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Cancer Beginners: Tips from a Two-Time Survivor


"I think I can, I think I can," says a two-time cancer survivor.

Often, success in life doesn’t come from intelligence or education or ability. It comes from stubbornness. I couldn’t think my way out of cancer no matter how much I desperately wanted a magic shortcut. I also didn’t have the magic ability to make my cancer go away. Cancer is a disease and I just had to work my way through it — first being diagnosed, then being treated for it and finally, ongoing survivorship. Can’t go over it, can’t go under it, can’t go around it ... just get through it.

Persistence was and continues to be the key for me. Patience was a skill I tried to develop along the way, too. I learned that patience goes well with persistence. Patience can be cultivated. I know I don’t come by it naturally! Breathe. With persistence being the key, I then had choices to make about how I go through cancer itself and then cancer survivorship, otherwise known to me as “wait and watch.”

For the first time, when diagnosed at age 46, I learned that life can throw some very major, very personal curve balls right at you. Fear for your own continued existence is a primal and intimate experience. At the time of diagnosis, you may think that cancer is just too big and that you just can’t get through it. A cancer diagnosis is a life changer. It is a major blow. Being persistent, getting answers, and developing a treatment plan is diagnosis-time persistence. Get help starting from this point forward. Don’t go it alone.

Treatment requires persistence too. Pain, discomforts, fears about surgery, chemotherapy, side effects, radiation and lack of sleep are some of the things that will try to plow you under. Dig in. One minute, one hour, one day at a time — be persistent. Muddle through. Just keep going. Stay in close communication with your medical team about what you are experiencing so they can help you through your treatment. Inform them about your side effects. Ask for help.

Finally, survivorship after treatment demands persistence. Realizing you can’t quite go back to old normal — discovering that monitoring appointments and tests and worries will continue, and that things have changed. Again, persistence. More time and distance away from diagnosis and active treatment and successful follow-up appointments will all help you along the way. Hang in there. Keep holding on. Move your life forward. Yes, you can. Yes, you can.

I also needed to practice persistence in working through all the cancer emotions — fear, anger, anxiety and stress, to name a few. Cancer is a deal changer. I needed persistence to expand the tools in my emotional tool bag — reaching out to my belief system, finding a cancer support group, having one-on-one contact with fellow survivors, locating a psychotherapist who was a good fit for me, and exploring medication, meditation, mindfulness and distraction, to name a few. I needed persistence to take the time and effort to learn and to use those new tools. You will work out what works best for you. You will learn your own coping tools with persistence. Hang in there. You will get through this.

Cancer diagnosis, treatment and survivorship are like getting through a marathon, not running a short sprint. Take it one step at a time. Take it moment by moment. Take a breath. Grow your persistence and patience one minute, one hour and one day at a time. Fellow survivors, please add what helped and helps you get through your cancer. Thank you!

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