Dear Cancer Patient: I hate that you are battling this horrible disease. And I’m sure many people have given you their own advice on how to best gear up for battle.
But having been on my own cancer journey, which started with a stage-4 lung cancer diagnosis more than four years ago, here are the things I would personally tell you:
1. If you could put a sign on your forehead, it should read: "No negativity allowed inside."
Only permit cancer conqueror stories to enter—and you should believe that you’ll be one of them. Surround yourself only with positive people, things, and thoughts. Don’t focus on survival rates—they are just medical statistics (someone has to be in that 1 percent, right?). Everyone's cancer is different.
Turn negative thoughts into positive ones. Like, when treatments yield those nasty side effects, remind yourself that they are a lot of times a sign that the treatment is working. We all know how powerful the mind can be. Think positive thoughts. For example, picture yourself 5, 10, 20 years out and what you’ll be doing then. Ingest positive energy and prayerful words with your food and medicine. And recite positive affirmations, like "I am a cancer conqueror; hear me roar!”
2. Keep the faith.
No matter what your belief system is, now is the time to connect with your spiritual side to help you find God or your inner peace, whatever it may be. Pray, pray, pray. The healing effects of prayer, and other forms of communication, on our minds, hearts, bodies, and soul, are real. The Bible is full of stories of how Jesus healed every person who asked to be healed. Miracles are possible. I know because I am one!
If you don’t have a spiritual side, I recommend seeking one out. Research shows that it has a positive effect on the overall quality of a cancer patient’s life. Who wouldn’t want that?
3. You may get only one shot at a cure. Your life is worth fighting as hard as you can to get it.
I believe that God equips us with everything and everyone we need for our cancer journey. But it’s up to us to do the research. Keep an open mind and look outside the box (to natural healing methods, for example, which aren’t always readily available to us). Be your own advocate and question the doctors. And then question them some more, until you are fully satisfied with the answers.
Get a second opinion, and a third and a fourth. Then make rational decisions based on your findings. For example, if your research shows that chemotherapy has never cured your type of disease, then maybe an alternative treatment that shows evidence of working (prolonging life, a better quality of life, and possibly a cure) is a path worth exploring. Or if a conventional treatment has a 100 percent cure rate, then maybe that's your path to healing. Sometimes it's an integrative path that uses both conventional and alternative methods.
Whatever path you select, make sure it is your choice and you feel at peace with it.
4. Help others, especially other cancer patients.
There’s nothing more gratifying and distracting than doing things for others. I think you would agree that no one can truly understand what you’re going through unless they’ve gone through it themselves. Thus, cancer can be a lonely world. But you can touch many lives just by telling your story to a few people, who will tell it to the people in their lives who need to hear it, and so on and so on. Some very special bonds have been created among cancer patients.
5. Take the absolute best care of your body that you possibly can, every day.
That includes exercise, stress management, building up your immune system, and cutting out all refined sugars and inflammatory foods, at a minimum. Always seek expert advice, and always keep your doctor informed.
Also, and this is important, having cancer and being on treatment does not discount you from getting something else (despite what we might think, chemo doesn’t kill everything!). You still need your routine doctor visits and preventive care tests to give yourself the best chances at a long life.
6. Ask for help.
You can’t do everything, or at least everything well, without others’ help. People are more generous and willing to help than you could ever imagine. But they can’t help unless they know where help is needed. And for those friends and family members who say they aren’t good in these situations, tell them to get good! Because you need them.
7. It’s difficult managing everyday life with cancer life.
Here’s the thing: We’re not guaranteed a tomorrow, or to even live out today. We have this moment. It is a gift that we’ve been given. So, figure out what is really important in your life, and then make that your daily course of therapy. Get friends and family to help with all the other "stuff" (see #6 above).
Finally, a bonus: Never, ever give up. The next treatment you need could be just around the corner, and you don’t want to miss it.