A diagnosis of cancer just slammed into your life. You had other plans, places to go, people to see, a life to live. Starting a profound cascade of emotions, you fumble helplessly trying to grab back your life as it falls away from you. You have cancer. An “in your face invitation”, you can pray, hope, bargain with God, but you can’t stop this journey. The initial shock melts into fear. This is a war and you have been recruited. An icy chill sinks deep into your bones as your head spins and your heart pounds with dread. Is this an introduction into the valley of the shadow of death? The answer is completely up to you.
A diagnosis of cancer is frightening but you are not alone, nor are you helpless. You must decide whether you want to be a soldier or a victim in this war. You are in charge of the path you take in this fight and only a fool would go into battle without the best armor, weapons, buddies and trusted leaders available. Cancer is a war. How you fight it is up to you. The first challenge is to acknowledge that cancer is not now nor has it ever been a punishment for wrong- doing. You didn’t cause it to happen. It is not shameful to have this disease. Saints get cancer and so do the bad guys. It is an equal opportunity disease. Get rid of any burden of shame or guilt and do it now. Develop a good plan of attack and start your fight in earnest. If you have not done this already, you must get your will, durable power of attorney and advanced directives completed. Cancer or not, this is something we all need. Do this before starting treatment. Get it out of your path so you can concentrate on your fight and recovery.
Learn what your cancer is and what it is not. Knowledge is power. Discover as much as you can about your particular disease but stay away from gossip and negativity as that will only burden your recovery. Facts are good but get them from your oncologist, surgeon or nurse practitioner and not cousin Joe. Select an oncologist with expertise in your type of cancer. Ask for statistics. How do her patients do? What are her success rates? Ask your doctor the name of your kind of cancer, what stage you have and the grade of tumor. Write this all down, otherwise you will forget. Ask about your prognosis, your options for treatment and the pros and cons of each. This is uncomfortable and scary but it is very important and you must do it. Ask about clinical trials for your specific cancer. There are many biologic agents not yet on the market that may be more targeted and may truly benefit you. Always take someone with you when you see your doctor. An advocate can be your second set of ears and eyes. At home, keep paper and pen handy to jot down questions as they come to you. Organize and review your questions before doctor visits and do not leave her office without answers to each and every one. Also, you can google internet sites like Medline Plus, Pubmed, National Library of Medicine and Clinical Trials.Gov as they may provide some good information too.
Trust and a feeling of security are crucial to your recovery. If you’re not comfortable with your doctor or your treatment path, talk to your doctor. It is your body, your cancer, and your recovery. Those closest to you are fighting this too. Include them. Honest sharing of love and support is an intensely powerful force. Embrace it. You didn’t ask to have cancer nor does it define you. Exert your power, fight this thing and live your life. No doubt, cancer is that proverbial bump in the road, but there is life after cancer.
Wools Lavelle has been a registered nurse for 35 years specializing in critical care. She spent the last five years as the Nursing Director of an international office based surgical practice and has become a Certified Legal Nurse Consultant.