I Have Cancer, Now What?

A cancer diagnosis isn’t the end. It’s the beginning of a fight you can win.

When cancer strikes you or someone in your family, remaining positive is a crucial aspect of treatment. The body and mind work together as a team. When faced with a fight-or-flight response, if your mind tells your body to fight, then your body will put everything to the fight.

A good friend of mine was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer in 2009. After being diagnosed she simply quoted Vivian Greene, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass; it’s about learning to dance in the rain.” My friend was a dance instructor, who never stopped going to recitals, even after being confined to a wheelchair. Cancer took one of her main loves — the ability to dance. But she didn’t give it up; she didn’t stop living. She fought on. Eventually cancer took her life, but it never took her will to fight. And it did not take the many days she lived life to the fullest.

For as many cancer diagnoses, there are just as many tales of inspiration that give people the ability to fight on.

Early Days

Take Charge. It’s Your Life.

Hearing that you have cancer brings a whirlwind of emotions. Realize you are not alone. Arm yourself with a supportive team – healthcare providers, family members, friends, co-workers, support group members; there is no limit to the amount of players you can have on your team. The more positivity, the brighter the light shines.

Start with your doctor. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Share your treatment goals and fears. An open line of communication can be powerful in alleviating fear and anxiety.

Questions You Should Ask Your Doctor
• What type of cancer have I been diagnosed with?
• Where is the cancer located?
• Has the cancer spread to other areas of my body?
• Can the cancer be treated?
• What is the cure rate of this type of cancer?
• What treatments are available to me?
• How will treatment better me?
• How will treatment affect my body, side-effects, etc.

Family support is another key component. Cancer has no compassion. Surrounding yourself with kindness and love gives you a leg up. For family members it’s important to remain positive. This can be extremely difficult when you see the one you love suffering, but remember your strength becomes their strength. An open line of communication with loved ones is just as important as two-way communication with your physician. In times of sorrow, many people want to withdraw. It’s crucial to maintain a normal relationship during this difficult time.

For loved ones of cancer patients, here are some tips to take care of yourself and remain strong:

• Keep busy. Sitting still allows your mind to zero in on worry. Read, visit friends, play sports, etc. Reducing your stress alleviates stress from your loved one.

• Research the cancer. Knowledge is power. But remember not everything you read on the Internet is the absolute truth. Talk to your loved one’s physician. The goal is to become more familiar with the situation so you have a better understanding of what they are going through and a realistic view of the outcome.

• Support. Make sure your loved one knows that you are there with them through this journey. But be careful not to overdo it. Feeling smothered can add anxiety to an already stressful situation. Finding happy moderation is key.

• Partake in normal activities with your loved one. Go to the movies, spend an afternoon at the park. Normalcy is a great weapon.

Our community has wonderful cancer support groups that can help guide you or just be a friend.

Getting Prepared

Now it’s time to prepare for the changes you will face with treatment. Early preparation leads to better coping when treatment begins. Talk with your doctor about the changes. Cancer support groups are also a valuable resource for gathering information.

Still in the Game

Once treatment begins, maintaining a healthy lifestyle boosts your energy levels. A healthy diet coupled with enough rest can help to combat the stress and fatigue during treatment. Exercise may also help. Recent studies show that patients who maintain some semblance of physical exercise during treatment cope better and may also live longer. But listen to your body. In fight mode, your mind may suggest another ten minutes of activity. If your body suggests otherwise, listen to it, and rest.

Going hand and hand with a healthy lifestyle is normalcy, but be open to change. The important thing here is to take it one day at a time. Go to the movies, watch a game, have family night with the family.

During treatment revisit your goals and assess your priorities. Healing and getting better will take up a large portion of your time. Be sure to set aside time for things you value the most and that offer the most meaning. Keep the line of communication open with your friends and family. Talking it out can help reduce fear and anxiety as well as making your loved ones feel as though they are not being shut out.

Finding individual coping strategies that work for you will help you de-stress. Some examples of coping strategies are:

• Finding alone time. While you need a strong team, there are moments that it’s good to be alone and connect with yourself.

• Start a journal to organize your thoughts and feelings.

• Find spiritual support.

• Exercise.

• Discover relaxation techniques such as meditation.

• Stay normal. Continue with work and leisure activities if possible.

This is a good time to visit with cancer survivors. Their stories of inspiration and experiences can give you insight into your situation. Becoming involved in cancer support groups is also a great way to connect with survivors.

Understand that people will have questions and concerns about your illness. It’s natural. Some people may withdraw out of fear of saying the wrong thing. Realizing this in advance will help you to recognize what is happening and give you a head start at coping with their behaviors. Be open with them. Tell them it’s OK to ask questions. In most instances those around you will take the cue from you.

Cancer is a fight that no one wants. It’s also a fight that you can’t run from. What you have to do is “learn to dance in the rain.”

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