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Don't Let Cancer Take Control

Taking back control of your life with small wins.
PUBLISHED June 16, 2017
Ryan Hamner is a four-time survivor of Hodgkin lymphoma, a musician and a writer. In 2011, he wrote and recorded, "Where Hope Lives" for the American Cancer Society and the song for survivors, "Survivors Survive" used in 2015 for #WorldCancerDay. Currently, he operates his website for those affected by cancer, 2surviveonline.com and drinks a ridiculous amount of coffee per day.
One of my biggest issues over the years in dealing with cancer and other health issues has been the sense of losing control of my life. One minute I’m living the good life with a job I like, friends and have the ability to do whatever I want, whenever I want; and the next minute I can’t even go see a movie because my blood counts are too low. Then there’s always the worry in the back of my mind of what the future holds. Will I be hospitalized with an infection? Will I need to change up my chemo regimen? Will I get more bad news?

As a result of all of this, I have experienced anxiety, depression and again, that feeling of being out of control. So, what can be done about this?

In the book, The Power of Habits, Charles Duhigg talks about "small wins" as a way to improve not only mood, but the actual production of dopamine in the brain. Small wins like simply making your bed every morning to improving your posture can help improve your mood—they are considered “small wins.”

"I love the ‘small wins’ idea! You can 'do one thing different,' and reap outsized rewards," as counselor Bill O’Hanlon is quoted saying on the PsychologyToday.com website.

For me, small wins have helped me tremendously through extremely tough times. One problem I always had was that my head was like soup, constantly being stirred, on a boat, in a hurricane... if you can imagine that. I had so many thoughts and they were all totally unorganized. For me, my small win here was to simply keep lists of things I needed to get done. For each item I could check off of the list, that was a small win for me.

In 1998, when I had to have my bone marrow transplant, I knew I wouldn’t have the ability to lift weights for several weeks. I wasn’t the biggest guy on the planet, or even in the room, by any stretch, but I loved lifting weights because of how they made me feel and I didn’t want to stop lifting. I had to do something. So, I turned the situation into a small win. The small win came from taking five-pound weights to the hospital with me. Yes, I said five-pound weights. By simply doing “a routine” of sorts, I felt that I was achieving something. I definitely wasn’t achieving large amounts of muscle mass, but the very, very, small workouts were helping me get that win I needed. The ironic thing is, at the time, I wasn’t even aware of the “small win” concept. It wasn’t until years later that I read about it and realized what I had been doing, I was winning big in a serious of small victories.

If you are feeling a bit out of control because of cancer or cancer related issues, I'd suggest giving the small win strategy a chance. You might be surprised at how well it can work for you.
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