Health of the Whole
Why treating the psychological, as well as physical, aspects of cancer matters
Restaurateur Dennis Serras looks back
on his life before esophageal cancer and realizes: Most of the low periods he experienced
were more likely the result of a really bad day than depression. Even after undergoing
chemotherapy, radiation, an unexpected emergency colon surgery and having a large portion of his esophagus removed,
Serras felt like he was sailing through cancer and treatment pretty well.
Patient Dennis Serras and his wife, Ellie.
Photo by Edda Pacifico
Everything changed -- for Serras and his family -- when his surgeon Mark Orringer, M.D., came into his hospital room with
news that, despite his successful surgery, cancer cells were discovered on the outside of his esophagus. This meant another round
of chemo and radiation.
"This really sent me into a tailspin," Serras said. "After two days of chemotherapy, I couldn't take it. The depression was
awful. It encompasses you 100 percent and you can't do anything about it."
Social Worker Donna Murphy, L.M.S.W., C.C.L.S., from the PsychOncology Clinic at the University of Michigan
Comprehensive Cancer Center explains that, just as in normal life, cancer patients experience ups and downs. With cancer,
people are forced to deal with the unknown in a way most people never know.
"Each patient must
be evaluated properly,
in the context
of the cancer itself . . . "
— Michelle Riba, M.D.
"No two experiences with cancer are ever the same," Murphy says. "The many-changing circumstances of an illness and
the time frames and predictions for prognosis add to the worry and concern. Combined with other life changes, people can
feel overwhelmed and helpless, which can impact the complicated decision-making that lies ahead."
As a self-employed partner of 17 restaurants in five states, Serras was able to put work aside and into the capable hands of
others when necessary. Yet, he knew his cancer was taking its toll on his wife, Ellie, their two daughters, and his brothers and sisters.
"I was always looked at as a leader in my family, someone who can't be sick," Serras said. "Your whole family gets sucked
into it. They want to do what they can. My wife was with me. My girls were with me every day, at the house or at the hospital.
Ellie says I was on my back more than I was standing after that second round of chemo and the depression."