#LCSM Chat Topic 7/13: Balancing Connection to Others in the Cancer Community with the Risk of Loss

IMG_4066Jack West, MD

My father, now a retired radiologist, provided the first characterization of medical oncologists I ever heard, describing them as “the coldest people I ever met.” Thankfully, I’ve had the opportunity to work with, and I hope become, a caring and empathetic medical oncologist, but I think his perception comes from the resignation many oncologists have historically felt when so many patients die despite our best efforts. Oncologists, cancer surgeons, and other health care professionals have long struggled with the hope of developing and maintaining a relationship with their patients who may do well but who, all too often, eventually succumb to cancer.

Today, #LCSM is one of many online communities, which enable people from all over to share experiences, helpful suggestions, hopes, and fears together. We celebrate the value of these connections, helping people navigate the uncertainty of a new diagnosis and the start of a treatment, letting people share a “happy dance” triggered by positive scans, but also leaving people feeling the sharp loss when others in the community experience a clinical decline. The grief of learning that a beloved longtime member of an online community has died is often every bit as acute as the loss of a friend or family member “in real life.” Here is the dark counterpoint to the deep positive connections we can develop and share in online cancer communities.

For this week’s #LCSM chat, we’ll reflect on the losses many have felt recently as longtime members have passed and consider if there is any “right” way to share a relationship with someone with cancer, whether in person or in an online context, without being devastated by the potential loss of that valued connection. Whether physician, nurse, patient, or caregiver, we all face this challenge, so we will address the following questions together:

1) Are there ways to honor loved connections, including in online communities, without becoming overwhelmed w/grief? #LCSM

2) If a member of online community dies, is the sense of loss a necessary complication of strong online relationship? #LCSM

3) If many dealing w/death regularly learn to cope by developing emotional distance, should those in online communities want this? #LCSM

4) How much empathy should a #cancer pt & their physician share? Should there be professional distance in therapeutic relationship? #LCSM

5) What techniques do you use to manage the emotions generated by deaths of #lungcancer patients you know? #LCSM

Please join us for our next #LCSM chat on Thursday, July 13th, at 8 PM Eastern, 5 PM Pacific, to take the time to reflect on how we can best cope with losses of those we have come to care about, including in the relatively new capacity of participating together in an online community.

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