Same diagnosis as dad


Same diagnosis as dad


your avatar   Joanie(37 year-old woman)

I have been diagnosed with a large brain tumor at the base of my brain, the diagnosis is less than 1 week old. The tumor is operable but the surgery is risky. I have been suffering from extreme anxiety and my hands have been shaking non-stop. I can't eat/sleep or talk much about it.

My neurosurgeon and doctors tell me to get in touch with a therapist to manage anxiety but therapists are booked over a month in advance and I can't persuade the appointment desk to squeeze me in. If I wait a month, my surgery will be over and I still wouldn't have seen a therapist.

I feel like I am going to explode and I can't stop crying. The brain surgery is doubly hard on me because 24 years ago almost to the day my father had brain surgery at exactly my age. He died. My surgery is scheduled for the 24th anniversary of my father's death. I hope I don't die leaving my family at age 37 just like my dad did. I keep running through my memory of my Dad's death. It's beyond nerve wracking. Nobody understands the power of brain surgery and the power of this anniversary. I feel like screaming and I can't get hold of myself. I feel the impending doom of death.

Please Help


    Bob Rich, Ph.D.

Dear Joanie,

Are the therapists in your area made of concrete? If you were living near me, I'd drop EVERYTHING to squeeze you in. Surely one of them can do an extra hour's work?

I can certainly understand your fear and upset, but don't forget, surgery was not as advanced 24 years ago as it is now, techniques have improved a tremendous amount. You can have hope.

A number of my clients have been in a similar situation to you, though without the unfortunate coincidence you have with your father's death. I also have a number of friends who have beaten cancer. I can pass on the lessons I have learned from these wonderful people:

First, go to, my "Anxiety-Depression Help Site", and click on the link "On fighting Cancer".

Second, note that you don't have a death sentence but a life-threatening disease. There is hope.

Third, what happened to your father IS A COINCIDENCE. There is no logical or causal connection at all. None. You know this in the thinking part of your brain -- it's the primitive, cave-person emotions you need to convince!

As I say at my web site, the best hope of a recovery is a certain, apparently paradoxical attitude: a determined fighting spirit combined with serenity. What kills is the "chip on the shoulder": "Why me, it's not fair?"

You need to learn a simple technique called "thought stopping". Find a thick rubber band and put it around your wrist. Choose a word you want to use as a thought stopper. Mine is "Shut up!" because that's something I rarely say otherwise. Other people choose other phrases, including rude ones (it's OK, since once it is established, you needn't use it aloud). Start saying your worry thoughts aloud, and have a friend suddenly shout your chosen trigger phrase and snap the rubber band against your wrist. Get him/her do this several times, then, for the next 2 or 3 days, every now and then deliberately think the thoughts that distress you, and partway through snap the rubber band and say the trigger phrase within your mind. The thoughts will be cut off. Also do this if you catch the worries sneaking up on you. After this, you can throw the rubber band away. You'll have a tool for life: being able to stop unwanted thoughts just by thinking your trigger phrase.

Have you ever done any form of meditation? Do anything that will still your mind: yoga, listening to lovely, soothing music, nature walks, whatever fits your nature. You need to get as much SERENITY into your life as possible at this difficult time.

There is an anatomical basis for my advice. The switching center of emotions in the brain is called the hypothalamus. This little bundle of nerve cells has many receptor sites for chemicals that are sent out by the immune system, and also it sends out chemicals that are picked up by white blood cells, lymph nodes, the spleen, and the lining of the gut.

When you are depressed or anxious, your immune system weakens. When you are serene, the hypothalamus sends out the message that things are OK, and the immune system works better. This is why the combination of fighting spirit and serene acceptance is the secret weapon that leads to apparently miraculous cures.

Joanie, there is one more thing. People who have an aim in life that is larger than themselves tend to conquer all obstacles. You need to focus on some goal beyond your own survival. Fear has narrowed your view, until you can see nothing but the danger facing you.

Choose something to fight for that will benefit more than just yourself. How about the reason you and a horrendous number of others are suffering from rouge cells within their body?

For more than 60 years now, humankind has been contaminating the planet with radiation, and flooding it with a devil's brew of chemicals, some of them never before seen in nature. Is it a wonder that cancer is on the rampage? Perhaps, you might consider dedicating the rest of your life (whether it is 4 weeks or 70 years) to working for a cleaner world. Currently, if something yields somebody a profit, it will be done regardless of consequences. The children of today need advocates, so they won't get tumors at 37 years of age.

The date, the age of diagnosis you share with your father are coincidences. The fact of a tumor mightn't be. The two of you shared an environment that may have been contaminated by the same deadly thing.

When you are over your operation, find out. And stop it from attacking others.

I hope to hear from you after your operation, if not before. Write to me.

With sincere good wishes at this troubled time,

Bob Rich

This question was answered by Dr. Bob Rich. Dr. Rich has 30+ years of experience as a psychotherapist. Dr. Rich is also a writer and a "mudsmith". Bob is now retired from psychological practice, but still works with people as a counselor.For more information visit:


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