How to deal with a cancer diagnosis

I am a cancer survivor. I was diagnosed with the disease in March 2005.

As I was getting good test results last week – my CAT scan was all clear – I received emails from two friends. One was also diagnosed with cervical cancer with additional tumours in her ovaries. She is having her tubes and ovaries removed and being scheduled for radiation and chemotherapy treatment. My other friend let me know her mother has been diagnosed with cancer on her gall bladder that has spread to her liver and intestines. She is undergoing surgery at this moment.

What struck me was that even though I am out of the woods with my own cancer and feel fit and healthy, others are just starting their journey. I realised what I went through and what I learned might be of use to others. If you have been diagnosed with cancer recently, or have a loved one who has, then this article is for you.

My story

I was diagnosed in March 2005 with cervical cancer, just 4 days after getting engaged. The treatment recommended initially was a full hysterectomy. Luckily there was a new surgery called a radical trachelectomy available to younger women who wanted to maintain fertility. This involved the removal of the cervix, but left the uterus and ovaries – most of the reproductive equipment. Of the 100 or so women who have had the surgery about 70% were able to conceive and deliver, through caesarean section. So baby-making is still possible for me, though I am not yet out of the 2 year clearing time the doctor recommended.

After surgery they discovered additional tumours in the lymph nodes they removed. The doctors recommended four courses of chemotherapy, cysplatin to be precise, just to be sure that they knock any remaining cancer on its head. Cysplatin is a pretty heavy drug, and had some serious effects – I felt nauseous and horrible for a good ten days after each round. My last treatment was on August 8th 2005.

I ran a marathon 7 months later. This sounds surreal to me now, but at the time, running a marathon was exactly what I needed for a new focus on living and life. However, dealing with a diagnosis was the first step. It is my intention that this article and the accompanying audio helps anyone else who is facing a diagnosis get through the first few weeks.

Here is a whole bunch of stuff you can do and think and experience to help you – pick what feels right to you. The first thing to do is to try and reduce all the stress in your life as much as possible. You need to be calm, relaxed to cope with what is ahead of you. How to cope? First of all, know that as long as you are breathing, you are OK. Start from there.

Breathe. Affirm you are alive and you are OK. Breathe. Eat right. I saw a nutritionist very soon after my diagnosis. I already had a pretty good diet: I was a vegetarian and a runner, but knew that I wanted to do everything I could to promote healing. It also gave me some sort of control over the process as my life got taken over by medical appointments, test results, and treatments.

Eat plenty of fresh fruit and veggies. Eliminate anything that is a stressor on your system – reduce or eliminate alcohol, sugar, cigarettes, and caffeine. See a nutritionist or go to a health food store for which vitamins to take. Extra doses of Vitamin B, C, selenium, were all good for me. Make sure you consult a professional for the correct dosages.

Exercise. Keep your body moving gently as much as you are able with your surgery and treatments. Gentle stretching is good – keep connected to your body. Exercise helps the lymph system to operate, helps the lungs and heart to do their jobs and pump out toxins. It also helps you connect with your body, to feel alive. Movement gives you energy as well.

Meditate. Before I was diagnosed with cancer, I always knew that meditation was supposed to be good for you, but I never did anything about it. Willing to give everything a go to promote my healing, I started meditating. This was such a blessing -it helped me release a lot of emotional stress and I felt so calm and relaxed and peaceful afterwards. You can use relaxation tapes, or meditation CDs, whether this is just nice music, or a guided visualisation, or just lying down and relaxing. The idea is to center yourself and calm yourself down – feel connected to the source of life energy that is in all of us, in all of the world around us.

Visualise. This was a great way to stay focussed. After surgery I could barely walk two steps, whereas the week before I had run 38km. This could have discouraged me, but instead I chose to focus on what I wanted my body to do for me. I imagined myself running again, feeling fit, free, and full of energy. This helped me get out of bed every day and shuffle a few more feet down the corridor. Even though my current body was not capable of much, in my mind’s eye I felt myself running and bounding about the hills, feeling full of life. Every day I got stronger, and every day I visualised my body the way I intended to be. Like I said, 7 months later I ran a marathon.

Read some good books. One of the first things I did was go to the bookstore. I wanted to educate myself about my disease and learn from people who had gone through similar experiences. I bought a ton of books on how to heal yourself, cancer journeys etc. The best ones I found were Lance Armstrong’s “It’s Not About the Bike,” Brandon Bays’s “The Journey,” Louise Hay’s “You Can Heal Your Life,” Paul Kraus’s “Living with Cancer,” Petrea King’s “Quest for Life,” Petrea King’s “Your Life Matters.” Each of these had something different to teach me. Just go to the bookstore and go the health section or self-help section and buy the books that appeal to you.

Get a massage, often. Massage is another way to relax and helps the body to heal itself by moving fluid, lymph, and releasing stored emotional energy. You can also use another type of healing energy practitioner – maybe a kinesiologist, or cranial sacral therapist, or reiki practitioner. Find someone you trust and enjoy. The whole point is to feel good.

Use a Journal. There is so much that goes on in your head and heart with a cancer diagnosis. Some of it you may want to share, and a lot you probably do not. In any case, purging your head and heart of the all the thoughts that are going around and around and screaming at you inside your head allows you to release a lot of energy and turmoil. Write everything you feel and think down. The worst thing you can do is let it all run around in your head – this makes everything worse. Writing gives a relief and a release to your thoughts and emotions. Get them out – let them go.

Let people know what is going on. People who love you want to help. They really do. Tell them how to – to call you if you want to talk, to visit. Let their love in to your life – let them bring flowers, cookies, books – whatever – feel their love and appreciation of you. Be grateful for all of this.

Feel Gratitude. The moment I started to look around and appreciate what I saw and experienced, then my cancer journey started to change for me. It happened when I was going through chemotherapy. I had a lot of time at home on my own. I looked out the window every day and just watched the sunlight on the trees. Then the sky. Then the birds. And I started to feel grateful for seeing them, and having the time to appreciate them. Then I started to think about all the wonderful things that happened to me, all the beautiful people in my life, all the great adventures I had had. And I started to feel this amazing flood of good feelings. I started to realise that cancer had opened me up to all this wonderful good stuff that had been there all along, but I had not necessarily appreciated before. Then I started to feel grateful for all the things cancer was doing for me: it allowed me to slow down and take a time out for six months, it allowed me to really choose how I wanted to live going forward, it helped me clarify what was most important to me. I realised that it was a terrific gift. The process was arduous, and yet the gifts were golden. Practice and feel grateful for the little and big things. Notice the beauty around you. Notice the sunlight on the trees. Be grateful for that. Find joy and delight in the life around you.

Stop doing anything that does not support you. Stop doing things that are ‘shoulds’ in your life. Do only what gives you pleasure and joy.

Watch funny movies. Laugh your guts out. Rent all the Leslie Neilsen (Police Academy) etc. you can handle. Laugh laugh laugh! Laughter actually produces some chemicals in your body that promote healing. It also feels really really good.

Get yourself a copy of the Secret DVD – available at www.wildlywealthy.com in Australia and at amazon.com elsewhere. This is a VERY powerful movie. There is a woman on it who healed herself of breast cancer through self-love.

Don’t give up your doctors. As you embrace the healing journey you are on, take their form of healing along with the spiritual side of things. All forms of healing have a place and can help you to return to health. It is OK to be scared. It is OK to be sad. It is OK to be angry. Let yourself feel all of this and more – just let yourself feel. Let it pass through you and drain from you. It will leave you feeling purged and cleansed. Get in touch with who you really are – you are love and pure energy at the core. Feel that. Love that.

Cancer is not a death sentence – it is a call to live. It is a call for you to love yourself and to feel yourself healed from all your past wrongs, all your past regrets, all your past mistakes.

Cancer gives you permission to let go of all the crap in your life and acknowledge all of the good things. Cancer can be a gift for you, if you choose it to be so. Give yourself permission to take a break. Give yourself permission to slow right down, to pause, and to just simply be.

It is my sincere wish for you that you discover once more your joy, health, and love of life. I don’t know what will happen on your journey; no one knows how long each of us has, with cancer or without. The most important thing is that we savour it.

Remember, life is for living.

All good wishes for you.

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