Justin Birckbichler is a fourth grade teacher, testicular cancer survivor and the founder of aBallsySenseofTumor.com. From being diagnosed in November 2016 at the age of 25, to finishing chemo in January 2017, to being cleared in remission in March, he has been passionate about sharing his story to spread awareness and promote open conversation about men's health. Connect with him on Instagram @aballsysenseoftumor, on Twitter @absotTC, on Facebook or via email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Navigating the unknown is one of the hardest parts of living with cancer.
A few weeks ago I attended the Young Adult Cancer Conference in Bethesda, MD. I had the opportunity to attend three amazing breakout sessions alongside many other young adult cancer survivors and patients.
In this session, led by oncology nurse Eric Cohen, we discussed living with cancer's uncertainty — both before, during and after treatment. He gave us four common discussion points and we brainstormed ways to handle them in both good and not-so-good ways.
In the cancer world, the time leading up to a scan and the span between the scan and results is well-known as scanxiety. What is less well-known is how to handle it "best." Eric guided us through helpful thoughts/actions and unhelpful means of dealing with it.
As a group, we came up with the following helpful tips:
We also had some not helpful ways of handling it:
Talking with loved ones
Loved ones often mean well, but may not know specifically what to say. Our next exercise was to formulate words and actions that can help.
Among the helpful ideas:
Followed by the ones we would have liked to avoid:
Eric closed this part of the discussion with an important message: "You have to tell people these things." It's not enough for us to put these on chart paper — we need to make sure people know these ideas, as well.
Making future plans
It can be somewhat hard and stressful, to plan for the future as a cancer patient and survivor. In this round of discussion, Eric asked us how and why we plan for the future.
Being the "best" cancer survivor
Is it enough to be a survivor or should we always be expected to be more? This made up Eric's final prompt.
After our four powerful rounds of discussion, Eric closed us out with his final thoughts:
"It's OK to grieve about all of this uncertainty. It's necessary and important. Allow yourself to feel it and then get out and do something good."