The Experience of Being Diagnosed With Cancer


The Experience of Being Diagnosed with Cancer: Editorial Review

Far too little is known about what individuals go through when they hear those dreaded words, “You have cancer, ” and then have to deal with that information and the subsequent treatment. This pilot study helps us begin to understand what people experience and what they need from others in coping with this experience. Providing the necessary emotional support may prove to play as significant a role in the individual’s healing process as their traditional medical treatment. I highly recommend reading this important work. -Vann S. Joines, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist and Author

The Experience of Being Diagnosed with Cancer: Mini Monograph Description

As anyone can imagine, being diagnosed with cancer is a life-changing, terrifying event. Psychotherapist Kathy Blough reveals the lived-life experiences of three cancer patients through the process of phenomenological inquiry. Her study validates that having a diagnosis of cancer is a harrowing event, which involves a shattering of one’s current world-view and a creation and re-creation of new world-views as the process unfolds. According to the National Cancer Institute (2012) nearly one out of every two people born in 2012 will be diagnosed with cancer sometime during their life; as cancer diagnoses continue to rise, the experience of being diagnosed with cancer will become an unfortunate yet common experience. While researchers in the medical community are spending time and attention finding methods to heal the patient’s physiology, little of either is spent on understanding or healing the patient’s psychology.

The purpose of this study was to bring forth the experience of being diagnosed with cancer in its entirety. Understanding the full impact this diagnosis has on the patient can help professionals in targeting treatments that encompass the whole person. As potently illustrated by the co-researchers in this study, cancer patients were riddled with intense emotions brought forth by the diagnosis. Since the mind and body are inseparable, both influencing the other, it is imperative that treatment focus on both. However, in the case of these subjects, treatment was geared only toward the body, leaving the emotional world unattended to by their medical clinicians. The author believes that physicians, nurses, and medical personnel in general wish to ease pain and suffering, yet when they avoid or disregard the necessity to acknowledge or treat the emotional world of the patient, the patient continues to be in pain and suffer. Therefore, recognizing and understanding the intrapersonal, lived-life experiences of the patient is crucial for healing the whole person.

Twenty years ago, in 1994, with the introduction of the forth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), being diagnosed with a life threatening illness was recognized as a significant stressor that can precipitate post-traumatic stress disorder (Kangas, Henry & Bryant, 2002). According to the research and the patients in this study, the illness trajectory is an on-going, arduous journey characterized by fear, loss, uncertainty, pain, and trauma.

In a culture that has recently become acutely aware of the destructive nature of PTSD, it is important for physicians and medical professionals working with cancer patients to understand their precarious roles and their impact in the way they interact with and treat vulnerable cancer patients.

This study presents eight themes that emerged while researching the experience of being diagnosed with cancer. The themes consisted of 1) Initial shock and denial, 2) displaced anger, 3) being self-absorbed, 4) complying with and enduring treatment, 5) fatigue, 6) relationships, 7) wanting to feel good again, and 8) Feeling alone-people didn’t understand. These themes were emotional in content and brought to light the heavy, emotional burden the patient carries when diagnosed with this disease. The author hopes that by understanding these experiences, health professionals, as well as loved ones and caretakers, can help to ease fear and suffering and create an emotional, curative environment. By lightening the emotional burden and supporting the patient on an emotional as well as a physical level, cancer patients will have the opportunity to heal on all levels.

About Kathy Blough, the Author

Kathy Blough, PsyS is a Psychotherapist and Certified Holistic Health Counselor. Kathy graduated in 1989 with her master’s degree in Clinical and Humanistic Psychology and in 2002 with her specialist’s degree in Clinical Psychology and Education. She earned her degrees from the Michigan School of Professional Psychology, in Farmington Hills, Michigan. In September 2010, Kathy graduated from The Institute of Integrative Nutrition in New York where she became Certified as a Holistic Health Counselor. In 2012, Kathy completed her pilot study, The Experience of Being Diagnosed with Cancer, while pursuing her PhD in Mind-Body Medicine at Saybrook University. She currently practices psychotherapy and mind-body medicine at her clinic in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Sagepoint Institute for Integrative Health.