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 Look to this Day: The Challenge of Coping with Cancer 
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Mind Over Matter by . View all columns in series
Look to this day
for it is life
the very life of life.
In its brief course lie all
the realities and verities of existence
the bliss of growth
the splendor of action
the glory of power.

For yesterday is but a dream
and tomorrow is only a vision.
But today, well lived
makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
and every tomorrow a vision of hope.

Look well, therefore, to this day.

- Sanskrit Proverb

When I discovered this deeply moving proverb, I was frankly surprised. It wasn't because of its content, or ageless wisdomæ nor was it because it seemed so well attuned to the needs of people facing the challenges of chronic illness or cancer.

What amazed me was where it showed up - not in one of our cancer programs nor in the hand of a counselor who was about to reach out to an individual facing his/her mortality.

I discovered this proverb on the web ... on a page entitled, "Taking Time: Support for People with Cancer and the People Who Care About Them." The site is called CancerNet, and is produced by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Cancer Institute (NCI).

I was also extremely pleased to find the following recommendations in NCI's section on anxiety which is so prevalent for our patients facing cancer:

"Treatment for anxiety begins by giving the patient adequate information and support. Developing coping strategies such as the patient viewing his or her cancer from the perspective of a problem to be solved, obtaining enough information in order to fully understand his or her disease and treatment options, and utilizing available resources and support systems, can help to relieve anxiety. Patients may benefit from other treatment options for anxiety, including: psychotherapy, group therapy, family therapy, participating in self-help groups, hypnosis, and relaxation techniques such as guided imagery (a form of focused concentration on mental images to assist in stress management), or biofeedback (a method of early detection of the symptoms of anxiety in order to take preventative action). Medications may be used alone or in combination with these techniques."

I'm pleased to know the leading cancer institute in the world is in accord with a number of clinicians and investigators like myself throughout the nation. We are deeply concerned, committed and dedicated to meeting the emotional and spiritual needs of each person who faces the day-to-day challenges of cancer. Yet as healthcare providers we seem to be in the minority.

Despite the fact that the American Cancer Society (ACS) has mandated a year 2015 nationwide objective for access or referral to providers addressing psychological, emotional and spiritual needs, I'm convinced the majority of physicians in our society do not take this seriously. Cancer programs, service organizations and support groups throughout our nation that deal with these issues often do not receive adequate referrals from community physicians who seem reticent to open Pandora’s Box.

In a commentary published by the New England Journal of Medicine June 3, 1999, Jimmie C. Holland, MD, of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center summed it up as follows: "We must reassert the principle that we treat the person, not the disease alone. This basic principle seems in some jeopardy today, when at least some patients, for whatever reason, do not tell us about their distress and do not expect that we will treat it as part of their conventional medical care."

Dr. Holland was addressing the fact that most women who seek alternative care apart from the conventional medical establishment do so because of often overwhelming distress which is not appropriately addressed in the conventional healthcare setting.

Yet the problem doesn’t rest solely with physicians’ attitudes or disbelief. Healthcare insurers must accept their humanistic responsibility to cover psychosocial services enabling each person to take an active and positive role in their health and well-being. Arguments that such care is not cost-effective hold no merit.

For an effective partnership between the patient and the healthcare provider can only evolve when one learns to effectively cope with an illness in a constructive manner. Such a collaborative approach naturally generates benefits on multiple levels.

So how does one learn to "Look well, therefore, to this day" as the NCI suggests? The answer lies in asserting one's self to seek out meaningful opportunities to maximize the quality of our lives through education, nurturing, support and guidance whenever possible. It's time we demanded the best whole person care possible, taking our lives and our futures into our own hands - Mind Over Matter!

© 2000 Barry Bittman, MD all rights reserved

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 About The Author
Barry Bittman, MD is a neurologist, author, international speaker, award-winning producer/director and inventor. As CEO and Medical Director of the Mind-Body Wellness Center, a......moreBarry Bittman MD
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