Getting diagnosed with cancer can feel like a death sentence, and in some cases, this is true. However, much of our journey with cancer has to do with what goes on inside our minds. Our outlook on just about everything becomes critical in defining what our experience will be like with this disease.
There is nothing good about cancer, but it doesn’t mean that a meaningful life needs to end at the point of diagnosis, or even when the doctors have given up on finding a cure. Here are ten thoughts that have helped me through the toughest parts of my own journey. As of this writing, I am still fighting to find a cure, but more importantly, to lead the best life that I can in whatever time that I have left.
Life is Worth Fighting For
There is beauty in every life regardless of whether you are rich or poor. We all have hopes and dreams, family and friends, and things to look forward to that make us happy. Fight for all of them. Fight for whatever matters most to you. In the darkest hours of this disease when the pain is too great, the nausea is overwhelming, and death begins to feel more like relief than punishment, grit your teeth and fight on. You are worth it. Always remember that the greatest pain is not felt by you when you die, it is felt by the people left behind in your life who have given you their hearts.
No One Lives Forever
It is rare to find a person who doesn’t fear death. I fear death, yet I understand that it is crucial to find a way to stamp out this fear whenever it rears its ugly head. Fear releases all sorts of chemicals in your body in a “fight or flight” response, and over time, constant fear will take a toll on even healthy people much less someone fighting cancer. For me, the trick is to remind myself that no one lives forever. Everyone will die at some point or another. I could be completely healthy and die on my way to work in a terrible car accident. At least with this disease, I have some time to reconcile my life and fight for a chance to live. That is better odds than many people have, and I count it as a blessing. My focus now is to live the best life that I can, and I can find peace with that.
Pride is Your Worst Enemy
For many people, including myself, this is a tough one. We work so hard to be strong and independent — to provide for our families and show the world that we can make it on our own. It took me a long time after my savings have dried up and my retirement funds vaporized in the process of fighting this disease to finally allow myself to say the words, “I need help.” I only wish that I’d had the sensibility to do it sooner. People have a keen sense when it comes to detecting if someone is asking for help to be a “mooch” or if they are truly in need. The kindness that I have received from friends, family, and even strangers has been overwhelming. Even aside from money, neighbors and friends have volunteered to mow my lawn, repair my home, and help me with tasks I am no longer able to do. Humanity is much kinder in real life than the news headlines will lead you to believe. Leave your pride at the door, be humble and gracious, and accept the fact that we all need help sometimes . . . and if you have cancer, the time is now.
Look for the Silver Lining
Your journey in fighting cancer will be wrought with perils. You will receive more doctor bills than junk mail. Your body will do things you never thought were possible, almost all in terrible ways. Many days, your only wish will be to just feel “normal.” Through it all, it is up to you to find the silver lining, if only for your own sanity. Sadly, this is not a topic I can guide you on as everyone’s journey is different. But it is a critical thing to remember that by whatever means necessary, you must find a way to stay positive. It is too easy to slip into depression otherwise, and only bad things can come from that.
Attack Your Bucket List
A great tool to help you stay positive is a bucket list (a list of things you’d like to do before you die). Make one . . . as lengthy as you’d like. Then go through and scratch out all the items that are not realistic or truly important. Now you’re left with a list of items that are possible and meaningful to you. Focus all your energy on making these things happen. For me, it is: writing a novel to leave behind for my daughter, starting a blog, and at some point, visit Hawaii.
Heal Old Wounds
Old wounds can weigh heavily on your heart, and anything that does that is not good when fighting cancer. This goes back to letting go of your pride. Many times, we hang on to old grudges and leave broken relationships broken because no one wants to be the first to extend an olive branch. Don’t die with these wounds unhealed as you may not have another chance. Reach out to whoever it is in your life that at one point meant something to you, but something went wrong along the way to damage your relationship, and at least try to reconcile. You may be surprised to find that they’re more willing to listen when they discover that you have cancer. Take the time to do this, especially if that person is a family member. It is a beautiful way to use such a terrible disease for something positive.
Leave Something Meaningful Behind
Hope for the best and plan for the worst. If something goes terribly wrong and you do die, what will you leave behind? Don’t say “money.” Money is useful, but not meaningful. Our immortality is not found on green paper, but in the memories of us that people carry in their minds. We only truly “die” when no one remembers who we were. Think on that, and be creative.
If you were not fortunate enough to discover your cancer very early on, then there is a good chance that there will come a point where you no longer want to eat. This is not an option. You must eat or you will undo all the progress you’ve made. There are days when I am so sick that nothing will stay down. On these days, I drink liquid meals (full spectrum of vitamins and nutrients) a gulp at a time throughout the day and sniff menthol to help ease the nausea. Whatever it takes to stay hydrated and healthy, do it.
Like many items on this list, this is easier said than done, but at least try. I tell myself this over and over in my head all day every day. Distract yourself with things to do (such as your bucket list) and stay calm. Do things that make you smile. Listen to your favorite music or read your favorite books. Let the doctors worry about your treatment regimen and ask for help when you need it. If you feel anxious, seek solace from family and friends and talk it out. Whatever you do, don’t worry yourself into a frenzy and ruin your quality of life.
Last, and most importantly, be happy. Everyone has problems, some more than others. Ours just happens to be a doozy, but it doesn’t mean we can’t be happy. I have found that my day to day routine has slowed down dramatically allowing me to reflect more on my life. The time I spend with my wife and daughter is higher quality than before I had cancer. We’re not always rushing to go everywhere, rushing to get home, rushing to get this or that done. In some ways, it is an unexpected blessing to escape from the hectic pace of modern life and to just enjoy each other fully. If I lose my fight in the end, this quality time I’ve been able to share with the people I love will have made this whole ordeal worthwhile. Life is beautiful. Let’s live it to its fullest regardless of how many years we have in this world.
To those beautiful souls out there who are on this journey with me, my heart goes out to you. I pray for your swift recovery, and may you always find light in the darkest hours of the night.
Please help me in my quest to raise public awareness on how cancer originating from Hepatitis B (the cancer that I have) can be easily prevented. One simple test can save someone their life. Learn more by visiting my Donation Page.