5 Tips for Going Through Cancer
It’s been eighteen years since I had treatment for triple-negative breast cancer. Looking back, the things that were helpful then have served me ever since. I’m not an expert, and what works for one person may not for another, but I’ll share these tips with you hoping you’ll find something useful for getting through this time in your life.
First of all, the most important thing for me was Faith in God. This was not new, but became even more crucial when dealing with a life-threatening diagnosis and the challenges of treatment. The Psalms were my go-to scriptures because the writer seemed to wrestle with the same ups and downs as me. I believed God was big enough to handle my honest cries of despair. My shortest prayer was, “God, I feel like crap!” At other times, I’d approach with a request, “God, show me your goodness.” Afterwards, I’d watch for blessings to appear-- and they would at the moment of my greatest need, whether they were calls, cards, or casseroles.
The second thing that helped me through were my Family and Friends. When my energy was limited or I needed to stay out of crowds to prevent exposure to illness, I most wanted the closeness of being with my husband and two teenage sons. I needed to draw into the coziness of my home and the people I loved the most. I had to judge when to be with my mother because I didn’t want to worry her-- yet I needed her mothering comfort.
So many friends offered their support. But some folks just aren’t up for the task of being in a chemo bay, as I saw when a friend took me for my first infusion. I thought she’d pass out and I ended up having to reassure her, even though I was the one with the adriamycin and cytoxan flowing into my arm. Likewise, some people who’d been close needed to back off for a while, because for them the cancer was too threatening, perhaps because of their fears that they’d be next or due to a previous experience with another person.
Thirdly, I learned to Pair the Bitter with the Sweet. When I had to go through a tough day of appointments or a difficult procedure, what felt like the ‘bitter,’ I’d follow it with some sort of ‘sweet’ reward at the end of that challenge. Sometimes after an infusion, I’d return home, put on my pajamas, climb into bed, and eat a bowl of ice cream with crunched up cookies while watching television. Other times I’d go shopping and buy a pair of earrings or a colorful blouse. I made sure I balanced the bitter and the sweet-- because sometimes life gives you more of one than the other.
The fourth thing that was important was to Keep on Moving. On the days I felt the lousiest, I’d try to at least walk down my road a short distance to the covered bridge that was over the creek. I’d stand underneath its shelter and watch the stream, or study the changing colors of the leaves in the woods, nature bringing me joy and relief. Whatever I was physically able to do to get out of bed, out of my house, I did.
Sometimes you need a change of routine and scenery from your cancer treatment regimen. Between finishing chemo and starting the thirty-two radiation treatments, our family drove from North Carolina to D.C. for a few days. It was so nice to see something new and participate in a normal, fun family activity.
The fifth thing I’d recommend is to stay focused on just the next few steps instead of the entire treatment road ahead of you. I found that with my faith and the support I received from others, I had what I needed to navigate a step at the time. What I’m going to say next may sound contradictory, but it’s also important to look to your future-- the vision of the life you desire. When I was just starting into treatment, right after my second of six chemotherapies, a friend invited me to go with a group of women to the mountains.
In the midst of feeling totally overwhelmed by treatment, sitting on a rock looking out on the morning fog over the Smokies, it was as if God’s voice spoke to me and said, “It’s about the Future. Don’t get too bogged down in your present situation.” For me, I took that to mean to look ahead, to anticipate my future just as I would if I hadn’t been diagnosed with breast cancer. We all need hope, for the things we want to experience, places we want to see, fulfillment of goals that we’ve carried. I was not to let my vision be limited to cancer. Focus on those next steps while holding your dream of the future so you keep moving forward with hope.
While I survived my cancer, I know that’s not always the case. If I knew that my life was ending, I’d want to prepare to leave for the next life in a way that’s pleasing to me. In those precious days, I’d want to be surrounded by the people I love, supported by the beauty of nature in flowers and birdsong outside my window, the feel of my dog’s wet nose and soft fur, and the solace in the sound of a stream.
Hopefully, something in what I’ve written is helpful for you. I’m grateful for my eighteen years of being cancer free and wish you every success in your treatment and in obtaining the things you desire as you move toward your future.