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Having Cancer

Having cancer is a lonely experience. The diagnosis is a battle, both mental and physical. I equate it to a boxing match. You’ve got Mickey, Apollo Creed and Rocky cheering you on, telling you to chase the chickens and punch the punching bag, but once you’re in the ring, you’ve got to win this fight on your own.

Winning anything involves having confidence, a sense of knowing you can do it and that “you’re the best around, nothing is gonna keep you down!” (Karate Kid song). And that confidence not only comes from you, but from who you surround yourself with. If you’re around people who believe in you, it will strengthen you. If your team doesn’t believe in you, it will become more difficult for you to believe in yourself. I am blessed to have an amazing support group of loving people who I thank God for every single day. Believe me, it makes all the difference.

When I was diagnosed with appendix cancer – a rare cancer that only one out of one hundred thousand people get – I started searching the net.

Sigh. The internet. A place with a plethora of resources: some that are very helpful (it’s how I learned about treatment for appendix cancer and who specializes in this rare cancer) and some that will send you down a path of depression (like survival rates). Eventually, I stopped that quest. I think if I hadn’t, my husband would have hidden all electronic devices from me since it was proving to be so destructive. If something doesn’t bring you joy, get rid of it like Marie Kondo said. So, the internet researching stopped. I think it’s important to point out that I am schooled in my treatment plan and the medications I’ve been prescribed, as well as the chemotherapy I am on, because it’s critical to be knowledgable in your treatment so that you can get better and ask the right questions. But I have stopped researching prognosis and survival rates. Why? Because every person is different. And, often what is on the net is not accurate. Yep, shocker. The internet isn’t always up to snuff with cancer facts. I remember telling my onconlogist what I had read the survival rate was, and he said, “No, it’s this.” And guess what? It was much, much higher than what I’d read.

So, instead, I searched for cancer survivor stories because I needed to streer clear from the dark realm on the internet and see who else had overcome the battle with this nasty bugger. The stories I found provided inspiration to me. I thought, if they did it, certainly I can, too!  I felt pumped and ready for a fight! Sadly, however, when you search for “cancer” on the internet, there aren’t many survivor stories. It’s a cesspool of “you’re going to die,” messages. So I then searched for survivor stories on Instagram. What surprised me was the barrage of negativity. So many people were focusing on the bad with the C-word. And, yeah, there are plenty of horrible things associated with cancer, but to zero in on these is bad for your recovery. Like I said earlier, this is a mental battle, too, and part of that battle is staying upbeat and positive.

How do you stay positive when you’re feeling like crap and you’ve got the C-word diagnosis lingering over your head second by second? For me, it meant starting a daily gratitude post on Instagram. It forces me to pause and think of what is good in my life. Each day, I think of what I’m grateful for and either take a pic of it or make a video. Simple, yet so helpful for me because it makes me stay hyper-focused on what I’ve been blessed with in my beautiful life. I also make a point to pray each day and thank God for my many blessings.

Y’all, true story, this does something to your brain. If you are constantly thinking of what you’re grateful for, you often don’t sit around and notice all of the bad. You become happier, which is healing for your body. Sure I’m battling this beast and it’s the fight of my life, but it doesn’t have to be a death sentence. It doesn’t have to be an incessant whine of “whoa is me.” It is what it is, and I choose to focus on all of the beautiful things I’ve been given in this life of mine.

At some point in our life, we have had to face something difficult. All of us. And while some battles that people face might seem minor in comparison to yours, it’s major to them. The point is, everyone has faced a challenge in their life, and what’s important is how you face that challenge. Do you face it head on with the intention to overcome it, or do you lay down your weapons and give up? Hopefully, it’s not that latter.

If you have a friend or loved one who is diagnosed with cancer, there are things you can do to help them with their battle. Text them to check-in, call them to chat, send them a gift you know they’ll love, make them a pot of chicken noodle soup (truth – it is nourishing), or mail them a card and tell them why you love them and that you believe in them. You’re like a cheerleader of sorts. You cheering them on, and believe me, that makes a major impact in their recovery. I have been blessed with amazing friends. I really don’t know how I got so lucky, but they’ve been so supportive to me during this time. They are an integral part of my healing process.

My aunt, a warrior survivor, told me that I need to distance myself from all negativity during this time. And a beautiful survivor friend told me about some of the thoughtless comments she received during her battle. Unfortunately, I’ve received a few zingers of my own. Comments that have hurt. And, I believe people are innately good and don’t mean to intentionally hurt others, but there are some things that aren’t helpful for a person battling cancer.

If someone has cancer, only comment on their looks if you’re being positive. Tell them how good they look, not how thin they are or how weak their eyes are. We know we’ve lost weight, we don’t need a reminder. That’s like telling a pregnant woman how fat she looks. Talk to them like you normally would. Have normal conversations – tell them about what is going on in your life. We want to know! Don’t tilt your head to the side and speak to them in that cancer whisper voice asking them how they’re doing. It’s awkward otherwise. Tell them about your friend or relative who survived cancer. Don’t tell them about your aunt Mildred who died from the same cancer. That’s like telling someone who just bought a car that your friend died driving that same car. Ask them what their plans are after their surgery or chemo. Don’t tell them that they need to go enjoy their life or make sure they plan a trip soon. That’s basically sending a message that you think they’re going to die soon. Don’t equate your friend’s cancer or chemo experience to theirs. Every person’s experience with cancer and chemo is not the same. Remind them how strong and tough they are. Tell them you believe in them. Don’t remind them of how hard their battle is going to be. Believe me, we know. Don’t ever use these words, ever: let me know if I can do anthing for you. I know the intention is to help when these words are said, but it puts the onus on the cancer patient to come up with something for you to do for them. If you want to do something for them, just do it. Even a simple text is nourishment for the soul. They’ll appreciate it more than you know. Only tell them you’re praying for them if you actually are. I believe in the power of prayer, so if you say you’re praying, I feel like I’ve got another lifeline to God. It gives me hope.

So what can you do if you have a loved one recently diagnosed? Be there for them. Support them. Love them. Believe in them. It makes all of the difference.

If you’re recently diagnosed, I hope this post makes a difference for you and inspires you. I hope you know that there is hope, and that you have faith that you can beat this! My hope for you is that you can focus on all things good in life – because there is a cornucopia of beauty in life. We are blessed. Each of us.

 

*I wanted to include a list of things I’ve received that have been helpful to me, so if you are searching for something to do, hopefully, referring to this list can help.

Socks (the soft fuzzy kind), blankets (sherpa), hat (knit caps/stocking caps), slippers, tea (if they’re a tea drinker, I recommend peppermint, ginger, or chamomile during chemo), crossword puzzles (keeps their mind occupied), gift cards to Amazon or their favorite restaurants, dry shampoo (if they have to stay in the hospital), journal (writing is therapeutic), grocery store gift card, hand lotion, vitamin C face serum, ginger mints  or Gin Gins (helps with nausea), lemon drops (great for chemo), pick up dinner from their favorite restaurant, ask them if they’re up for a walk, books (beach reads are recommended), flowers or a plant, snack foods like crackers or cookies (especially during chemo), send funny memes or positive messages via FB or text, recommend positive or inspirational books they can buy, cans of chicken noodle soup, ginger snap cookies, magazines, cards with encouraging words, texting to check-in, phone calls, put a prayer request in with your church for this person, Facetime chats, a chai or their favorite latte from Starbucks, a cute bag to hold items to take with them to chemo treatments, podcast recommendations, and a socially distant- mask-wearing visit.