Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Five Ways to Handle a Cancer Diagnosis

Here are a few things you can do to help navigate a devastating diagnosis:

Don't get mired in "Why me?"

It's OK to be angry and feel sorry for yourself. For a while. But focusing on the "Why me?" question will drive you crazy and get you stuck in misery. There is no good answer to this. So don't blame God or yourself. I even suggested this to a friend diagnosed with lung cancer. She was a lifelong smoker who felt completely responsible for her disease. But lots of heavy smokers never get lung cancer and other folks who have never smoked get it. It doesn't make sense and it isn't fair. While you are dealing with a life-changing event, it isn't worth the energy to ask why.

Say yes to help.

People don't know what to do when they hear about your diagnosis. But let them do something. You or someone close to you can help guide them. When I was at my lowest I really didn't want to chat with everyone I knew. But I loved getting cards and offers of help. I learned to be specific: when a friend offered to do my family's laundry, I told her we were OK with the laundry but what we could really use were meals. And I asked her to spread the word.

Say yes to emotional help, too.

One of my hospital roommates with a similar diagnosis as mine (non-Hodgkins lymphoma) was exceedingly depressed. Married with teenage children, she was angry and hopeless. But she declined when nurses or doctors suggested she see a therapist or try an antidepressant. I  told her to accept their offers. It might help and it certainly can't hurt, I told her. I, too, have a husband and children. I cried in the hospital every day, but not all the time. I would weep through grueling physical therapy sessions.  But I was open to any kind of suggestion to alleviate my emotional pain.  I said yes to antidepressants, counselors, any volunteer who would hold my hand and a visit from any denomination of clergy. They all helped me get through my darkest times.

Don't be a defeatist.

Your life is not over, it's just different. It really annoys me when people will bring up their illness or age to qualify whether they will be alive at any day in the future. An older relative was hesitant to commit to a wedding a year away. I, on the other hand, said I would definitely be there (and I was). Another friend who is a cancer survivor routinely qualifies her plans with "I don't know what my future holds." News flash: Nobody does.

Focus on the good things day to day.

When I was released to my home after spending nearly five months in a hospital bed, I remember being moved to tears at the colors and beauty around me. The decor of my house, the backyard flowers, the chirping of birds: All were extra sweet to me. I still try to pay closer attention to such things as I experience them. We spend so much time griping. Really take the time to recognize the happy moments. Comment on them out loud so others can join in your reverie.