Elizabeth Cohn Stuntz, co-author that “Coping through Cancer,” reflects on her chest cancer journey, just how she found dialectical habits therapy and also ways cancer patients can benefit from it.

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Therapist Elizabeth Cohn Stuntz shares her suffer recovering from breast cancer and advocates because that the ways DBT can help other cancer patients navigate their health and wellness journeys.Elizabeth Cohn Stuntz
I laughed as I called a friend about my cancer diagnosis, “No worries, ns am no freaking out." i naively tried to deny any type of stress at the time. It was 2002 and also I was desperately trying no to overreact to the “big C” that had cut my mother and grandmother’s stays short. They passed away long prior to anyone knew around the BRCA gene. Currently I knew that I carried this gene that renders breast cancer up to 70 percent more likely and also increases vulnerability to recurrence and other varieties of cancer.


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Nonetheless, I chose that problem wasn’t walking to preeminence me. On part level, ns assumed the if ns let myself acknowledge any kind of anxiety or fear, I’d it is in overwhelmed choose a terrified, depression patient ns treated as she coped through cancer.


As a psychoanalyst for over 30 years, I want to prove to myself and everyone else the I might handle what was happening. Ns did not desire to confront being thrown off balance, gripped through the strong emotions that left so countless of my patients feeling out that control.

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While I initially tried to deny just how I felt, there was no avoiding my anxious middle-of-the-night worries about the future. Could I continue to work? would certainly I it is in weak and also needy? Or view my youngsters grow to adulthood? mine guilt appeared unescapable. Together a parental my job was to save my kids safe. That was difficult to shower the feelings of sadness and responsibility that i may have actually passed the BRCA gene come them. I was unsure the myself.

My experienced competence working v children and their families felt next to the allude as I confronted talking come my own children about chemotherapy, a lumpectomy, a 12-hour bilateral mastectomy and oophorectomy (removal of ovaries). How might I keep their trust and be honest around my long-term risks and also their potential vulnerability? My typical self-assurance was i do not have anything to be found. Was ns doing this right?


At the time I didn’t understand constructive methods to address the stress of cancer. I wish ns had!

I’ve currently spent the last twenty years expanding mine views and writing a book around how to efficiently cope with the social and also emotional sides of the disease, dubbed "Coping through Cancer - DBT an abilities to regulate Your Emotions and Balance suspicion with Hope."


Breast cancer survivor Elizabeth Cohn Stuntz uses the methods of dialectical actions therapy (DBT), arisen by Dr. Marsha Linehan, come the unique obstacles of cancer for the very first time.The Guilford Press

My co-author, Zen understand Dr. Marsha Linehan, developed Dialectical actions Therapy (DBT) in the late 1980s to treat world who were suicidal or life with complicated situations. DBT is a form of psychotherapy the teaches world how to completely pay attention to their suffer (mindfulness), control their emotions, connect with others, forgive distress, and also live meaningfully.

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In 2009, i was trained in DBT by Dr. Linehan. I started Zen mindfulness retreats because that clinicians with her. During one of the retreats, it emerged to me that DBT an abilities would be valuable to teach at a cancer support company I helped start because that cancer patients and also their loved ones. With Dr. Linehan’s encouragement, ns piloted the an abilities at the cancer assistance center.

Facing the situation and our response

DBT taught me the importance of encountering what’s happened and also my reactions. As lot as ns tried, the not possible to turn off ours emotions. They always show up. There was no escaping my anxiety, sadness and also the guilt that ns passed a cancer vulnerability to mine treasured children. Avoidance actually makes things worse.

I couldn’t resolve my negative self-judgment until I addressed my assumptions that I had done other to damage my children’s security or my belief that requiring assistance implied gift weak and also helpless. Prior to I adopted DBT, those ideas got in the way of allowing aid and support.

Since then, I uncovered that emotions room not merely on OR off. There are effective ways to dial down reactions the are an ext intense than is in our interest. To execute this, I essential to find out ways come balance the four parts of my response: my emotions, thoughts, body and actions.

Balancing emotions and also thoughts

While ns couldn’t avoid how I felt, ns realized it was possible to regime in strong emotions by labeling the feeling. The neuroscience expression is “name it to tame it.” my anxiety, sadness and also guilt were less intense once I figured out those feelings. Cancer patients who can understand and also label their emotions have been discovered to boost their coping and show wellness benefits together well.


Balancing my think by taking a big picture view likewise helped calm an effective feelings. Life with cancer is more complex than merely one way OR the other. Cases are rarely 100 percent terrible OR totally fine. When it was understandable to it is in worried about cancer, it was also feasible to be confident at the very same time. The truth that i was not in regulate of the genetic affect on my kids did no make me powerless. Indeed, that was much easier to accept my vulnerability once I recognized my complete story also included my strength. Ns realized the there were ways I could try to impact my situation.

Balancing my body and also actions

Physically, i learned come manage solid emotions by taking much longer exhales to sluggish my love rate during times of high anxiety. Ns was taught how to scan my body and also relax tight muscles to lull tension.


I also discovered methods to assist balance my sadness. DBT describes these strategies as the contrary actions. I originally viewed cancer together a serious matter with no room because that humor. I learned the there was a ar for the dark and also light sides of cancer.

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Humor have the right to make grief much more bearable, protect versus the damaging impacts of stress, diminish pain, and strengthen immune device functioning. Laughing is contagious and also encourages hopeful connections with others. One study uncovered that the much more grieving world laughed and also smiled in the beforehand months that a loss, the better their mental wellness was over the following two years. I desire to be clear that i am not just saying, “just watch on the shining side.”


Distress around cancer is understandable, yet here’s what i have learned:

The crucial to transaction is taking a well balanced view that considers the dark and light sides of things. This eases our anxiety, strengthens ours resilience, and builds to trust in our capacity to execute what we deserve to to navigate the obstacles of life with cancer.


Elizabeth Cohn Stuntz, LCSW, a psychotherapist in private practice in Mamaroneck, brand-new York, is a cancer survivor and a Zen student. After countless years of joining with solutions for people with cancer and their loved ones, she developed a program of coping skills based ~ above dialectical actions therapy (DBT). She serves on the faculty the the Westchester center for Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy. She newest book is called, "Coping with Cancer: DBT an abilities to manage Your Emotions--and Balance suspicion with Hope."