Expert Commentary: Lisa Merrit, M.D. 01/07/2010

4 years ago, my mother was among the 1.3 million Americans who received a cancer diagnosis. My outgoing, immersed-in-the-arts community mom was as shocked and in disbelief as most patients are who receive the initial diagnosis. Imagine standing in my shoes as a physician delivering the news to the woman who brought me into the world. To quell mom's fear, I was immediately calming and reassuring. Patients easily pick up on messages that express otherwise.

Timing is always important.  It's extremely helpful for the patient to have someone with them when the test results are shared to help take notes and "hear" what the physician is saying.  More often than not, the shock of the diagnosis is overwhelming.  A thousand questions flood the patient's mind.   The "am I going to die"? question is first, then comes "how long do I have to live?"  My mom had the same questions. 
 
If the patient isn't accompanied by a spouse or relative, then a caring nurse or medical assistant should be present to provide support and referrals to services and organizations such as, The Wellness Community (based in Sarasota, Florida).   I can't stress enough the importance of the support person's presence.  My mom could lean on my expertise as a physician, my love and committment to be with her every step of the treatment process.  This made a huge difference.
 
As a physician who has experienced first hand the emotional, psychological and even physical weight of your query, I recommend the following:
 
1)  Providing written literature for the patient's review later is very helpful.
 
2)  Providing beforehand a general outline of options and a plan of action is advised. I also believe that  patients must have time to process the news, do their own research, get further tests and studies in order to make the best informed decisions.  My encouragement to mom:  Let's BE PROACTIVE!
 
I pointed out to mother the positive aspects of the diagnosis.  (Be great if physicians did the same):
 
1)  If possible, point out the longevity of parents, siblings and others in the family.
 
2)  If the patient is healthy otherwise, list all "strong" systems they have working in their benefit:  the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, GI and how these organs will help in their "fight".
 
3)  Point out survival statistics in general terms, if the stats are relevant and encouraging.
 
4)  Provide information about specific actions they can do now to help matters such as nutritional
and lifestyle changes  (i.e. smoking, alcohol cessation).
 
5)  Emphasize the cutting edge research and incredible clinical trials that are changing the landscape of understanding and treating cancer.  Let them know how far the health care industry has come in successfully treating cancer.
 
For my mother, all of the above information was reassuring and helpful in getting her through the treatment process ahead.

Dr. Lisa Merritt has incorporated complementary medicine approaches into her practice for over 20 years.  Trained in acupuncture, herbal and nutrition medicine, detoxification protocols, craniosacral therapy and mesotherapy, she has had extensive experience in developing optimal individualized treatment programs for her patients.  She emphasizes the importance of addressing physical, mental/emotional, and spiritual issues in the creation of complete wellness program.


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