Tackling Cancer, One Trick at a Time
4 tips and tricks that helped me through diagnosis and treatment
By Cancer Hope Network Volunteer, Suzanne Prichard
As a Cancer Hope Network Volunteer, I often share tips and tricks with other patients that have been helpful to me in my cancer journey in hopes that it will be useful to help them when they need it most. Here are my favorites.
1. Write it down
Get a nice blank journal and keep it with you. Use the journal to not only chart progress, remember medications, compile questions to ask doctors and to track other health-related issues but also to take note of your thoughts, your worries, your ideas and questions you have about yourself and how you are coping with this life-changing diagnosis.
What progress have you made today?
How are you feeling?
What are you grateful for?
What annoys you?
What did you do to add joy to your day today?
What are you going to do as soon as you feel better?
My advice is to have a separate book for these personal thoughts about this journey, but it may not matter to you to organize your thoughts that way. You may or may not ever look at those pages again, but the act of writing down thoughts and feelings can be self-healing. Writing helps me think about my condition from a personal and mental-health standpoint. It continues to help me work through my fears. Many of the pages of this journal have been filled up in the middle of the night, when I wake in a panic, with my mind racing. Usually, after 15 minutes of pouring those thoughts out of my head, I’m back to sleep, as if I actually was able to download them from my mind and get the rest I need.
2. Make a list of “Asks”
Reserve the first few pages of your journal for this. Fill it up with tasks and ideas others can help you with, and keep adding to it as the needs strike you. Friends, neighbors, co-workers, family members, and other nice people will ask: “Is there anything I can do to help?” Be ready with an answer, because right now, believe me, you need it. Asking for help is difficult to do. In my experience, this is particularly true of women, who are typically natural helpers. I usually remind them what they tell you before a flight: “Secure your oxygen mask before assisting others.” Even if you are a mom, your needs and your health must take priority right now, until you are feeling better and in remission. I’ve always prided myself on my independence, my competence and my ability to take care of others and fulfill their needs. It seemed selfish to want people to do that for me. I thought other people would see me as “needy” and a “taker,” but trust me on this…you have cancer, so this is a whole new ballgame. This notion never made any sense even before I was diagnosed. One of the biggest lessons I have learned from my cancer journey is that sometimes, the greatest gift you can give someone is the opportunity to help you. People genuinely want to do something, anything, because they cannot make your diagnosis go away. It can be anything: shoveling the driveway, getting stamps at the post office, picking up a few groceries, buying you a seat for the bathtub, installing a bar in your shower or giving you a ride to the doctor’s office. Don’t pass up an opportunity to give this gift to loved ones, family and friends. You will never regret it, and like me, it may transform your relationships forever.
3. Less is More
Everyone processes information differently. Some of us are better with emotions than others. Some of us take an analytical approach to any problem, whether it is personal, professional or philosophical. As I’m now in my third year of my cancer journey, I have found some excellent sources for information about my cancer, but most of them I’ve only discovered recently. For Multiple Myeloma, there are Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (lls.org) and the International Myeloma Foundation (myeloma.org). The American Cancer Society (cancer.org) is also a great source for anyone who wants to know about cancer. As with any topic, the Internet has transformed our access to information. There is such a thing as too much information, though, and early in your diagnosis, less is more, when it comes to the left side of your brain, and what you should do to it. This may seem obvious, but I talk to a lot of people who mention things they read, and how it upset them. Try to let go of your need to understand right now. Let someone else look that up. If you trust your doctors, and your healthcare team, they will tell you what you need to know. This worked pretty well for me, so I offer it as a way to bring some peace to the beginning of your journey. I’m not asking you to be fully ignorant, and, depending on your case, you may be able to handle information more readily than I could. But think about balancing the “need to know” with your need to clear your mind and relax.
4. Close your eyes and breathe
This may seem like another very obvious idea. I’ve heard other cancer patients say: “I cannot stop my mind from thinking” or “I don’t know how to meditate.” Guess what? We all know how, because we all have the capacity to close our eyes and be aware of our breath. If your mind wanders, or you think or feel something that’s extraneous to the breath, just gently remind yourself that you are breathing, in and breathing out. That’s it. There are other ways to extend this exercise. There are many cancer-specific guided-imagery meditations you can get from your healthcare support team, from bookstores or online. There are great mediation podcasts (check out meditationoasis.com, especially) and books and “meet-up” groups galore. As a yogini myself, I had previous experience with meditation, and you may too. Besides my family and friends, and all the science that went into my cancer care, I would have to say that this was the single biggest thing that helped me through this whole ordeal, and continues to help me. The “Supportive Services” team that worked with me was incredibly helpful in this regard. One of the social workers there created a guided meditation CD specifically for me, based on a conversation we had. That was my “go-to” soundtrack when I was in treatment, in distress and suffering from the effects of chemo and my bone marrow transplant. No matter where you are in your cancer journey right now, you have been in better places before, like a sunny beach, a green forest, a quiet mountain trail, a boat on beautiful river, in a rose garden or wherever you felt at peace. You have that physical memory, and you only have to close your eyes and breathe to take you back there. You will get a few moments of peace – sometimes more, sometimes less – but it will always help if you let it.
Like me, you may find that it’s not the only aspect of cancer that teaches you the power you already have within yourself.