Ask Dr. Giles: My cancer is gone, but I don’t know how to regain my joie de vie.

Donna asks:

In late 2007 I was diagnosed with cancer. Originally it was described as adenocarcinoma, stage 4, terminal.

I had been going to the DR for 4 years complaining of pain and/or discomfort in the upper abdomen. Lots of blood work was done but nothing was identified. In August of 2007 I say a Dr that was taking my regular Drs call. He said I needed to wait for my DR to return from vacation. I proceeded to turn to walk out the door in the middle of his sentence. He called me back and I told him I was going to jump off the first bridge I came to. “don’t make me any appointment”. At that point he said maybe a sonogram might help me cope until my regular DR returned. The sonogram revealed a 2# tumor on the back side of my liver. My regular DR called and left the message on my office phone. !>(

The saga began with the oncologists et al. The cancer grew while I struggled through chemo. After my heart stopping twice during chemo the oncologist stopped it. I was sent home with lots of morphine and something for anxiety. No hope, just go home.

The oncologist did suggest I go before the hospital board with my records to talk about how two DRs had basically dismissed my request for further research earlier. One DR labeled me a hypochondriac. In nicer terms of course.

When breathing became difficult due to the pressure on my lungs the oncologist requested some palliative surgery. This was done. A 2# tumor, half my liver and gallbladder were removed. Then is when the cancer was identified as cholangiocarcinoma.

I have since had surgery for a herniated incision, an ablation after return of the cancer and recently a CyberKnife for recurrence of the cancer.

So they tell me the cancer is gone. But my pain and discomfort remain. I feel that I should rejoice and be happy. What I feel isn’t joy or happiness. It is sadness and loss of the freedom to do the things I want. I don’t know how to regain my joie de vie.

In the past, I was a hiker. I hiked Mt Whitney 11 years and continued to hike and be very active until diagnosed with this disease in 2007.

Do you have any suggestions of what I might do to lift my spirits away from this profound sadness I feel?

Thank you sincerely, Donna


Congratulations on your brave fight! You won the physical battle against cancer, but the emotional battle remains. I am guessing the “profound sadness” you feel is at least partially related to the sobering reality of the price you have paid to beat back this aggressive foe. While there have been definite costs to your fight, I would suggest you also remember what you have preserved and gained in your struggle:

  • You get more time in this life. Time to learn. Time to connect. Time to serve others. Time to heal.
  • You get more of the earth’s beauty. Sunrises. Rainstorms. Bird songs. Flowers.
  • You get more experiences. Memory making. Relationship building. Truth discovering. Self refining.

You mention pain and discomfort. Those may be new limitations, but perhaps there are ways to continue the pursuit of what you enjoy despite the pain and discomfort. I would encourage you to continue to do what you love. Your enthusiasm and “joie de vie” may return slowly, but it will return. Give it more time and remember: you won.