After reading this chapter, you should be able to:
• describe the nature of cancer and its prevention
• critically examine factors leading to poor adherence to cancer screening programs
• explain the psychological, emotional and social challenges facing cancer patients at each stage of their cancer journey
• outline intervention approaches used to address psychological, emotional and social challenges associated with cancer
• describe how cancer can affect the family.
Time is shortening. But every day that I challenge this cancer and survive is a victory for me.
This chapter explores the impact that cancer has on our lives. What does cancer mean to you? What do you think and feel when you contemplate cancer? In this chapter we will look first at cancer as a disease, its prevalence and how it is typically treated. Improvements in treatment and the ability to detect some cancers at an early stage mean that a number of people diagnosed with cancer will live many years following initial diagnosis. These cancer survivors are living with what is essentially a chronic condition, albeit one that may entail living with residual treatment side effects, and for which uncertainty about recurrence remains. Consequently, we can think of cancer as having phases, ranging from individuals who are not yet diagnosed but are at an increased risk of developing cancer, through to cancer diagnosis and treatment, survivorship, cancer recurrence, palliative care and end of life. Importantly, not everyone will experience all phases, or in the order that we outline. This chapter highlights how each phase presents unique challenges to the affected individual in terms of coping and psychological adjustment. Also, cancer is not just a ‘me’ disease, as a diagnosis typically will impact on other family members and close friends, requiring adjustment and coping responses from all concerned. After gaining insight into the key challenges that cancer presents, we will explore some of the interventions that have been developed to facilitate coping with cancer.
Why examine cancer as a specific condition? Despite medical advances, the cure for cancer largely remains elusive, yet to a great extent cancer is a lifestyle disease, a consequence of the way we lead our lives. Cancer does not discriminate: it affects individuals of all ages, and across all societies.