The minute we are diagnosed with cancer, our lives change forever. It's as though our internal clock is reset, and we start the process of living anew. Naturally, the first weeks or months require a significant adjustment in our routines, often challenging not only how we acknowledge and combat our disease, but how we see life itself and our uncertain futures.
Being told I had breast cancer was a punch in the gut for me (or the left breast to be precise), but the significance of that pronouncement had ramifications beyond my initial shock of being unwell. The relative rarity of breast cancer in males did little to boost my expectations for a positive outcome. There was a lot of confusion over how to treat men. Do we treat them differently? Do they respond to the same protocols prescribed for women? Even five years ago, when my own life-changing moment arrived, there were far more questions than answers.
So, I began to develop a daily routine to aid me in my life-long effort to keep cancer from returning – or at the very least, to give me some tools for coping. It's important, after all, to keep our stress and anxiety to a minimum, since we already have a lot to challenge our sanity. My hope is that this blueprint for living day to day will be helpful to others as well.
I try to wake up every morning with an affirmation of a very positive, cancer-free future. It takes but a moment to look at the day ahead, be grateful that I survived the night (I'm really not trying to be dramatic here) and have another day to be amazed at the world around me.
I also take a moment to send a healing thought out to all of my male breast cancer brothers who are newly diagnosed – only about seven each day in the U.S. compared to the estimated 826 women diagnosed with breast cancer every 24 hours, based on the expected annual numbers from the American Cancer Society.
None of this takes more than a minute or two.
And once I'm out of bed and my day begins in earnest, I make certain to exercise and get moving in one way or another. I'm a senior with two full-knee replacements, a double hernia repair, multiple root canals, a kidney stone and, dare I forget, breast cancer – all in the last five years. I bring this up because I know lots of folks with varying degrees of cancer who can't "get out" and exercise, so I want to make a point that "working out" should never mean more than you have available to work with. You don't have to run a marathon to say you've exercised. Perhaps a stroll in the neighborhood will do. If you're in need of a walker or wheel chair, some simple arm movements and good, deep breathing may be your form of exercise.
I've always thought that if I were confined in bed at the end of my life, I would run in my dreams. I believe that when we stop moving, we stop living. But movement can take many forms. Find the form that works for you.
I also make sure that I have an opportunity to listen to music every day, and I always take time to play with my two cats. What if you don't have cats? Perhaps you don't even like cats? In that case, why not be amazed and inspired by the natural world all around us. The cycle of life, including our own, is a wondrous experience when we just take a moment to see it.
And finally, I write about cancer. Every day. Granted, this is my own thing, but if you can think about your own narrative with regard to cancer, perhaps in a daily journal, some insights may appear. A few daily affirmations may make your day a little easier. Ultimately the goal, as I see it, is simply to live minute by minute and to remain engaged with your life and not your cancer.