Life With a Side of Cancer


Cancer is a nasty side dish, but don't let it spoil the main course: your life.

A good side dish enhances the main entrée, and a bad one can spoil it. Cancer is a bad side dish to be served, but it is just a side dish. Do not let cancer become your main course. Do not let cancer become your life. It is tempting to let the flavor of cancer impact the flavor of everything else on your plate — in your life. For a while, at the point of diagnosis and active treatment, that may happen. Still, it is important to push that flavor to the side as best you can and to focus on the main course - your life.

Cancer adds the flavors of mortality, medical worries, ongoing follow-up, cancer-related stress and fear of recurrence, just to name a few. The medical and psychiatric community are becoming better aware and more educated about addressing these concerns. In addition, there now are online support groups out there to help. You may find it helpful to do anything and everything you can to tone down this obnoxious and intrusive side issue to move forward in your life.

Don't let cancer wreck the main course and don't bring other bad side dishes to your plate. Cancer is a loss. Life losses tend to clump together and feed off of each other. When you mourn cancer, you may also find yourself mourning other losses in your life like unhappy relationships, career choices, financial problems, stressful situations, and even deaths that have happened around you. While it is normal for losses to group themselves together in our minds, being aware of this may help you slow down the "piling on" that can happen in your thoughts on a bad day.

Here are some basic steps:

Create a medical team. Reach out to family and friends. Connect with fellow cancer survivors. Take a breath. Look or go outside. Exercise or take gentle walks. Stay busy doing what makes you happy and will distract your worry brain; try something artsy or crafty. Write in a journal. Let out the negative cancer thoughts, then turn around and practice gratitude. Write down anything and everything you are grateful for in your life, despite cancer. You are not alone in this restaurant called life and you can take steps to make sure cancer doesn't become the main course of your life.

If you focus all the time on your cancer, it will cloud all your thoughts. Fight the urge to wallow. If you redirect your mind, you can move yourself onward, past the cancer side dish. I worked with my talk therapist to move forward, as well as using the resources I mentioned above. Some talk therapists actually specialize in oncology patients and survivors now.

You can deliberately choose to focus your thoughts away from cancer and to more positive and productive thoughts. Pick things that interest you or that you want to learn about because it is easier to move toward something than away from something else (cancer). Don't settle in to cancer. Set your intention to move forward, and never let this nasty side dish called cancer become your main course. You are so much more than that.

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Dr. Kelly Stratton
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