Few words pack so much punch as this one: Cancer.
When you sit in your doctor’s office and hear “cancer,” your life changes.
“A cancer diagnosis can be traumatic, devastating,” said Jozie Allen, LCSW, a counselor with OSF Cancer Support Services. “Initially, there’s shock, fear, anxiety; all of these thoughts are swirling around.”
You can’t control your diagnosis. But it’s important to realize you can control your ultimate reaction. How you come to terms with your diagnosis can affect your treatment decisions and quality of life.
Look for the silver linings
The good news is that cancer treatments continue to improve. Cancer survivors all around us live productive lives. You can, too.
“We encourage people to look for the silver lining and be positive,” Jozie said. “Obtain whatever information is necessary for you to make informed decisions and reduce your anxiety. Once you know more, you can feel better about your treatment plan.”
Part of the process involves self-examination. What’s important to you? What are your priorities? What are your goals for your treatment and beyond? The better you know yourself, the better equipped you will be to deal with your cancer.
“Knowing your values, goals and priorities all help you make the treatment decisions that are best for you. That will give you a clear perspective on how to approach your treatment. It also can help motivate you for treatment.”
Cancer can be overwhelming
Even if your cancer is severe and your outlook is not good, you can control how best to proceed with what time you have left.
“Be clear to outline your desires, your thoughts on quality of life and what that means to you,” Jozie said. “Focus on the quality time you can have with loved ones. Think about how you want them to remember you and what kind of insights and lessons you want to leave them. Write them down.”
Decide what’s best for you
Another question you’ll face is how much you want to share with other people. Some people feel compelled to announce their diagnosis on social media and post regular updates. Other people don’t want anyone to know. Still others populate every inch of territory between those extremes.
Whatever you decide, make sure it’s what you want.
“I always tell people, ‘There is no right or wrong way to do this. There’s only the best way for you,’” Jozie said.
Jozie does offer a couple of important points to consider.
You should realize that other people are likely to find out, or at least suspect, what you’re dealing with. Maybe it’s because you are suddenly missing at work or from other social situations. Or they notice changes in your physical appearance, due to the nature of the disease and treatments. But they’ll know things are not what used to be normal.
The other point is you might require at least some level of assistance from loved ones – even if it’s as relatively simple as transportation.
“So I encourage people to tell loved ones who potentially provide care. And be prepared to answer questions if you encounter people you know. Outside of that, what you tell them or don’t tell them is completely up to you,” Jozie said.
Turn adversity to opportunity
Sharing your journey with trusted friends and loved ones can help you reduce anxiety, isolation and fear. Peer support groups reinforce the reality that you are not alone.
“I also think it’s important to mention the role spirituality plays,” Jozie said. “If somebody does have faith and belief in God, this is the time to really rely on that. Faith really does reduce a lot of the anxiety and bring peace when you are going through something traumatic.”
Jozie also advises looking at your situation as an opportunity to make positive changes in your lifestyle and habits.
“A cancer diagnosis will change you,” she said. “You can’t control that you have cancer, and you don’t have control over what happens to you during treatment. But the remainder, your survivorship, you have control over that.
“So find control over whatever you can. Set a daily routine. Keep a journal. Try to implement healthy lifestyle choices. Exercise as you can. Reassess your values and priorities. Take this opportunity to grab the bull by the horns and change your trajectory, wherever possible.”