This week a patient, I will call George, presented with a situation that caused me to reflect on the role of anxiety in dealing with mesothelioma – a life-threatening illness. George is 65-years-old, a successful businessman three weeks away from his planned retirement. He had been planning for his retirement and had travel plans, had a vacation home and was focusing on the start of a new life. He had always been in good physical health, until a bout of pneumonia and a cough had him facing a possible mesothelioma diagnosis.
George prided himself on being in control of his life, finances, relationships, and health. When faced with the fight of his life, George was paralyzed with anxiety. George had always suffered with an anxiety disorder, but he was able to control it by ordering his life. As this proud man told me through his tears, the medication does not stop the racing in his mind about the tests and procedures in which he has no control. The medication might slow his body down but not his mind. His psychiatrist had retired; he had tried another one but could not relate to him.
Everyone experiences anxiety at different times. It is a normal human emotion. Anxiety disorders are different. When worry and fear interfere with a person’s ability to lead a normal life it could be an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. affecting approximately 18% of adults.
There are no easy answers for a person suffering with a possible life-threatening illness and dealing with an anxiety disorder. One of the suggestions I did make to George was to look into stress-reducing techniques such as yoga or meditation. There is also a book on the New York Times best seller list, “10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head,” by Dan Harris, that might help George and others dealing with anxiety. George was grateful for the suggestion, but I think he was more grateful that someone listened to him and understand that although he cannot control his diagnosis there is still a chance for some peace in his mind.