First of all, this isn’t a journey anyone CHOOSES to take. You’re forced into it in a flash. One minute you’re thinking about where you want to go on vacation this summer and the next you’re thinking about how sick chemo may make you.
And – if you let it – it’s devastating.
But surprisingly enough, it’s also renewing, restoring and reassuring.
Don’t let your eyes bug out when you read that. But it is all of those three “Rs”. If you make it happen.
I have some tips for those who are just starting this journey – facing breast cancer. In fact, you must not just face it. You must stare it down.
This single most important statement that was made to me came from my oncology surgeon: “You can overcome this and get on with your life.”
These tips will help you do that.
- Don’t let it take you. You take it on. I’ve met a lot of people in the last year who’ve been overcome by their diagnosis. Wrong. It will get you with that attitude. It is not the end of the road but a bump in it.
Realize that your attitude determines a lot. It affects your physical condition and can prolong your recovery. I’m not saying that you can wish yourself well. I’m saying that emotions and mental strength can be a very positive factor in your journey.
Realize that it is going to take a year of your life to complete the major battles in this journey. Your expectations are important. But after you’ve accepted this, break your treatment plan down into phases. Set milestones along the way. This sounds kind of stupid and superficial but it works. I’ve always been a list creator. I do it every day. It keeps me on task and helps me to feel a sense of accomplishment. It’s the old “how do you eat an elephant” question. I use a whiteboard in my office to list my medical to-dos and mark them off as I accomplish them. It’s a great feeling when you’re 25%, 50%, 75% of the way through! And when you can count down the days until your last chemo treatment, for example, it’s awesome and friends will celebrate with you!
- Listen to your doctors and do what they say – everything they say. Be OCD about following their instructions and advice. They know what they are doing. If you don’t have this kind of confidence in your doctors then you need to find new ones. This is a huge factor in your treatment and recovery.
These are the people who have spent years honing their skills and learning their field of specialization. You don’t know a quarter of what they know about your condition so don’t think you can self-diagnose and self-treat.
Don’t Google your condition r disease and try to prove or disprove your doctor’s diagnosis or treatment plan. WebMD is not your friend. The internet may have some valid information but it’s also wrought with misinformation. You can scare yourself to death by reading some of the stories posted out there.
Take medication that you’re prescribed – and as it is prescribed. Abide by the restrictions and limitations that doctors prescribe after surgery and during treatment. Diligently do the therapy that your doctors order for you. Get rest when you need it. Eat healthily. Exercise. Take medication that you’re prescribed – as it is prescribed. Get help if you need it, with emotional issues. The help is there.
- Live your life. Don’t stop everything you were doing before because you’re on this journey. Yes, it takes an enormous amount of your time. There are doctor visits, procedures, surgeries, treatments – and recovery. It’s a full time job that you must work along with the one you may already have. But keeping up your life’s activities as best you can helps your attitude and your attitude helps you heal. Normalcy is powerful.
You can lie back against your pillow and wallow in an “I’m sick” pity party or you can decide that you’re really only taking on a short-term challenge that is just going to be a pain in the ass for a while.
You’ll never get your life back exactly like it is – but it will be close and in some ways more amazing than before. This is where the renewal, restoration and reassurance come in. The journey forces a reality check. The reality check inspires a look at where you thought you were headed and where you may have gotten off track. You may see that you aren’t going in the direction that you want your life to go in at all. It’s surprising how much clarity a cancer diagnosis can give you. And that you have a unique opportunity to change whatever you want to change. Restore some original goals or take on some of those “one of these days” wishes.
I suppose it’s that you suddenly realize that the phrase “Life is too short…” is true. In 2015, 589,430 people died from cancer. There is a 58.4% 5-year survival rate across all types of cancer. In 2015, 60,290 new cases of breast carcinoma in situ were diagnosed. 83% ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) and 12% lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS). Survival rate is 89 percent at 5 years after diagnosis, 83 percent after 10 years, 78 percent after 15 years. Yes, this disease takes lives every year, but that doesn’t mean it’s taking mine. Many also survive.
Smiling is easier than frowning – and it’s healthier too. There is actually research to back this up, and I can tell you from my own experience that it is true. Crying doesn’t change anything but finding the positive – or even the humor – in every situation does. It changes your outlook and well-being along with that of your supporters and care givers. Sometimes being able to smile and laugh in the midst of all of it is almost magical.
I’m not saying this isn’t serious stuff. Oh, Lord. It is. But that doesn’t mean you have to walk around like your next step is into your grave. Make the best of every day and you’re likely to have even more of them ahead.
- Accept help. I’m a nurturer by nature so I’m usually the one “doing” for others. Allowing myself to get over it and accept help was difficult. I can’t say that I have it mastered, but I have learned to say “yes.” Believe it when I say that prepared meals, cards, visits, flowers, prayers and even Facebook messages are a powerful foundation of strength that you can draw from in the moments when you need it.
Realize that people care about you and want to help. If you continuously refuse their help, you’re taking away from them a way that they can show their care and concern.
Be thankful. Don’t just say thank you. Write a note. It may be old school but it’s a very easy way you can show your appreciation. And it shows when you’re genuinely appreciative.
Be gracious. Sometimes this hard because the little things that people may do for you may not be exactly what you’d prefer. Smile and accept it.
You will be inundated with people asking how you are. That can also be overwhelming – especially when you may not be feeling your best. They don’t realize that the ten people before them have asked the exact same question and that you’ve done nothing but describe the same thing over and over again – and you’re really tired and irritated. Don’t let it show. Smile and answer. They’re only asking because they care.
I actually practiced a way to answer the basic questions about my diagnosis in very succinct terms so that I could just rattle it off without becoming irritated!
This journey is about choices: Many aren’t yours. But many are – and those are the ones that you should focus on.