Focusing on the Positive Amid Cancer
- “Escape to the Country” star Jonnie Irwin, 49, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2020 and later revealed it had spread, or metastasized, to his brain. Since Irwin’s cancer progressed, he’s focused on spending time with loved ones and creating lasting memories, especially with his wife and three young sons.
- Irwin occasionally experiences “scan-xiety,” the anxiety cancer patients feel for looming scans or while awaiting scan results.
- Psychiatrist Dr. Samantha Boardman recommends cancer patients do things to take their minds off their scans. This may include exercising, listening to music, participating in art, or whatever brings you joy and helps you pass the time.
- Irwin receives palliative care when he enters hospice to manage his symptoms. This type of care addresses the symptoms and side effects of your cancer or its treatment. These symptoms may include psychological experiences like stress and fear, physical experiences like pain and discomfort, and financial assistance.
To courageous reality TV star Jonnie Irwin, 49, nothing is more important than spending cherished time with his family. Despite battling stage 4 lung cancer and feeling under the weather over the weekend, he powered through some aches to give his three young sons a lasting memory.
View this post on InstagramRead MoreIrwin is undergoing hospice care that is focused on providing him comfort. His advanced lung cancer has spread to his brain, so he has been focused on managing his symptoms with palliative care and creating lasting memories for his family.
“Probs should’ve stayed inside with my chest infection but would’ve got too much FOMO missing out on visiting uncle allotment,” Irwin wrote in a caption.
Irwin shared several photos with his wife and three toddler sons at the pumpkin patch.
“Sometimes I need a push, and seeing the lads enjoy picking some apples and pumpkins was superb,” Irwin said.
The adorable post prompted thousands of Irwin’s supporters to wish him well.
“Filling them with so many beautiful memories that nothing can ever take away,” Instagram user Jane Maylor wrote.
“You did the right thing getting out with the kids, wrapped up, enjoying pumpkin time,” Instagram user Linda Golding wrote.
Irwin still receives regular scans to follow the progress of his advanced lung cancer. He admitted his frustration and anxiety surrounding recurring cancer scans and the uncomfortable space of the unknown.
Irwin photographed himself with his care team in the Instagram post before undergoing scans.
“The wait for more scans is frustrating when you know the cancer is on the move again,” Irwin wrote.
Irwin’s feelings while waiting for cancer scan results are normal for patients and their loved ones. It’s colloquially called “Scan-xiety,” the anxiety people living with cancer (or survivors) sometimes feel when thinking about their next scans. It is a major stressor for cancer warriors, and it doesn’t end when the cancer has reached remission. In fact, many cancer patients continue worrying if the cancer will return amid recurrent scans.
“Scan anxiety is unbelievably stressful,” Dr. Samantha Boardman, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medicine, told SurvivorNet.
“Probably one of the best antidotes that I think psychology can offer patients is to experience flow,” which Boardman means to lose a sense of time.
Her advice to help manage your anxiety is to exercise, participate in some form of art, listen to music, or do an activity you enjoy that takes your mind away from potential scan results.
Helping You Understand Lung Cancer
Jonnie Irwin’s Cancer Battle
Jonnie Irwin’s cancer journey began when symptoms arrived in August 2020. His first symptom occurred during a filming trip when his vision went blurry while driving. After he returned home, he was told he had metastatic lung cancer that had spread to his brain.
WATCH: Diagnosing Lung Cancer.
One of the most problematic parts of lung cancer is its lack of symptoms until the cancer has already spread, says SurvivorNet medical advisor Dr. Joseph Friedberg. However, once a person suspected of having lung cancer experiences symptoms, their doctor can further investigate the cause with an X-ray to look for anything unusual.
“The question is, well, what stage is it? And so, at this point, the entire workup is an effort to try and determine, do we think that the cancer is spread anywhere? And the things that you would ask for about lung cancer– specifically, any change in your breathing? Do you have a cough? Have you lost any weight? Do you have any pain anywhere? All of these things start to tick off in your head whether they have other potential problems,” Dr. Friedberg said.
Some people with lung cancer may experience symptoms like:
- A cough that doesn’t go away, that gets worse, or that brings up bloody phlegm
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Hoarse voice
- Appetite loss
- Weight loss
Irwin has since taken chemotherapy and other cancer drugs to help prolong his life, but Irwin knows his disease does not technically have a cure. Still, he’s focusing on the positive, which includes his supportive wife, Jessica Holmes, and their three toddler-age boys.
“One day, this is going to catch up with me,” Irwin said during an interview with the U.K.-based news outlet “The Sun.”
“But I’m doing everything I can to hold that day off for as long as possible. I owe that to Jess and our boys. Some people in my position have bucket lists, but I just want us to do as much as we can as a family.”
Hospice and Palliative Care
Irwin occasionally manages his more difficult days and subsequent symptoms in hospice. His decision to leave his family home in favor of hospice care when his pains intensify is an emotional thing to do. However, he believes his children should see him in a positive light and good spirits.
“Hospice care focuses on the care, comfort, and quality of life of a person with a serious illness who is approaching the end of life,” the National Institute of Health (NIH) explains.
Hospice care provides comfort care but does not attempt to cure the illness. Families facing potential hospice care should talk to their care team early enough before pursuing hospice care to take advantage of all the comforts it provides.
“Starting hospice early may be able to provide months of meaningful care and quality time with loved ones,” the NIH says.
During palliative care, the patient is provided specialized medical care to manage symptoms associated with their medical condition. This form of care may also offer treatment “intended to cure” the illness instead of hospice care, which does not.
WATCH: Palliative care improves your overall treatment by focusing on comfort.
“It’s not the same thing as hospice. It’s really important to recognize that palliative care, whether provided by your oncologist or by a specialty palliative care team, is an important adjunct to your oncologic care,” Dr. Lisa Diver, a gynecologic oncologist and Medical Director at ImmunoGen, tells SurvivorNet.
“It doesn’t mean that your doctor is going to stop treatment or even wants to talk about that, but simply that he or she thinks it’s important to support all aspects of your health. That could be pain control, [relief for] nausea or constipation, or mental health care. All of these other symptoms that commonly arise and are intertwined inextricably with your cancer care,” Dr. Diver added.
Research has been published showing the benefits of beginning palliative care early in treatment, sometimes as soon as the initial diagnosis.
In 2016, based on results from a total of nine randomized clinical trials, one quasi-experimental trial, and five secondary analyses, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) issued a set of guidelines stating that “inpatients and outpatients with advanced cancer should receive dedicated palliative care services early in the disease course, concurrent with active treatment.”
Some oncologists have adjusted how they talk about palliative care because of the common misconception compared to end-of-life hospice care.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
If you’re battling cancer or on the other side of it, and you’re struggling with your outlook on life, here are some questions you may consider asking your doctor to get the conversation started:
- What can I do if I’m struggling to be thankful for what I have in my life?
- Are there local resources for people wishing to improve their mental health?
- What else can I do to help reduce my stress level during my cancer journey?
- It’s difficult for me to find happiness and joy. How can I find help?