I hate giving advice, but I’ve learned lessons through my breast cancer journey that may be helpful to others in similar situations.
After my diagnosis, a doctor told me I had three months to live. Against the odds, I survived, and along the way, I experienced profound moments of peace, joy, and inspiration. Nobody signs up for cancer, but if it’s crossed your path, here’s how to get through it.
Thou shalt get a second opinion.
You consult your friend before buying a dress. You labor over the color of your lipstick. You query the waiter before deciding on your entrée. When a doctor says you have cancer, give yourself the same gift of due diligence. Research shows that second opinions differ from first opinions up to 60 percent of the time in cancer diagnosis or treatment. For me, getting a second opinion saved my life.
Thou shalt never refer to chemotherapy as poison.
Chemotherapy is a lifesaving elixir that cures people all over the world. It has given mothers back to their children, spouses back to their partners, and kids back to their parents. To refer to this miracle substance by a derogatory term is to do chemotherapy a disservice.
Thou shalt not let cancer rob you of your inner strength.
Your sense of peace is not subject to external events. History shows that humans can endure pain and injustice without sacrificing meaning, contentment, and joy. Nelson Mandela inspired the world while serving time in prison. Mahatma Gandhi suffered cruel injustices with a legendary sense of calm. Regardless of their circumstances, individuals have the choice to be at peace.
Thou shalt ask for help and accept it with grace.
It’s fun to be the giver. Studies show there are even health benefits associated with giving. Being the receiver, on the other hand, is not as fun. In one of life’s many ironies, receiving can be more difficult than giving: It feels awkward to have someone do our laundry or cook our food. One of the biggest regrets of my cancer experience is that I didn’t ask for more help. It would have made things easier on my whole family.
Thou shalt connect with yourself and others.
Some people won’t be able to handle your new condition, and their sudden absence might hurt your feelings. Isolation can occur for a variety of other reasons as well. For example, side effects from my treatment required periods of quarantine every two weeks. I felt forgotten at times. I eventually learned the world is full of people who will fill that void, but I had to look for them. I also learned to enjoy the comfort of my own company. Cancer can give the gift of getting to know yourself.
Thou shalt have a creative outlet.
I like to write and indulge in messy art projects. I like to create chaos in the kitchen and rearrange plants in the garden. Creativity has always been my friend, but having an outlet is essential during cancer treatment. Consider keeping a recovery journal, taking up a low-key hobby, or finding other ways to express yourself. It will calm your nerves, clarify your thinking, and commemorate your journey.
Thou shalt forgive.
This is the time. Do it today. Do it again tomorrow. Repeat as necessary. This exact moment is the ideal time to unshackle yourself and the universe of the burden that never served you in the first place.
Thou shalt explore your condition with a sense of curiosity.
When you pick out new flooring for your living room, you discover a whole universe. One type of material promises to dampen sound, while another is better for the environment. A third type will save you money. Over the course of making your decision, you become something of a flooring expert. Likewise, you need to become a student of your illness. Ask questions, and make sure you understand the answers. Developing and maintaining a sense of curiosity about your disease can save your hair, your life, and your bank account.
Thou shalt nurture your attitude.
Your mindset is the best tool in your toolbox. It can get you through anything, so discipline yourself to choose optimism. Stifle impulses to complain. Find opportunities to be grateful. Small choices add up to a happier experience for you and the people caring for you.
Thou shalt believe in something bigger.
Whether you believe in God, the creative process, science, or something less definable, faith is healing. Cancer treatment can heighten your awareness of everyday kindnesses and outright miracles. Open your mind and heart, and faith will pull you through.
Note: Breast Cancer News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Breast Cancer News, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to breast cancer.