Hope for the Best as a Cancer Patient and Survivor


Cancer survivor encourages fellow survivors to cultivate hope to improve their survivorship time.

"Prepare for the worst and hope for the best." That is what my grandfather, who lived to be 99, would say. Live life; don't wait for the other shoe to drop. As a two-time cancer survivor and a bit of an organizer and planner (OK, let's call it perfectionist), I tend to focus on the first half of that message. It may be just as important, if not more important, to focus on the second half, "Hope for the best." Keep positive expectations. This is especially true once you find yourself to be a cancer patient and survivor. For many of us who are worriers and dare to think we are in control of our lives, this can be a daunting shift, but it is very important. Cultivate and keep hope.

Working to focus on positive thoughts can help you, even if you are a glass-is-half-empty sort like me. Cancer treatment time and the waiting and watching time beyond active treatment will happen with or without a positive attitude. It will be a more productive and pleasant time spent for you if you can try to keep a positive mental spin on it. Every day you are moving forward through the cancer process. Live in the moment. Practice gratitude. Take a breath. Try to appreciate even the small things.

Know, too that your attitude, on days when it is impossible to be positive, will not hurt your survival. According to the American Cancer Society, your attitude will not affect your treatment outcome (https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-basics/attitudes-and-cancer.html). Your negative or sad thoughts will not make the cancer grow or come back!

Believe that the people around you, though they may not understand your cancer experience, have your best interests at heart. Most people around a cancer survivor want to help, and often they just don't know how to say or do the right thing. Assume that the intention of what they say and do is caring, even if there are times it may not feel that way. Awkward! Look past the words to the intent.

A positive attitude helps the people around you too. Cancer stinks. No doubt about it. And, you have the opportunity to model, even if you aren't always feeling it, a grateful and forward-looking attitude. I am not saying never cry or be down. That would be impossible. I am saying consider trying to use cancer sometimes as an opportunity to be your best self. Make lemonade from lemons in the moments that you can. We are all here to help each other.

Make it a goal to do more than survive. Make an effort to thrive. The effort will be worth it for you and for everyone around you. You will have good days and some pretty awful days. Still, looking back as an eight-year survivor, there are some ways I wish I had tried harder — for my own sake and for the people around me, to create more good days. Happiness is an inside job even with a cancer diagnosis, maybe especially with a cancer diagnosis.

How do you choose to play the cancer waiting and watching game? Eight years out, I wish I had spent more time living life and less time waiting on life. How about for you?

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Dr. Kelly Stratton
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