by Melissa Kelly
Ray finally went to see his doctor. He had the nagging feeling that something was not quite right physically. A widower, Ray hadn't truly been happy since his wife had died six years earlier. Although he had many friends, including a group he went ballroom dancing with on Saturday nights, he felt lonely without his wife. Now, at the insistence of his son and daughter, he went to his doctor, hearing exactly what he had feared most: Cancer.
Working Your Way Through
Cancer is a terrifying word. It evokes images of no turning back, losing control over one's body and one's life, not finishing the big game. Hearing that you or someone you love has cancer may be one of the toughest challenges you will ever face.
Yet cancer doesn't necessarily mean the end of life-or the end of living. Cancer is now considered a chronic disease, rather than a fatal one. Taking charge-of your emotions, medical facts, and your approach to life-is the key to dealing creatively with cancer.
Face Your Emotions
Taking charge means expressing negative emotions like anger, anxiety, fear, and depression. Denial that cancer could actually happen to you or someone you know ill also most certainly occur. Combat this by talking about your fears with someone you trust, such as a family member, clergy person, friend, or counselor. Ray expressed his feelings to his children and close friends, which he had not done when his wife was ill. He found much comfort in their patient listening.
Ray also began to realize how much time he had wasted feeling sorry for himself after his wife died. He had dwelled on his sadness rather than the good memories. He hadn't allowed friend to console him and help him rejoin the celebration of life. Losing his will to live because of his wife's death did not help his physical or emotional well-being.
The news of his own cancer forced him to become angry at himself for not handling his wife's death better. And with that, he became determined to cope better with his own illness.
Get Informed About Your Disease
The more you know, the more power you will have over your situation. Having a doctor who understand how you think is crucial. Be honest with your doctor and insist that your doctor do the same. Ask questions, for now is not the time to be passive: You have the right to know what's going on with your body. Participate in all decision-making.
Hospitals often have good health libraries full of current news clippings and books that the public may use. Don't' overlook your county, city and university libraries as good resources also for giving you the power of information.
Think About The Future
Overcome feelings of disappointment and frustration by choosing your goals carefully. What do you want for the future? Don't' sell yourself short, but set up goals that are attainable. This may mean finally taking that trip or finishing up a degree.
Said one woman about there decision to tour Asia: "My friends all thought I was nuts to do something that they thought would drain my energy and that I might not live though. But I had wanted to go on this trip for the past 20 years, and by finally doing so I felt more alive and content."
Make phone calls to friends, just to connect with people. Get involved with art or musical projects. Exercise is a great uplifter: Try to do it, even if it means simply walking through the neighborhood. When you have quiet time, do some relaxation exercises and meditation.
Fight Back with Hopefulness
Try to think positively about yourself and your ability to cope with life's challenges. If despair threatens to take over, fight it by accepting the love of others and letting them know you love them. You don't have to be alone during this time if you can allow family, friends, and faith to comfort you. Ray discovered he had many friend who cared about him and were rooting for him to get better.
Find humor in your daily life, or create it. Fear doesn't have as much of a chance when it has to compete with laughter and the lighter side of life. And don't' overlook pets as wonderful companions to help you combat fear and depression. An animal will stay by you and accept you as you are, no matter how you feel. Ray's two Siamese cats were like old friends to him. He took much comfort in their presence and purring.
Tap Into A Support Group
More and more studies indicate that support groups can significantly reduce pain, anxiety , and depression and can help to improve quality of life. Two kinds of support groups are available for people with cancer-those led by health professionals and those run by people who have cancer. Both kinds offer encouragement, information, ways to cope, and a place to form friendships with others going through a similar experience.
The National American Cancer Society provides resource materials for setting up a variety of support groups. The Cancer Society's program "I Can Cope" helps people deal with the social, psychological, and practical aspects of cancer. Groups are also sometimes listed in the Yellow Pages under Social Service Organizations or Health Agencies.
The Wellness Community is a newer cancer support group for patients run by patients. Founded by Harold Benjamin, who hopes to establish a nationwide network, the Wellness Community offers free group therapy with licensed psychotherapists, plus discussion sessions that include e life stories, encouragement, and the use of directed visualization. The group also encourages the involvement of family and friend in the healing and recovery process. Check in your community to see if this network of support exists.
If You're A Friend or Relative, Think Positive
Just like the person who has cancer, you need to think positive and resist making assumptions and panicking. Rally around your loved one and focus on the positive. Try to keep life as normal as possible. Be helpful; be supportive.
Feeling confused, fearful, angry, guilty, or sad is as normal for you as for the cancer patient. If you can be honest about your feelings and fears, and encourage the same from your loved one, problems will seem easier to face together.
Because you may want to protect the ill person from sadness, talking about your innermost feelings or crying with that person can be very difficult. But now is the time to listen and communicate with your loved one. touching is vitally important-hugs, pats, hand holding, kisses, and caresses can say more than words.
After hearing that her elderly cousin, who lived across the country, was ill with lung cancer, one woman began writing little weekly notes to her. She would include descriptions of what her family was doing that day or how the garden looked, and she reminded her cousin that she was loved and was being sent positive thoughts and prayers. The cousin looked forward to the notes and kept them together to reread whenever she felt lonely. The little things we do can make someone feel loved and wanted in a big way.
A diagnosis of cancer may force you to reevaluate yourself, your relationships, your life. Whether the disease is happening to you or to someone close to you, the emotions involved in just knowing the disease exists impel you to draw more than ever upon your inner strengths and faith.
Focusing your mental and spiritual energy on coping resourcefully with the challenge of cancer can help you to lessen the negative and rediscover the positive in your life. This may be the time when you finally take charge of events in your life or help a loved one to cope in ways he or she never thought possible.
While you certainly may question, "Why me" Why this?" you can also as, "What can I learn from this experience?" With a positive, take-charge attitude, who knows what inner healing and growth may follow!
Melissa Kelly is a free-lance writer living in California. She is the former communications director of the National Hospice Organization.
"We come into this world crying while all around us are smiling. May we so live that we go out of this world smiling while everyone around us is weeping." Persian Proverb
"If you attack this disease instead of remaining a hopeless, helpless victim, you will feel better and you just might-and that's the key word, might-improve your chances of licking your disease. I've always believe that." - Dr. Walter Matern, in "Finding Strength in Cancer" by Sue MacDonald, The Cincinnati Enquirer.
Sources of Additional Help
Books: Triumph: Getting Back to Normal When You Have Cancer by Marion Morra and Eve Potts, New York, New York, Avon, 1990. Cancer as a Turning Point by Lawrence LeShan, Ph.D., New York, New York, Dutton, 1989. What to Know About The Treatment of Cancer by Vincent Anku, M.D., Seattle, Washington, Madrona, 1984. Cancer and Hope by Judith Garrett Garrison, M.Ed., L.S.W., and Scott Sheperd, Ph.D., Minneapolis, Minnesota, CompCare, 1989.
Hotlines: Cancer Information Service Hotline, (800) 4-CANCER. (Or, for free booklets and other resources, write: Office of Cancer Communication, National Cancer Institute, Building 31, Bethesda, MD 20892.) American Cancer Society, (800) ACS-2345. National Hospice Organization, (800) 658-8898
Organizations: American Cancer Society, 1599 Clifton Rd., N.E., Atlanta, GA 30329, (800) ACS-2345. Cancer Care, 1180 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036, (212) 221-3300. Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation, 1312 18th St., N.W., Suite 200, Washington, DC 20036, (202) 659-5136. Make Today Count, 101 1/2 S. Union St., Alexandria, VA 22314, (703) 548-9674. National Hospice Organization, 1901 N. Moore St., Suite 901, Arlington, VA 22209, (703) 243-5900.
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