When diagnosed with cancer, it’s very easy to go into denial. Let’s face it, most people view cancer as an automatic death sentence. I encourage you to get a second opinion just to be sure. Then, it’s time to move forward.
1. Accept the diagnosis.
Once you are absolutely positive that you have cancer, it’s time to accept your diagnosis and get to work. Remember, the clock of life starts ticking the minute we are born. What does this mean? For you, it means that you are not the only one with an expiration date; we all have one.
Once you have accepted your diagnosis, you need to get your game face on. Whether its radiation, chemotherapy, surgery or all of the above, you must be mentally prepared for the fight of your life. Your attitude can greatly determine how you will respond to treatments.
I had my first HIPEC procedure on August 29, 2010. My son was 1 year old at the time. I read all of the stats and horror stories about the extremely radical procedure that I was going to have. I decided that not only would this procedure be a breeze, but I would also be on my feet for my son’s 2nd birthday party, which was September 26.
I was in ICU for about four days, and I was inpatient for three weeks. Although I moved at a snail’s pace, I was present at my son’s birthday party.
3. Don’t accept pity from others.
Most people don’t know what to say to a loved one with cancer. Let’s face it, it sucks. When I began to share my news with friends and family, the first thing that was said to me was always, “I’m so sorry to hear that.” My response was always, “No big deal.”
People would speak to me as if I already had one foot in the grave. Don’t accept that from anyone. I’ll never forget, I was in a craft store shopping and I ran into one of my mom’s friends. She greeted me with a hug and then began to tear up. I quickly replied, “Please don’t cry. I’m living with cancer; you are not. If I’m not crying, you shouldn’t be crying. Believe me, I can cry better than you any day of the week.”
My friends and I never skipped a beat. The word “cancer” was never brought up unless I brought it up. Besides, who wants to talk about cancer all the time, especially when living with it?
4. Make the most of your chemo ‘downtime.’
If you’ve had chemotherapy, then you too probably have stock in Boost and Ensure (nutrition drinks). Every two weeks, I had to sit in the chemo lounge for six to seven hours. Not even 48 hours later, I was sick as a dog. I would lose 5 pounds in a day.
Radiation and chemotherapy is a huge ordeal. After you’re over the worst part and begin to gear up for the next round, treat yourself. Go to dinner with friends and family. Have that ice cream sundae that was calling your name. My kryptonite was pizza. The second week after treatment, I would treat myself to the best pizza in town. Anything solid was a treat after drinking shakes and lying in bed for a few days.
5. Find a good support group.
I’ll be honest with you: When I was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma, I was flooded with brochures about everything from support groups to wig stores. Once I decided that I was going to beat cancer, I decided to attend a support group. It was awful. There wasn’t a dry eye in the building. Everyone spoke of death, preparation for death, surviving the loss of a loved one and pity. I left that group before the meeting was over, and I decided that I would never attend another.
One year later, I walked into another support group at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This support group was the complete opposite. Everyone in the group was dealing with some sort of cancer; however, everyone had a great outlook. Every person in that room was a fighter. No one spoke of death; the tears that were shed in that group were tears of admiration.
These patients were mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, all with the overwhelming desire to live. We laughed and shared chemo tips with each other. Did you know that sucking on a peppermint during chemo helps a little with nausea? Ginger Ale helped me, too. We laughed about the fantastic barium milkshakes that we all loved (joke).
6. Stay busy.
The last thing you need to do is sit around all day. An idle mind is the devil’s playground. I never stopped working. At the time of my diagnosis, I was a pharmaceutical sales representative. I scheduled my chemotherapy sessions around my work schedule. I worked Monday through Wednesday. I would sit in the chemo lounge on Thursday, work on Friday and spend the weekends in bed, sipping on meal replacement shakes.
When I could no longer work, my days were filled with mindless reality television, lots of reading, lunch dates, and planning future parties and vacations.
7. Remember YOLO: You only live once!
Enjoy your life. As I said earlier, we all have expiration dates. Please don’t spend your time worrying and crying about a diagnosis that you can’t change. You can choose to fight, and you can win.
You have cancer. This may seem a bit strange, but cancer can be a blessing in disguise. Are you living your life differently now that you’ve been diagnosed? Think of all the people who are complaining daily about the silliest things. You view life and live life completely different because you truly understand how precious life really is, better than anyone.
Accept your diagnosis, get focused, fight and win.