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Saturday, June 28, 2008

The furthest you could be from courageous: Attitudes toward one's own cancer

Although public figures like Teddy Kennedy promote enduring impressions of the stalwart, pumped-up spirit, Dr. Joseph Finns says patients themselves often describe a more nuanced, evolving journey.

When Robert Kosinski was told he had a tumor on top of his brain stem, entwined with his optic nerve, "Everything went dark, went blank," he recalled. "I was overwhelmed by the idea that I had a brain tumor stuck inside me. The train ride home lasted so long and I just kept wondering, 'How long do I have to live?'"

Faced with potentially harrowing repercussions from a biopsy, Robert, a husband and father in Jersey City, said he felt depressed and ultimately alone with his decisions.

He chose not to have the biopsy, and went through chemotherapy. He would endure a dozen blood transfusions. Optimism, or even stoicism, were not part of his emotional makeup during those grueling months. "I never felt brave or courageous," he said. "I don't know what that means. I was scared. I was the furthest you could be from courageous."

That was 15 years ago. Now 61, he paints and attends a monthly support group, where he ascribes his odds-defying survival to luck and medical expertise, rather than personal will. "Some people in my group don't want to hear the upbeat scenario," he said. "The way they're coping is completely the opposite because they feel they may not make it."

Dr. Finns' advice to patients: There's no scripted way to handle this. Write your own script based on your own narrative.

Read a story about Teddy Kennedy’s brain cancer.

Thanks to Jan Hoffman for her source article in the June 1 issue of the NY Times.

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