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How to Handle a Cancer Diagnosis

You may have an illness — but you’re still you

You’ve just been diagnosed with cancer and your world’s turned upside down. You’re scared and overwhelmed. Suddenly your new identity is … cancer patient.

That’s not true. You’re still you.

Don’t let cancer define you. You are not the disease. It’s so easy to define yourself as a cancer patient instead of remembering who you are and what your goals are. You’re the same person you always were.

To help you retain your sense of self, it’s important to keep doing the same things you’re accustomed to doing.

For example, if you exercise, continue to do so. If you’re the sort who works out on a treadmill or a bicycle every single day, keep doing it — or you’re going to go nuts if you can’t keep up the exercise regimen you’re used to. Check with your doctor first to make sure exercise is OK within the context of your cancer.

If you’re used to going out to dinner with friends or your spouse, keep doing it, again checking with your doctor first.

Here are a few other steps that will help you make the transition and get a sense of control after a cancer diagnosis:

First, get a second opinion. Some cancers have to be treated immediately. But many don’t, which gives you more time to think about treatment options. Go to specialists for your particular form of cancer, and find the absolute best therapy for you.

Don’t be shy about asking for help. Have a friend or family member go with you to the doctor’s office. Some people say, “When I go to the doctor my mind goes absolutely blank.” An extra brain and extra set of ears will help you hear what is going on — and process the information afterward.

Keep up with routine maintenance. Along with seeing your oncologist, continue to go to your primary care physician for routine cancer screening. Your body has already proven it can get cancer, so remember to keep screening for cancer after you’ve beaten the one you already have.

And do your best to try to be the person you’ve always been. You’re much, much more than an illness.

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 Mikkael Sekeres, MD, MS has more than a decade of medical experience in medical oncology and hematology. He is the Director of the Leukemia Program at Cleveland Clinic’s Taussig Cancer Institute.

http://health.clevelandclinic.org/2012/07/how-to-handle-a-cancer-diagnosis/

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The Things I Wish I Were Told When I Was Diagnosed With Cancer

Jeff Tomczek

Freelance Writer and Founder of C2Bseen

Your relationships are about to change. All of them. Some will get stronger. They will probably not be with the people you would expect. The people you want to handle this well might not be able to for a variety of reasons. Some of the reasons will be selfish. Some of them will be entirely innocent and circumstantial. All of them will be forgivable because no one plans for cancer. Carrying bitterness or anger won’t help your recovery. Fighting for anyone to stick with you won’t cure you. Those who can, will.

You will be determined to have more energy than you do. You will convince yourself that you are thinking straight, are able to handle all of this and do not need anyone. You will run out fuel. Your body will change first and your mind will follow. You won’t lose your mind, memories or sensibility. It will all come back. But, you will be different. You will never have the same sense of self. You should embrace this. Your old self was probably really great. Your transformed self will be even better. Give into what is happening and trust it.

You are going to feel fear. Even if you are normally stubborn, confident and seemingly invincible you will finally find yourself admitting that you are scared of something. Cancer is scary and incredibly confusing. The unknowing will eat at you worse than the disease itself. You’ll need distractions. Music and sleep will probably be the ones you resort to most. Reading will become difficult. So will watching TV or movies, having conversations, writing and basically everything else. They call it “chemo brain” for a reason. You will feel normal eventually. Just a new kind of normal. When you feel afraid let yourself lean on those around you. Cry. Be vulnerable. You are vulnerable. There will be time for strength, but never admitting weakness will cause anxiety to mount and your condition to worsen. Let it all out. Yell if you need to. Sing when you feel up to it. Sob uncontrollably. Apologize for your mood swings. Treatments and prescriptions will often be the cause of them. The people that love you will understand.

The people that love you will be just as scared as you are. Probably more. They will be worrying even when they are smiling. They will assume you are in more pain than you are. They will be thinking about you dying and preparing for life without you. They will go through a process that you will never understand just like they will never understand the process you are going through. Let them process. Forgive them when they don’t understand. Exercise patience when you can. Know that those that were built for this will be there when you get to the other side and you will all be able to laugh together again. You’ll cry together too. Then you’ll get to a place where you will just live in the world again together and that is when you know that you have beaten this.

The sooner you recognize that you are mortal, the sooner you can create the mentality for survival. There is a chance you might not make it. Just like there is a chance that you will. Don’t look at statistics. You are unique and what is happening inside you is unique. Your fight is yours alone and there are too many factors to compare yourself to others that have had your condition. No one will want you to think about death, but you won’t have a choice. You will think about it from the moment you are given your diagnosis. Come to terms with it. Calmly accept it. Then, shift every thought you have into believing that you won’t die. You are going to beat this. Your mental focus on that fact will be more powerful than any treatment you receive.

Your doctors and nurses will become your source of comfort. You will feel safe with them. If you do not feel safe with them you need to change your care provider immediately. There is no time to waste. This shouldn’t be a game played on anyone’s terms but yours. When you find the right caretakers you will know immediately. Do not let insurance, money or red tape prevent you from getting the treatment you deserve. This is your only shot. There is always a way. Find those hands that you trust your life in and willingly give it to them. They will quickly bring you a sense of calm. They will spend time answering your questions. There will be no stupid questions to them. They won’t do anything besides make you feel like you are the most important life that exists. They will never make you feel like they don’t have things in control. They will be honest and accessible at all times. They might even become your friends. You might celebrate with them over drinks months or years after they have cured you. They deserve your gratitude, respect and appreciation daily. If you get upset at them during treatment know that they’ll forgive you. They get that you’re going through something they can’t imagine- but they understand better than anyone. They see it every day and they choose to be there because they want to make the worst experience of your life more tolerable.

You will need to find balance after treatment. Start by seeking balance during treatment. Eat well. Sleep well. Listen to your body. Explore meditation. Experiment with new forms of exercise that aren’t so demanding. Embrace massage and other body therapies. Go to therapy. A therapist will be able to guide you through your journey in ways you could never fathom. Do not be too proud to speak to someone. You cannot afford to store up the intensity of the emotion that comes with fighting a life-threatening illness. Let it out for yourself. You will begin to hear your voice changing. That voice is who you are becoming in the face of mortality. Listen to that voice. It will be the purest, most authentic version of you that you have ever known. Bring that person into the world — strengths and vulnerabilities and everything between. Be that person forever.

You will inspire others. It will feel weird. People you haven’t spoken to since grade school will be in touch. Ex-girlfriends, former colleagues… even people you felt never wanted to talk to you again. The influx of interest in your seemingly fading life will be greater than any living moment you have ever experienced. That support is what will shift a fading life into a surviving one. Be grateful for every message. Be appreciative of each gift and each visit. There will be moments where all of this attention will make you feel lonelier than you have ever felt in your life. In a hospital room full of people with messages stuffing your inbox, voicemail and mailbox you will find yourself feeling completely alone. This is when you will realize that you could afford to have a stronger relationship with yourself. That only you walk this earth with 100% investment in you. Make the investment and use this as an opportunity to reexamine your self-worth. Love yourself more than ever and recognize how much love there is for you in the world. Then start sharing that love. You will come to see that even when you are the neediest person you know you can still be giving. Giving will make you feel better than taking.

When you get to the other side you won’t believe it. They will tell you the disease is gone. Everyone you know will rejoice and return back to their lives. You’ll constantly wonder if it is coming back. Slowly this feeling will fade, but cancer will always be a part of you. It will define how you see the world moving forward. You’re going to feel like the future is a funny thing to think about because the present is going to suddenly seem incredibly important. Keep moving. You’ll be more productive. You’ll understand who truly loves you because they will still be there. You’ll want to meet new people that connect to the newly evolved version of your old self. You’ll want to let go of those that don’t “get” who you are now. You’ll feel a little guilty doing it. Then, you’ll move on. You don’t have time to waste. The greatest gift you’ve been given is that you now understand that and you’re going to make the most of every second. You’re going to be the most passionate person you know going forward. Translate that passion to a greater purpose. Be fearless again.

I was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 27. Now 28, I have been told I have no trace of the disease in my body.

Jeff Tomczek is a freelance writer and the founder of C2Bseen, offering consulting services to niche brands and entrepreneurs.

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From the Cleveland Clinic: 6 Things To Do When Diagnosed with Cancer

6 Things To Do When Diagnosed With Cancer

Several steps will help you cope with this life-altering event

By  | 5/18/12 4:50 p.m.
A diagnosis of cancer is a life-altering event. Dale Shepard, MD, PhD, of Cleveland Clinic’s Taussig Cancer Institute offers tips on the actions to take when you or a loved one is diagnosed with cancer.

1. Get a second opinion

It’s important for you and your family to be comfortable with the physician, the choice of therapy, and the treatment facility. A second opinion can ensure that you are well informed as you start treatment and may prevent apprehension later about whether you received the proper care.

2. Ask questions

Your oncologist has treated hundreds of patients with cancer, but this is likely your first time with this diagnosis. Too often, patients don’t ask questions because they assume there are things they should already know or that their question will be answered later. Asking questions helps you get the information that is important to you and ensures the oncologist that you are informed about your disease and treatment. Everyone benefits from your questions.

3. Remember what you’ve heard

A diagnosis of cancer is overwhelming to most patients and details from the initial visits with the oncologist may be lost due to the volume of new or difficult to understand information. Bring a family member or friend to your appointments to help remember what was discussed. It’s a good idea to take notes or to ask your oncologist to record your appointment to review later.

4. Use the Internet responsibly

There may be a period of time between a biopsy showing cancer and an initial appointment with an oncologist to review the diagnosis and develop a treatment plan. Many patients are eager to learn more about their cancer and turn to the Internet. While this can be a good source of information if the proper sites are reviewed, blogs and message boards sometimes provide inaccurate information and lead to unnecessary anxiety.

5. Understand the goal of your cancer treatment

Treatment for cancer can be given to cure disease, to prevent disease recurrence or to minimize symptoms of disease and prolong survival. Too often, patients in clinic for a second opinion don’t understand what treatment was initially recommended or the goals of that therapy. They may have metastatic disease and incorrectly assume that chemotherapy is likely to cure them. Knowing the goals of therapy will allow you to understand more about your disease and treatment and can minimize future frustration.

6. Tell others about your cancer

Patients benefit from good social support as they go through treatment. You should tell your family and friends so they can help you in what can be a difficult time. Some patients don’t want to burden those around them, but this is a disease that affects them too. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others for help and support.

Tags: cancerdiagnosis

I pray you and I will never need to know this.  Laura

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