Understanding the Cancer Patient

The Syndrome of Caregiver’s Plight
  • Avery D. Weisman


What is it about cancer and the cancer patient that seems to mobilize more distress among patients, caregivers, and people at large than almost any other disease? Despite its unknown origin, erratic course, unpredictable treatment, and uncertain outcome, cancer is appalling to contemplate, as if it could confer a death sentence on anyone unfortunate enough to acquire it. A recent American Cancer Society (ACS) survey,1 for example, showed that the general public tends to underestimate both the incidence of cancer and the effectiveness of treatment. This suggests that people want to think cancer is less common that it actually is, because they believe treatment is so ineffective. Furthermore, when asked to report reasons for fearing cancer, many people cite the prospect of unremitting pain, especially near death, prolonged invalidism, unchecked invasion, progressive helplessness, deterioration, and even decay. But reasons for fearing cancer are almost always identical with reasons for fearing death.2 It seems apparent that education alone does not eradicate these frightening and largely inacurate emotional expectations.


Cancer Care American Cancer Society Distress Signal Ward Staff Safe Conduct 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Avery D. Weisman
    • 1
  1. 1.Project Omega and Department of PsychiatryMassachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA

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