with a lot of anxiety and unanswered questions, but I came out with the same questions plus a profound disappointment. So my husband and I decided to stop seeing the counselor.

Excellent experience meeting with patients

I was depressed for three years from the beginning of getting lung cancer. I passively followed my husband’s exercise routine and my mother’s Chinese diet. I’m pretty sure I had depression at the time. Gradually, my lung cancer was under control, and I came out of the depressed mode. To make a long story short, I started lung cancer advocacy and tried any cancer advocacy that I could get my hand on.

As I started lung cancer advocacy, I attended the International Lung Cancer Survivorship Conference in 2019, the first conference for lung cancer patients I attended. It opened a new world to me and changed me fundamentally. Before that, I was waiting to die, and after that, I realized that I had much to live.

Striving to give HOPE to new patients

Not surprisingly, my first advocacy is to talk to newly diagnosed lung cancer patients for the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS). From my terrible experience, I was determined to inspire and encourage the patients. I believed that if the lung cancer patients had the HOPES, they could continue their cancer journey.

How to inspire lung cancer patients? I did precisely three things based on my experience:

  1. The most important part was that lung cancer patients needed HOPE. I encouraged them to use scientific literature and myself as examples that lung cancer is no longer a death sentence. The tone and the atmosphere of my talking were always positive. The last impression I wanted to give to them was depressed and devastated. Instead, I conveyed the HOPE.
  2. The patients have to educate themselves. I would use myself as an example to explain every question they had. Most of the patients that I talked to were newly diagnosed. I constantly spoke about biomarker testing and its importance to the diagnosis.
  3. I was trying to be relevant to the patients. Whether they vented or confused even lost, I had the experience, and I could relate to the lung cancer patients.

I talked to more than 30 newly diagnosed lung cancer patients from the CCS in 2019. I’m always truthful and passionate about talking to them from the bottom of my heart. I almost broke all the rules that CCS asked me to follow, but I knew that the lung cancer patients felt hopeful after talking to me and eager to start their journey. In my conversations with them, hope is something the most important.

We must instill hope

I wish I had had a positive experience with the psychologist I had seen, but maybe because of the terrible experience, I have such a deep understanding of how to talk to patients. To instill hope in cancer patients is the most important, and we, (lung) cancer patient veterans, are in a unique position to give hope.

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