By Cancer Hope Network Volunteer and Stage 3 Colon Cancer Survivor, Larry LaRossa
When someone first receives a Cancer diagnosis, the news is devastating. For me I just assumed it was a death sentence. In the few years prior to my getting sick I had four friends diagnosed with four different cancers; all of whom had passed away within a year of diagnosis.
I found the period between receiving a diagnosis and deciding on a course of treatment to be by far the most difficult time. I received three different opinions from three different hospitals regarding the recommended course of treatment-which left me totally confused. Trying to figure out whether a more aggressive approach with far greater debilitating side effects was worth the few percentage points greater survival rate was overwhelming to me. But ultimately I decided on just that-the most aggressive treatment with the highest survival rate.
Once treatment began, I started feeling better because at this point I felt like I was actually fighting the disease. When asked where the fight came from, I always answered that it was my desire to see my daughters grow up that was my greatest motivation to beat this. I also realized that I had been through something similar in the past.
About twenty years before I had been through two unsuccessful back surgeries and wound up out of work for almost a year with what was diagnosed as “failed back syndrome”. I eventually found a doctor at NYU who helped me heal myself and sold me on the whole mind-body connection. I became an exercise fanatic and got to the point where I was competing in five or six triathlons each summer. I sensed that staying as active as possible during my treatment could only help so I continued working the entire time. I also tried to maintain my exercise schedule. Initially I was able to continue running, golfing and going to the gym. But gradually the fatigue overwhelmed me and I was reduced to being satisfied going for occasional walks. The one thing I knew, though, was that once you went to the couch it was very hard to get up so I avoided that as much as possible.
I also found motivation from the patients I’ve worked with for the past thirty years; the chronically mentally ill. I am forever amazed at their perseverance in the face of an overwhelming illness; if they could continue to fight so hard, I figured so should I.
I remember my first Chemotherapy visit at MSKCC vividly. When I first entered the waiting room I observed two very different groups. On one side of the room were people who appeared to have given up. On the other were two women with tubes dangling from their medi-ports, without a hair on their heads who were holding court and had a crowd of people laughing and joking. I decided immediately what side of the room I was going to sit on for the duration of my treatment! I wanted some of that good energy to rub off on me.
It’s almost a cliché, but a positive attitude goes a long way. Maintaining a routine, being with friends and loved ones and keeping as much of your life as normal as possible is what worked for me!