Cancer As A Chronic Illness

The Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: January 26, 2012

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Question

My Doctor mentioned that I should view my cancer (ovarian) as more of a chronic illness because there is no cure, however there are treatments and medicines that can help. What tips do you have for living with this uncertainty?

Answer

Tracy Lautenbach, MSW, LCSW, OSW-C, Oncology Social Worker at Penn Medicine, responds:

Cancer can become a chronic (ongoing) illness that never goes away completely. Although recurrent cancer may not be cured, it can often be controlled. Some cancers recur and then go in remission and the cycle gets repeated for years, which means the cancer can be managed as a chronic illness.

These repeated recurrences can become discouraging and exhausting. You may feel more cautious, guarded and less hopeful than ever before. You may feel disappointed in your body, feel as though it has let you down. It is normal to feel angry and upset. Some degree of depression and anxiety is common when you are living with this uncertainty. If you find that you are upset for long periods of time or that your upset is interfering with the day to day activities for you then it is time to seek help for depression and anxiety. Anxiety and depression can be treated with medication, psychotherapy, or both.

You may need to talk with someone about your feelings and gain the support of others. Some people find support at their church or synagogue. Some join a support group in person or online.

Support in any form gives you a chance to talk about your feelings and develop skills to be able to cope ongoing.

This question and answer was part of the OncoLink Brown Bag Chat Series. View the entire Focus on Gynecologic Cancers transcript.



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