Monday, August 5, 2013

The Cancer Blog: Recovery Month 1

This blog within a blog will discuss cancer and all of my fears, hopes and expectations for a positive outcome—full and complete recovery. In addition, I plan to throw in some latest medical research. All cancer patients are interested, to some degree, in research and the latest medical findings; I am no exception. 

Today is Day 231 living with cancer; this is the first monthly installment of my  post-chemo recovery phase.

Take a Pill:

Happiness From a BottleFor most people, other than severe depressives, it’s a
foolish, wasted 
and expensive effort at finding happiness. I like what Edith Wharton says:
“If only we’d stop trying  
to be happy, we could have a pretty good time.”
Image Credit & Source:

Macbeth: How does your patient, doctor?
Doctor: Not so sick, my lord, as she is troubled with thick-coming fancies that keep her from rest.
Macbeth: Cure her of that! Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased, pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow, raze out the written troubles of the brain, and with some sweet oblivious antidote cleanse the stuffed bosom of that perilous stuff which weighs upon her heart.
Doctor: Therein the patient must minister to himself.

—William Shakespeare, Macbeth

Cancer is one of the most misunderstood diseases; misunderstood by the public that is, but not by cancer patients. It becomes worse when ill-informed individuals dispense medical advice without sufficient knowledge, thereby causing more harm than good. One such area of widening misunderstanding are the mood swings associated with chemotherapy and other drugs often given during chemo treatment, such as steroids, or corticosteroids. For many the solution to manage such swings, if they exist, lies in legal pharmacological drugs, so-called mood stabilizers, which promise to do that, but can also do much more.

My wife, when she came with me to a recent appointment last month with my medical oncologist—before I decided to not continue my chemo treatments—asked him to prescribe me such drugs, to “stabilize my mood swings.” She had been advised to do so by a social worker, who was ostensibly helping our family deal with the traumas and side effects of my cancer. Perhaps she had every good intention, including trying to make me more agreeable, more happy, more calm. The management of human emotions is big business in a society that desires conformity. My oncologist did not agree, and explained why. I have an excellent oncologist.

Since then, I have done some serious online research on the effects on such drugs, classified as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, or SSRIs; they are not really called mood stabilizers but anti-depressants, used to treat depression, anxiety disorders, and some personality disorders.

Their efficacy to treat mild to moderate depression, which form the majority of individuals classified with depression, is debatable; it now faces increased scrutiny in the medical community, as it ought to. Consider the following:
Most mental health experts agree that when depression is severe, medication can be helpful—even life saving. However, research shows that antidepressants fall short for many people. A major 2006 U.S. government study showed that fewer than 50 percent of people become symptom-free on antidepressants, even after trying two different medications. Furthermore, many who do respond to medication soon slip back into depression, despite sticking with drug treatment.
Other studies show that the benefits of depression medication have been exaggerated, with some researchers concluding that—when it comes to mild to moderate depression—antidepressants are only slightly more effective than placebos.
And, yet, many laymen continue to consider such drugs as necessary, relying on outdated medical information, personal anecdotes and ignorance—a dangerous combination; more important, such people mix up anti-depressants with so-called mood stabilizers, which psychiatrists prescribe to treat bipolar disorders. This raises the question of whether ill-trained individuals like social workers and other helping professions ought to freely and blithely give medical advice on subjects for which they are ignorant.

The answer is as obvious as the nose on your face; this is no way to recover, is it? Happiness, for most people (those not severely depressed), cannot be found in a pill bottle, if it can be found at all. Recovery and wellness, in my estimation, is obtainable by having good friends, eating healthy foods, reducing stress and exercising regularly.