People often ask me, what I have learned over the years of my cancer journey. Here are just some of the insights I believe have made me stronger. I share them in the hopes that they work for you or someone you love who is dealing with the disease.
You Must be Flexible with this Disease to Handle it Best.
For some cancer survivors, they are truly fortunate in that the course of treatment their oncologist lays out is exactly what comes to fruition. “You’ll have surgery followed by 16 rounds of radiation therapy and then you will be on your way”. However, for many others, the plan is constantly changing based on the response that the doctor sees along the way.
I know for me, my “surgery, potentially followed by a course of chemotherapy down the line” has changed into multiple surgeries and doses of chemo over the years. I joke around with my husband that the only thing that I can be sure of with cancer is that it is unpredictable. I go into an appointment convinced I am going to be told something and I am told the opposite. I know from speaking to many patients, this is a common phenomenon.
I used to be a real control freak. I found myself spending so much time planning the days I was going to have chemo or the days I was going to feel OK to go to the beach, etc., and 80% of the time, it all changed based on changes in my protocol. To be clear, I am not advocating giving up the planning (for many of us it feels good to get things other than disease management in our books), but what I am saying is that you need to learn to let go and embrace the unplanned. Although much easier said than done, it frees us up to focus on our day-to-day healing.
People Have the Best of Intentions and Truly Want to Help and be Supportive.
Yes, there are people who fumble in trying to say the right thing, but on the whole, I have been overwhelmed by how fundamentally caring and supportive people are. Over the years, if I share my situation with them, I am seated in a more comfortable chair at dinner, the chef is brought to my table to review the specifics of my diet regimen and I am bombarded by good will.
People want so badly to help you as they all have friends who have suffered. We are all united in wanting to eradicate this disease. Don’t be so jaded and wrapped up your own situation that you fail to notice the angels that appear in all aspects of your life.
Learning to Communicate Well Will Yield You More Peace.
So often when diagnosed, we rely on others to figure out how we’ll feel both mentally and physically. It is one of the biggest mistakes a patient can make. You need to be an advocate for your disease. You need to tell your doctors, your colleagues and your loved ones exactly what you need in an effort to make your life easiest and most effective as you go through this tough time.
As I said above, people want to do all that they can to assist you and they often don’t know how. So don’t hesitate to tell your doctors what medical schedule works best for you and what medicines seem to work/don’t. Don’t hold back when telling loved ones what they do that tends to drive you crazy and what truly helps you get through the day. And insist that colleagues understand exactly what workload you can and can’t handle. If you wait for all of these people to “guess” what’s right, you are going to be miserable and your mental and physical health is likely going to suffer.
This Disease is Random.
Although it’s a natural phase to go through, try to move beyond the “Why me? What did I do?” phase as quickly as possible, It gets you nowhere. For the great majority of us, this disease is random. We shouldn’t have it and we all know a lot of people who shouldn’t have had to suffer through it either. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but the sooner you realize that we can’t control our diagnosis, only the way we handle our diagnosis, you will be able to likely feel more in control of the disease.
You will also notice some of the small “gifts” that this disease provides, like the “gift of perspective” — which is one I personally would never want to have taken away.