There are hardly three more devastating words to hear than, “You have cancer.” This traumatic diagnosis can disrupt every aspect of a person’s life. Even with a good prognosis, there is no such thing as “Cancer Lite” – Emotionally. Like many things in life, we wish we had an “Easy Button” or a simple Owner’s Manual. Unfortunately, cancer doesn’t come with an instruction book or much of a map. Each of us has to hack our own healing path through the jungle. You are not a professional cancer patient. Cancer is not your life, but it is part of your life. It is hard, but you can moderate the extent cancer controls your life.
Don’t Panic! despite the seemingly dire nature of the circumstances. Good decisions are often not made when fearful. Take some time, if it is not an emergency and won’t compromise treatment, to do some homework and check out treatment options or second opinions.
Pick your team both personal and professional. Gather your family (and friends if possible) to develop a way to handle this situation. Go with a person’s strength rather than making him or her feel guilty. Some people can’t handle the clinic, so give them other tasks such as picking up the kids from an event or helping with meals or laundry.
Participate actively especially in treatment decisions. Research tells us that people who take a more active role in deciding their cancer treatments feel better about their choices, may do better and live longer.
Decide what is best for your healing path by combining the rational knowledge of your professionals and your own intuitive wisdom about what you think is best for you. Everyone will come out of the woodwork and have something for you to try: this inspirational book to read, this doctor or place to go to, this diet or supplements to take. You can’t possibly follow every suggestion. Consider what makes the most sense for your situation. Develop a practice of daily quiet (such as meditation, relaxation, or guided imagery) to help access that inner wisdom you have.
Remember there are around 10 million cancer survivors. Cancer is becoming more of a chronic disease that we control and people are living higher quality lives than ever before.
Accept that cancer is part of your life, not all of it. Acceptance is not giving in; it’s a starting point. Acknowledge that there may be times where cancer is foremost in your thoughts, such as doctors’ appointments, medical tests, or treatment changes. At other times cancer can be the farthest thing from your mind.
Focus and Reconnect with what brings you joy and a meaningful life: family, friends, hobbies, or work. If you don’t have any, there isn’t a better time to find something new that you might like. Even better if it is some activity you always wanted to do but never had the time. Be around people that are positive and that you enjoy. Let those occupy your thoughts.
Re-evaluate Your Priorities Cancer shakes people up. It makes us un-comfortable enough to take a good, hard look at what is truly important in life.
Set Goals and Make Plans for today, the weekend, and five years from now. Many people are hesitant to plan for fear they will not feel good enough to follow through. Their world shrinks. Planning is the first step toward doing. And sometimes the process can be enjoyed as much as the end product. Each day set three goals based on how you feel.
Appreciate the Moment (Present) and Celebrate Life The past is over and the future has not happened. The best way to feel fully alive and at peace is to stay in the moment and consciously experience it. If beset by the “What-If” Monster, try to develop an action plan or ways to steer your thinking in a different direction if nothing can be done.
Explore Healthy Choices Besides genetics many lifestyle factors are involved in contracting cancer. Making more positive lifestyle changes may help you feel better and prevent a recurrence. Be Positive, but don’t be a prisoner. Some patients feel pressured into needing to be positive 100% of the time. We all have our down days. Try to discover what triggered your sadness so you can problem solve or better accept a situation. Still try to start out each day on a positive note. It sets the tone for the day. There’s a big difference between saying “Good morning, God.” Than “Good God, it’s morning.”
Don’t Judge Your Feelings but Express Them Constructively Feelings don’t go away when you ignore them, they usually build up and drain your energy or worse come out in destructive ways such as mistreating those closest to you. Learn to be more assertive, talk with family or friends, find a professionally led support group, therapist, or keep a journal.
Find Benefits and Stay Active To put it mildly, “Cancer Sucks!” No one volunteered for cancer and no one likes it. Some may never have anything positive to say, but cancer may be an education that helps you appreciate life and learn how strong you are or how loved you are. People dread cancer and fear they could never cope with it, but the reality is people do.
Look for Hope Anywhere you Can Find It! This is “The Best of Times and the Worst of Times.”as Charles Dickens once said. We are finally cracking the molecular secrets of cancer and developing targeted new treatments that spare healthy cells. Even though there are literally new discoveries daily, it is not fast enough for the thousands of newly diagnosed people each year. The best way to instill hope is to enjoy that next breath and take that next step. Seek out cancer survivors who have lived 5, 10, 15, and 20+ years after diagnosis and treatment. Enjoy every breath, every step and every moment.