Coping with Cancer Worry and Life

Breast cancer and melanoma survivor shares coping tools that help her.

Even before cancer survivorship, I think I had — and still have – a heart prone to angst and a mind prone to worry. When I ponder where this came from, I recall childhood images of seeing my dad sighing or stomping his feet while sitting in his chair in my childhood living room, or me in my childhood bed having panic attacks without knowing that is what they were even called.

At this point in life, the origin may be mostly irrelevant. When I feel angst, I try to mentally repeat something my long-time friend Laura taught me: Sometimes everything is OK. Sometimes everything is OK. Sometimes everything is OK. It is a truth. It doesn’t say everything is wonderful or perfect. It says, yes, there are moments, regardless of how I may feel and regardless of what worrisome thoughts may pop into my head, when everything is OK. The sky isn’t falling in that moment.

Sometimes my feelings, my poor weary feelings, want to convince me that things are worse than they really are. God bless Laura for handing me a rope to grab under those circumstances. Sometimes everything is OK. Feelings are just feelings.

Over the years, I have learned there are other ropes available for me to grab. Healthy eating: This helps me to not mess up my blood sugar with sugar bursts and crashes. Healthy movement: This provides an outlet for energy and then a calming centeredness afterwards. Mindfulness meditation: This was taught to me by my oncology psychotherapist to help me slow and calm my frightening thoughts that wanted to run rampant in my mind during cancer treatment. I learned to pick a sense and spend several minutes focusing just on the input from that sense instead of letting my thoughts just jump around monkey-brain style.

All of these tools are helpful. Frankly, they help me and they also help me from “acting out” and being difficult to the people around me, the people I love. I wish I had learned some of these tools sooner. I am in my 50s. I don’t feel old. I don’t feel mature.

My 84-year-old mom says she feels about 19. When I look into my aging dog’s eyes, I still see the puppy inside. To me, these observations are worrisome. They are testimony to the reality that we don’t become magically ready to age or to suffer tragedy or even to die when the time comes.

It would be magical thinking to think I will some day feel magically ready for life. The time to work on life coping skills is now, especially as a cancer survivor. The time to increase the tools or ropes available to me and to use them when I need them is now. What ropes do you grab when life is difficult? Please share. We can all help each other and learn from each other that way.