Don’t Let the Diagnosis Kill You


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The family still mourns the son who died of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Now, another son of their’s has been diagnosed.

I was visiting my mom when her phone rang. She was having a normal, casual conversation. Then, I heard a shift in her tone, “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that.” I could tell someone long distance calling to lean on my mom for support.

His son had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He’s been through this before. Another son of his died several years back from the same disease. From the immediate to-do list the family has, it sounds like much of the energy is going toward planning to die.

While dying is a fact of life, and planning is a responsible act for everyone to do (having a will, getting things in order so someone knows where to find xyz, getting on a donor list if that’s your plan…) —I couldn’t help but wonder if this son had decided to die at the time of diagnosis.

When I was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer, I ran the other way. I was so absolutely positive I didn’t have cancer that I feared it was a misdiagnosis. It wasn’t. A month later I got on board with my medical team. Two years later, I was re-diagnosed as stage four. I spent a week updating my will, looking at relationships, events and things in my life. The following week, I was told, “Yes, you’re stage four, but we believe it’s “curable.” Maybe this son is experiencing all that one goes through in the first month—the information comes at you so fast, and there’s so much of it. He’s got the added information of his brother not surviving. I don’t know his details. At the time of the phone call, they didn’t know anything other than, “Tag—you’re it.”

According to the American Cancer Society:

– About 9,290 new cases will occur (4,220 in females and 5,070 in males). These numbers have not changed much over the past few years.

– About 1,180 people (520 females, 660 males) will die of this cancer.

– Because of advances in treatment, survival rates have improved in the past few decades. The 1-year relative survival rate for all patients diagnosed with Hodgkin disease is now about 92%; the 5-year and 10-year survival rates are about 85% and 80%, respectively.

If you know someone who’s recently been diagnosed, listen to them, or their family member. They may be morose at first, or defiant. Just be there. Don’t say, “You’re not going to die from this.” You don’t know that. I’d also suggest you don’t add to their fear, either. Skip the stories about how awful the cancer treatment is, especially if you don’t know it first hand. If they ask you questions to which you do know the answer, think carefully how you answer. They are so raw at this stage. Don’t feed their fear. Mindset is huge in this game called cancer. Reassure them. Tell them you’ll be there for them, and their family. You’ll take the kids out, or drive them to appointments. Offer to set up a calendar to schedule helpers: cooks, drivers, spending time with their child or parent.

In my mom’s case, I know she will support the son by supporting his father. When the father (who’s in his 80’s) asked her how far she’d drive for a kid with cancer, she said, “To the end of the earth.” She drove 50 miles each way to help me after several surgeries and during the months of chemo. I know some people, who no matter how much they love someone, wouldn’t drive that far more than once, especially in traffic.

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