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Coping With Mental Health During a Cancer Diagnosis


image of mindfulness

I have recently published my memoir, “Coloring Outside the Lines, Surviving and Thriving with Cancer for 30+ Years.” The first paragraph of the introduction reads:

This is a cancer memoir, but it’s not a story of how I became cancer free, because I didn’t. My first cancer diagnosis was in 1989. I’ve had three primary cancers—breast cancer in both breasts and ocular melanoma—and more recurrences than I can count. I’ve had breast cancer metastasized to my lungs since 2011. Essentially, cancer has been a chronic illness for me for over thirty years. My story is about living fully and thriving with cancer.

In 1989 I was working in the furniture store my husband and I owned. It was his dream, not mine. I wanted to use my talents and gifts in a way that would benefit others. A diagnosis of cancer woke me up. It brought me back to my center and to the importance of belonging to something larger than myself. I feel that my cancer diagnosis was an answer to my prayer, “Lord make me an instrument.” I needed that wake-up call to get back on my true path and experience a meaningful purpose in life.

Before I joined my husband in the furniture business, I was the director of the Center for Health Awareness and was teaching mind-body health seminars to nurses. I knew there was more to healing than chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. These treatments apply only to the physical body and I knew I was more than a body.

When I was diagnosed with cancer, I looked for resources to heal the whole person. When I couldn’t find them, I created them. I designed a conference called “Cancer as a Turning Point, From Surviving to Thriving “™ and formed a non-profit, Healing Journeys, as a vehicle to produce it.

My ongoing cancer experience kept me always looking for new treatments, both conventional and integrative. The conference gave me a platform to present these resources to thousands of people, many of whom have told me the conference saved their lives.

Over a 25 year period, we offered that conference 37 times around the country, benefitting more than 25,000 people. It was the most satisfying career I could imagine, and I was definitely an instrument used to benefit others. It wouldn’t have happened without my cancer diagnosis.

Having such a strong purpose for living, and experiencing all the synchronicities supporting this purpose, reminded me I belong to something larger than myself. I think this is the key to my being mostly calm and accepting during my years of living with cancer.

Spirituality and my connection to the Divine has been a driving force in enabling me to thrive with cancer for over thirty years. A way of explaining this that resonates with me is that I have a finite self and an Infinite Self. My Infinite self is the individual called Jan who functions in daily life. My Infinite Self is my connection to something larger than myself. It is my spiritual Self. When the finite and the Infinite selves are in alignment, this is my superpower. The Infinite me has all knowingness, is not afraid and is at peace. The Infinite me isn’t anxious waiting for test results. The Infinite me doesn’t panic when cancer marker numbers go up.

The trick is not to let finite events eclipse the Infinite. I’m not saying this is easy to do. The world around us addresses only the finite self, and reminds us constantly of all the bad things that can happen and how much we need to be afraid. I have to consciously make an effort to stay in the peace of the Infinite Self. There are many tools that help me—deep breathing, meditation, prayer, nature, laughter, music, quiet and remembering my purpose in life.

I can stay in an attitude of gratitude if I believe anything that washes up on my beach (even cancer) is for my good. Things don’t happen to me. They happen for me. I may not immediately see the goodness in an event or a diagnosis, but I know my finite viewpoint is limited. I trust that the goodness is there and I look for it.

My spiritual life is an essential part of what has allowed me to live with cancer for over thirty years. Prayer, meditation and daily reading of spiritual texts, along with a connection to a spiritual community, are all crucial components of keeping my spirit enlivened, my attitude optimistic and my body healthy.

This post was written and submitted by a CURE reader. The article reflects the views the author and not of CURE®. This is also not supposed to be intended as medical advice.

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