Learning to Reframe Empowers Me to as I Live With Chronic Cancer


After being diagnosed with an incurable cancer, I had to reframe my thinking to focus on the positive.

cartoon drawing of blogger and SLL survivor, Linda Cohen

I figured I had two choices after I heard, “Your cancer is incurable.” And of course, those were the only words that I initially heard shouted at me.I didn’t hear, “But you can live with it for a long time.”

I had to decide to either live with my chronic, indolent cancer or whine and fret about it. In an article entitled, “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy,” which is a compilation reviewed by the staff of the Psychology Today journal, cognitive behavioral therapy(CBT) recommends that a patient identifies the challenge and then consciously focuses on how the response can be changed in a positive way.

I don’t want to mislead you. It took me time to get here and I had to learn to reframe what I was hearing. I had to first educate myself and I had to refocus. I had to reframe how lucky I was that my small lymphocytic lymphoma was slow-growing and lots of research was just on the horizon. The doctor told me, “If you can make it 10 years, there will be new treatments that will extend your life even longer.” So, that became my goal.

It has now been 13 years and I have such gratitude that I made it past that 10-year mark. I am thankful that I chose not to live with this cloud looming over me every day. How much of my life would have been wasted, if I did?

After IV antibody treatments, radiation to soft tissues on my face invaded by lymphocytes, immunoglobulin infusions every four weeks foreverand now a BTK inhibitor which is an oral drug,I had to use my reframing method or else. Each time I had to allow myself time to get over the shock of hearing what I had to do next. Then, I pushed myself to consciously focus on all the new medical advances available to me since my diagnosis. I was thankful for the “normal” life I was able to live.

This didn’t just happen. It took practice. It took gratitude practice — which can really help everyone, cancer patient or not.

I recently had tear duct surgery for a chronic infection. I had to plan accordingly. This surgery causes a lot of bleeding, as does my oral drug. Consequently, I had to stop it for a week prior as well as after surgery. This surgery was originally scheduled for this past October. I had already stopped my medication, but days before, my surgeon had a medical emergency and had to cancel. Even though I was only off of the medication or a few days, I was hesitant to begin the oral chemo again because I felt anxious about possibly having the same initial side effects that I originally had. Thankfully, I was fine.

After the surgery was rescheduled, I knew it was time to consciously reframe again. I needed to give this latest challenge the psychological energy to step back and force myself to see the positives in this situation. It is inconvenient to always have to do this, but I know it helps me.I needed to remind myself that this medicine has been a miracle drug for me. I needed to have gratitude for my doctor’s expertise and his advice for the surgery to be successful. I was more concerned this time because I was without my cancer medicine for longer and I did have side effects this time. I knew, however, I would get through it as I did before. In the end, this oral chemo has been a game changer for me, so whatever I had to go through, I already knew it would be worth it.

I learned to get into the habit of reframing after hearing a lecture by Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski. I wanted to share this method of cognitively identifying each challenge and then consciously empowering myself to change my response so that it had a positive spin. I have found this process to be invaluable because it works for me. I guess the goal is to find what will work for you so that you’ll continue to have hope and always try to see the glass at least half full.

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