THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON CANCER

“Hearing the word ‘cancer’ for the first time is like a punch to the gut. The initial shock can produce a period of disassociation, and then the patient’s innate personality takes over. If she’s typically goal-oriented and structured, she’ll focus on the process ahead: ‘What’s next? What are my options?’ Someone who uses humor to deal with stress may react by making jokes, even seemingly inappropriate ones.

A good friend said that when her husband was told that his kidney cancer had come back, he turned to her and said, ‘Well, my ex-wife won’t be getting all that alimony anymore.’ And while it’s certainly appropriate to be tearful and upset, someone who doesn’t typically cope well with stress might be inconsolable.

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The emotional process of dealing with cancer is very similar to the five stages of grief: There’s denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. The stages don’t necessarily occur in order, and you can cycle through them multiple times. Each patient goes through it in her own way and on her own schedule, but if you or a loved one is struggling, don’t hesitate to ask your oncologist for a referral to a mental health professional.” —Kenneth R. Cohen, M.D., psychiatrist and psycho-oncologist at Columbia University and Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City.

THAT’S NOT A UTI

“When an acquaintance mentioned that there had been blood in her urine for several months, I was alarmed. She blamed it on a previous urinary tract infection, which can cause some bleeding, but what she didn’t realize was that it’s also a sign of bladder cancer—a diagnosis that’s quite common. Women are usually diagnosed at a more advanced stage than men, partly because they tend to shrug off the symptoms, including burning and pain and an urgent need to go. (Research shows that even well-trained doctors can sometimes dismiss bleeding as spotting or an infection.) So, if you’re diagnosed with a UTI and still see blood in your urine two weeks after taking antibiotics, ask to see a urologist—ideally a woman. If caught early, bladder tumors can often just be scraped off.” —Elizabeth Guancial, M.D., medical oncologist at the University of Rochester Wilmot Cancer Institute and a specialist in bladder and genitourinary cancers.

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