Think of it as one of nature's ruthless tricks. When someone close to us has cancer, it can almost feel as though we share some symptoms of their disease. Whether it be our spouse, child, sibling, partner or life-long friend, cancer is a shared condition. It touches everyone who falls prey to its far-reaching and merciless embrace.
We can feel the anxiety that accompanies the unknown along with our partners, and the frustration of symptoms that ebb and flow. Our own sleep might be affected along with our ability to concentrate. Our expectations can be thwarted, and our hopes can be dashed. And fear of recurrence is a reality that cancer survivors and their caregivers face together.
I've seen both sides of cancer. My own wife died at the age of 47 from ovarian cancer, after several years of struggle. There were good days and there were agonizing days and the truth is, while she was in the hospital room having her lung tapped for the fifth time, allowing her to breathe a little easier, I was just outside the door, filled with anxious thoughts, pacing and even short of breath myself. I felt her pain. But not always, of course. We both learned to cope more efficiently as the months wore on, thanks in large part to our practice of meditation and a better understanding of the medicine and the treatments that were being employed. We learned to inject our days with humor and laughter too, and we accepted the assistance from many people who wanted to help us but weren't quite sure how to do so.
Today, my own male breast cancer diagnosis has forced its way into the lives of my family and friends, but I've learned a few lessons along the way to make it easier for all of us.
So here are a few tips that I hope you'll find useful in your personal cancer experience. None of them are terribly surprising or revolutionary but I've noticed, in my own expedition through cancer, that it's easy to forget all of the positive options that are there for us when things get stressful.
Remember that just as the stressful moments can challenge both of you (or in a family, all of you), the positive reports, the peaceful hours and the good days can be shared by all. In my experience, there were far more up days than down ones.
Accept the assistance from friends when they offer it. It helps them to cope too. During the long months that my wife was confined in our rural home and unable to get around, a group of neighbors would regularly come over to clean our house and send me away to hike through our Oregon wilderness with instructions that I was not to return until dinner time. Of course, when I was finally allowed back into the house, a wonderful meal had been prepared for us by these same caring friends, and I had connected with nature and found a bit of rest.
Find that sense of humor of yours. It may not always be easy to spot, but it's there, lurking behind the stress that goes along with any cancer condition.
Exercise and get outside if you can possibly find a way. Again, this is wonderful medicine for all who are affected by your cancer.
And finally, consider helping another cancer survivor in some manner. Those of us with cancer are many, though I always hate to say it. And someone newly diagnosed is looking for your assistance, your story, your advice, your knowledge and your smile right now.
And after all is said and done, perhaps there is nothing better to ease your own cancer pain than finding a way to lessen it for someone else.