Whenever we hear the news of a famous person facing a terminal illness or any disease, we all extend our love and support. The gift of empathy is a wonderful quality of human beings. As we are all aware, many people are diagnosed with cancer on a daily basis. In fact, someone is hearing those words of a cancer diagnosis right now. The time to say good byes, trying not to focus on death but doing your best to enjoy each day, catching up with everyone you love just to let them know that you love them, crying, putting on a brave face, questioning God, being grateful for the good times, etc. are just a mixture of what occurs with a cancer patient. Today, I was one of those who was touched by the news that Valarie Harper was diagnosed with a terminal cancer which is reported to be in the final stage with a life expectancy of three months. The specific diagnosis is called leptomeningeal carcinomatosis which has affected her brain.
Leptomeningeal carcinomatosis sounds quite scary and however, this disorder is being diagnosed with increasing frequency as patients live longer and as neuro-imaging studies improve. The most common cancers to involve the leptomeninges are breast cancer, lung cancer, and melanomas.Early diagnosis and therapy is critical to preserving neurologic function. Radiation therapy to symptomatic sites and disease visible on neuroimaging studies and intrathecal chemotherapy increases the median survival to 3-6 months. Without treatment, the median survival of patients with this disorder is 4-6 weeks and death occurs from progressive neurologic dysfunction.
A diagnosis of a terminal stage of cancer is very difficult for someone to hear, it is equally difficult for a health care practitioner to deliver. It does not matter how many times the doctor have told a patient that there is nothing more that can be done, each one is a sober reminder that someone is dying and this will not only affect the patient but all who are connected to this person. Our thoughts and prayers are with Valerie Harper, her family and friends. We also pray for all those who are facing cancer on any level.
While each journey is unique, we all share a common theme - cancer changes our lives forever.