Maybe part of it is the short, cloudy days and long, cold winter nights. Fellow cancer survivors, I must confess that I worry a lot. I think about my worries a lot. I focus on my fears. Too many of those fears are about the possibility of cancer returning and about death — my own and that of my loved ones. It really is not helpful, soothing or energizing to do this. In fact, it is time spent spinning my wheels when I could be doing other things. The things I could be doing instead just might be more productive or even just plain fun. I give myself permission to consider and reconsider the following thoughts to get out of my tailspin.
Not an instant death sentence. When first diagnosed with cancer over nine years ago, I thought and felt like it was an instant death sentence. Should I be a bit sheepish? The first diagnosis was breast cancer. The second diagnosis was an unrelated melanoma four years later. Last year was the discovery of my gene mutation called PALB2 that resulted in a prophylactic double mastectomy for me. And now? Now the doctors are monitoring intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasms in my pancreas that could turn cancerous. Still, life has gone on, for almost 10 years since my first diagnosis. I am still here. Hang onto your hope!
Treat the emotional effects of cancer. Do not blame yourself if you are struggling. Hang onto hope. Work to maintain optimism, which is an emotional state. Hope and optimism can be difficult due to the fear, anxiety and sometimes even post traumatic stress disorder, symptoms that a cancer diagnosis and its treatments can cause. I have always struggled to manage my anxiety, but lately it feels like there is a side of depression to it as well. It may be the life events of the last few years. It may be cancer PTSD, fear or stress. It may even be the short, cloudy days and long, cold nights. Rather than have my depression come out sideways at my loved ones, I am trying various options including adjusting my medications and trying a light box.
Keep the faith. I know this may not be for everyone. I know for me that my study of the bible and belief in God has helped me immensely for the past nine-and-a-half years. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight" (Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV). Did you notice it says straight, not smooth? Everyone struggles with bumps in the road. Everyone.
You are not alone. Cancer can sometimes feel lonely and isolating. Do not attempt to go through cancer alone. Reach out to loved ones, your faith support and others who are struggling through a cancer similar to yours. Facebook cancer-specific support groups, online organizations and the American Cancer Society phone support (1-800-227-2345) are available, too. Unfortunately, people are not psychic, so do make the effort to let them know what you are experiencing and to ask for help. Tell your doctors, too. I found this very hard to do with my depression, but once I started the process, things are beginning to improve. I feel my hope rising again.
Take a breath. At the moment, you are alive. Get help to cope with cancer's emotional effects. They are very real and can be very powerful. Turn to and grow your faith. And, always, always remember you are not alone. As I work to manage my emotional symptoms, I wish you a happy and cancer-free New Year and I hope these thoughts can help you generate some New Year's resolutions! Together, we can look forward to 2020.