What to do when you've been diagnosed?
There is so
much to say about this subject, I will keep it brief.
Ten questions to ask yourself:
you comfortable with your doctors and their staff? Often,
we are in such unbelievable shock, denial, pain, and confusion,
keeping ourselves busy but feeling numb inside, we don't stop
to consider if we are happy with our medical caretakers. If you
are happy with your healing team, GREAT! But if you have concerns
in the area of personalities or medical support, you can always
get a second opinion. Check with your insurance. Most of them
allow for two opinions. You'd get three quotes from painters before
you paint your house, so why not shop for the best doctor?
you eating right? Often we rebel, and we just cave in
to the thought, "What the hell? I might die anyway. Where's
the chocolate cake?" So, my suggestion is to put little post-it
reminders around the house (so what if your family thinks you're
nuts? You have the excuse of chemicals). These post-its can say
things like: "Nothing tastes as good as abstinence feels,"
or, "Don't do it!" or, "Is this helping or hurting?"
or, "Whose side am I on anyway?" Believe it or not,
those simple little messages helped me through that tough first
year where I was trying to undo bad habits and hating having to
suddenly 'take care of myself.' Keep in mind you want to do everything
you can to support the battle against cancer. Things like sugar,
coffee, chocolate, white flour and any foods that tax your immune
system are in cahoots with the bad guy, Mr. C. So, STOP, and think
about your healing. Personally, this area is the biggest challenge
for me. I love chocolate, and my decaf is a morning ritual, so
I cut everything out for the first year, then had the occasional
binge periods interlaced with religiously vigilant ones. Now,
I am three years out and still in the middle of a 'struggle' with
food. But every day I am getting better and better at taking care
will be your strongest supporters? Now, everyone reacts
differently to their diagnosis. So, if you're feeling alone and
misunderstood, remember that's normal. No one understands the
cancer trip unless they've taken it themselves. My family was
not as supportive as I would have liked. I love them and know
they love me, but I still felt emotionally isolated. I had to
learn how to reach out for what I needed and wanted. I was one
of those people whose identity was fused with 'helping' others.
As a woman, I was determined to take care of everyone-- else.
When the person who needed the love and understanding was me,
I had to employ emotional muscles I had never really used. There
are many techniques for changing behaviors, and many great books
that can teach you how to turn negative thoughts into positive
ones. My suggestion is to make direct, simple requests about what
you need ("Could you take out the trash, honey?" "Would
you mind emptying the cat box?"). Suddenly, you can't do
all you were doing before. And this will no doubt frustrate you,
make you sad, and just plain piss you off. So, get thee to a support
group! You need to be part of a healing community, and share your
frustrations with people who understand what you are going through.
Talk to your doctor(s) and find a cancer survivor who is several
months ahead of you in treatment, and has an upbeat attitude about
their illness. You can call them up and say, "Why do I feel
like crying all the time?" and they will tell you, "Hey!
When you do chemo, your white count drops and you get depressed.
It's the chemicals! You are not going insane!"
you working out, walking, moving your body? Okay, so maybe
you feel like just packing it in. Why not? Your body betrayed
you, right? I let the exercise thing go, and I was sorry that
I did. It took me nearly a year to get back into shape. Remember,
there are simple exercises during all phases of treatment (and
post-treatment) that will help keep your mind clear, your body
toned and your outlook positive. Try and do just the simplest
things. You've got to deliver oxygen to our bodies somehow. Cancer
doesn't like oxygen. When I started walking again, as much as
I moaned and screamed, I could not deny that it really improved
my outlook on just about everything. Any kind of oxygen treatment
will help, and that includes exercise, hiking, biking, swimming,
hydro-baric tanks, o2 water, etc.
you writing down your feelings? Don't forget to write
in your journal, and if you don't have one, START! There is something
wonderful that happens when a pencil or pen touches a piece of
paper. Use it for prayer or just to say hello to yourself. Feel
free to think of it as your emotional garbage can. Trash can collect
in your mind and you've got to keep the internal space clear for
the positive stuff. If you aren't the verbal type, then just get
a sketchbook and start pushing around the lead. After a few calm
minutes, your mind will take over and lead you to what you need
can I release all my negative thoughts? We all have them,
and excessive negative thinking has been shown to suppress the
immune system. So, get some good self-help books. Included in
this site is a list of ones that helped me, and most hospitals
have stores that specialize in this kind of material. I also found
that humor really helped. Judy Carter, based in Los Angeles, was
one comedy coach I worked with who has a great book on stand-up
comedy. You have no idea how terrifying and yet how healing it
is to get up and talk about what you are going through from a
humorous perspective. I have included on this site, some of my
own comedy routines. Try them out in front of a mirror. Add your
own stuff. There may only be one thing I can think of that's scarier
than cancer, and that's doing stand-up. If performing for strangers
isn't for you, go to a comedy club in your neighborhood. If you
know a comedian, grab them and start a comedy group of other survivors.
One day, you may think you're crying yet again, and then suddenly
realize - you're laughing!
you defined your personal rituals for healing? For me,
prayer was helpful. Honest, ranting, questioning, and sharing
with your God can be very healing. You might also want to try
a warm Epson salt bath with seaweed, table salt, nice music, and
a few candles. Just be careful not to burn your house down! I
almost did a couple times after plunging into the water and forgetting
the teapot was still on the stove. Okay, it was more than a couple
times. I just called my hubby and said, "Hi, honey. This
is chemo brain. Are you sure we have fire insurance?)
you doing battle with the arch-nemesis
Are you sleeping? Probably not, right? It's most likely the wicked
combination of the chemo, hormonal rage, worries, and heightened
sensitivity to noise and light. So relax with a cup of chamomile
tea, take a healing bath, or write it all down in a journal. Sometimes,
on the tough days, I just lie in bed before I go to sleep, put
my hands over my heart and say, "You know what? I'm pretty
darn loveable. I'm beautiful, I'm cute, I'm just plain terrific,
that's all!" Feel free to pile on the self-accolades, true
and un-true. And if you have a significant other, make them praise
you too! Sometimes, I ask my husband, "Could you just re-assure
me. Just say, 'Honey, you are so damn cute!'" And if it's
a day where I haven't almost burnt down the kitchen, he is usually
happy to comply.
you making room for change? Ever hear the Cheryl Crow
song, "A Change Will Do You Good"? It's never been more
important than now. If you usually sleep on the right side of
the bed, sleep on the left. Do you normally watch that gray-haired
loudmouth on CNN? Try the balding silver fox loudmouth on MSNBC.
Take a different route to your doctor's office. Reverse the order
of your morning routine. Little changes like this can be found
practically every minute of the day, and will help you maintain
a sharp focus and an active mind. Also, if you're the kind of
person who keeps to yourself when in public, change that too!
Instead of averting your eyes when a stranger gets in the elevator
with you, look straight into their face, smile and say hello.
You'll be surprised how much better you'll feel, and you'll most
likely get a friendly gesture returned to you.
you considered alternative medicines? Many oncologists,
including my own, believe alternative treatments to be an important
adjunct to western medicine. I found Acupuncture very helpful.
It helped keep my white count up, taught me meditation techniques,
and I also recovered more quickly than most of my cancer buddies.
In fact, believe it or not, after my first chemo, I was dancing!
I attribute that to my Acupuncturist, Dr. Lucy Pastolov. It took
me three tries with different doctors before I found her, but
worth every moment of effort. There are also herbalists, massage
therapists, and good old-fashioned shrinks. With a little research,
you can build your team. I had a dear friend who is a fourth stage
ovarian cancer survivor, and I just said, "Hey, I want to
do whatever you did," and I followed her protocol. Ask people
whose outlooks you admire, "What are you doing that is making
a difference?" It can be overwhelming at times. The process
of selecting my team took me two to three months. I wanted to
make sure I had the best people and that I was doing everything
I could to make sure Mr. C never came back! I remember thinking
this cancer thing is like a full time job. I wasn't happy about
it, but is there really a choice? If we don't do it for ourselves,
who will? You've got to choose sides -- are you going to be on
your side, your team, or are you going to be on Mr. C's team?
And these decisions are intense, emotional, and seemingly difficult.
But you will get through it. I did!!!!! And you will learn so
much about yourself, what you really want to do, who you really
are, and what it means to be alive!
PLEASE NOTE: These techniques and other
suggestions on this site are
intended as complementary suggestions to
whatever your primary physician has
suggested that you do for your health and healing. These suggestions
not intended to replace your doctors' and other healing practitioners'
advice. The BC Tool Kit's suggestions are intended to be supportive
self-healing journey, and are based on my own personal experiences
antidotal data. They are steeped in my belief that it is important
to take the
power back once you have been diagnosed with cancer. These self-help
techniques can be used to reinforce usual medical treatment --
for learning positive attitudes, relaxation, visualization, goal
managing pain, exercise, and building an emotional and healing
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