burnoutNothing instills fear like cancer: a sometimes unseen and unfelt but ominous presence inside that sets out to destroy the body.

At my diagnosis of uterine cancer in 2012, I stressed about when and why and how it appeared, whether and where it would spread. Then I fretted through grueling regimens that seemed almost as appalling as the disease. Now, years later, each test and scan continues to breed the angst we patients call “scanxiety.”

Cancer and fear go together like love and marriage or bread and butter. You can’t have one without the other. And fear of cancer fuels other fears related to the body. It makes us vulnerable to an all-pervasive fearfulness.

This fear spills over to the current political climate. A friend of mine recently asked: “Has anyone coined a word yet for the constant state of unease we are feeling about politics these days?” He was referring to Brexit in his country and the current administration in mine. Maybe he asked me because he knew I dealt with patients with cancer and he assumed I was an expert in fear. Within the current climate of perpetual anxiety disquiet over cancer treatments, research and future quality of care – mounts.

My alarm and that of many other patients with chronic diseases escalated with the latest plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. We fear proposals to slash Medicaid and set higher insurance premiums for older citizens as well as those with pre-existing conditions.

There is also concern about the future of cancer research – including the ambitious “moonshot” former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. is leading. In the president’s budget proposal, funding for the National Institutes of Health would be cut by $5.8 billion, approximately 18 percent. Will promising investigations into immunotherapy, genetics, early detection tools, and vaccines, supported by the N.I.H., have to be scrapped?

We need new words to express our perpetual angst and ways to cope. As I deal with my psychological affliction that I cannot call a neurosis or psychosis, I will keep on searching for meaning in spite of my anxieties. In malignant times, fear becomes metastatic. We must learn to either forge ahead and fight on or let go…or maybe it is a little of both.

Here is wishing you calm and solidarity in these times of fear and trepidation.

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