Editor’s Note: This piece was submitted by a contributing writer and does not represent the views of CURE Media Group. With a cancer diagnosis, your “normal” life is literally taken from you. It’s disheartening, demoralizing and makes you want to curse, scream and break things. However, I don’t suggest that you grab the lamp next to you and toss it into the wall. Although, I imagine it might actually relieve some stress. (Another option is to start with something less damaging, like a pillow.)
Really though, how frustrating and depressing is it to have to totally change your life and your schedule because of some crazy cells in your body that got out of control and decided to multiply like bunny rabbits? Maybe you used to train hard at the gym to feel good, but now you can’t. Maybe you used to have a blog about cooking, but now you can’t blog because your medicine is sending your brain into a tailspin – and, if you did try to write, you might start off intending to write about a recipe for meatloaf, but end up with a recipe on chocolate meat cake! You might have simply liked to hang out with friends, play cards, watch football and be social. Now however, you can’t, because your friends might have a cold and you can’t be around them. You’re too tired to play cards. Watching football is confusing because you keep forgetting (chemobrain) who is playing and if teams win by touchdowns or homeruns – and, as far as being social, simply being tired can sometimes be enough for those who don’t understand to accuse you of being anti-social. Sometimes though, feeling tired has nothing to do with it; sometimes you really don’t like the person you won’t talk to. That’s OK.
Am I griping here? Absolutely. So what can be done to combat the major changes, negative feelings and depression that comes with being both a cancer patient and a cancer survivor? Well, here is what I have done – and it has helped. One day I started asking myself, “Ryan, when was the best time in your life? When did you feel the best?” (There’s nothing wrong with talking to yourself – and answering back.) Ironically, my happiest times were in the 80s? What? That’s when I was having treatments and surgeries all the time! But you know, I never lie to myself. Regardless of what was going on in the 80s with my health, I was also going fishing with my granddaddy. I was listening to my favorite 80s music, playing Atari, watching “Star Wars” and every other 80s movie you can think of. It was great! These things made me feel good. So, how in the heck could being a kid in the 80s help with how I felt years later as a patient/survivor? As it turns out, I was unable to find access to a wormhole to revisit those times when the “Dukes of Hazzard” and the “A-Team” were an everyday event, but I could reproduce those great feelings from years ago, easily.
No, I’m not obsessive about the 80s (I have a Darth Vader in my living room), but I do things, listen to music, watch movies and collect reminders of a time when I was really happy – the 80s. When I listen to one of my favorite 80’s songs like, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears, I’m reminded of that “totally awesome” time when my granddaddy picked me up from school in his vintage Corvette with the radio on. Or, when I simply drink coffee out of my Darth Vader coffee cup, I remember the good times I had going to the movies with my cousins to see "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back." And, when I see anything in the news about Kim Basinger, well, I’m reminded of that time my mom caught me watching that one movie and put me on “G.I. Joe restriction” for a week.
Is this all a ridiculous and absurd approach to combatting feeling down, hopeless and depressed? Maybe. But it’s also a lot cheaper than antidepressants and a good way to remind yourself of great times in your life—a way to recreate those healthy and positive feelings that you so desperately need sometimes. It may also keep you from having to buy a new lamp. Stay strong, be happy and “use the force!”
Ryan Hamner is a musician and 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.