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Anything that got in the way of my healing from cancer had to be put on hold.
As I’ve had a chance to reflect over my cancer fighting journey, one idea that’s stood out is just how much untethered acceptance has served me.
In 2016, I was only 30 years old when diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare and aggressive bone cancer. It’s not that young, but it’s young for cancer. I didn’t really know anyone else who had been affected— no one around my age, at least.
The whole thing just felt so crazy, and one of my first moves was to begin sharing everything about the experience over a blog. I was an open book every step of the way, even in random day-to-day interactions, like when strangers or cab drivers would ask why I had a cane. I just brought up the C word and laid it all out.
I was fortunate that this vulnerability and openness paid dividends. The more I shared, the more support and encouragement I received. My friends and family rallied around me with generous donations and constant check-ins to give me emotional boosts during a brutal treatment schedule. It also provided a cathartic release, which I believe played a significant role in my healing.
I didn’t know any different, but as I’ve met more cancer fighters, I’ve learned that many others prefer their privacy. I was recently talking to a fellow cancer fighter who’d heard about me turning my health around after receiving a less than 10% survival rate, and this person wanted to pick my brain.
At one point, I asked about her diet and sleep schedules, and she explained that they’d taken a bit of a hit due to some other personal and family obligations. Then, when I asked if she had considered asking people in her network for support — after all, she’s fighting cancer— she mentioned that she hadn’t really shared the news with others.
This was obviously a very different experience than in my case, so I asked what was holding her back. She explained that in her larger circle, another friend recently had cancer, and everyone acted weird and seemed to offer pity, which she didn’t want to deal with. Plus, she took pride in fulfilling some of these family obligations. They were part of her larger values.
These are totally valid concerns. Some friends and family aren’t properly equipped to handle such unsettling news. Relationships may change and it may be really uncomfortable.It’s also traumatizing in itself to acknowledge the reality of cancer out loud.
But coming from a place of love, I told her that, in my opinion, I believed this approach may be holding her back. Keeping such an exhausting secret can lead to emotional blockage. It also seemed like she may not have fully accepted the magnitude of what she was up against. Which is OK, by the way. A cancer diagnosis is incredibly shocking and stressful. Especially if you aren’t given an encouraging outlook.
However, I explained that, in my case, since there are never any guarantees with cancer, fear fueled me to do everything possible within my control. I viewed treatment as a (hopefully) temporary period where I had to devote 100% to healing. This wasn’t about pride. This was about being around for family and friends; being around for myself and having a chance to dream and plan a future again.
Part of that involved optimizing the few things I could control, such as diet, exercise, sleep, stress management, being around positive people with loving energy, etc. For any cancer fighters with questions or just needing to vent, you can shoot me a note at email@example.com and I’m always looking to help the community.
Keep in mind, when your schedule has too many non-healing activities, it’s the little things that continuously steal your time and energy — decisions on outfits and setting aside time to get ready, navigating meals on the go, stressful traffic that can derail your emotional state, etc. Next thing you know, you’re getting home later, having later meals which throw off your sleep quality and you’re getting to bed later which reduces your recovery.
We have limited time, energy and capacity to begin with, and as important as family, work or other personal obligations may be, my stance had been — especially when there was active cancer in my body — anything that got in the way of my healing efforts had to be put on hold.
Simply put: health comes first. End of story.
During my lowest moments in treatment, it made my wife and I cringe to accept so many favors from others. Receiving without being able to give back went against our nature. However, thanks to all the support, I managed to turn my health around, and now after years of rebuilding, my wife and I have found ourselves in a position to give back tenfold. Especially as friends and family have been hit directly and indirectly with their own devastating cancer experiences, it’s such a great feeling to be able to reciprocate with advice and support.
I understand not everyone can put the rest of their life on hold for a million different reasons. And that every situation is different. Also, sharing the news with others can be draining on many levels. But clearing non-essential tasks and projects off your plate, and leaning on support during this (again, hopefully temporary) critical time while fighting active cancer can make a big difference.
Rather than getting caught up in the initial discomfort of revealing your diagnosis, think about what your friends and colleagues will be saying down the line when you're the inspiration who turned their health around and now gets to give back to others.
I’ll tell you from my experience, it’s a pretty damn good feeling.