Making Choices When Hearing a Cancer Diagnosis


Before my biopsy, the doctor assured me it was nothing. He said he was just doing this to prove it to me. We definitely didn’t expect what followed next.

cartoon drawing of cancer survivor and blogger, Linda Cohen

I can tell you exactly where I was when I heard my cancer diagnosis and I can still picture the doctor's face as he told me. I looked over at my husband. He looked like he had just been punched in the stomach. This news isn’t easy to hear. I first had to process all I just heard.

In the days that followed, I knew I had a choice as to how I would deal with the news no one ever wants to hear. I could have decided to dwell on the negative information I was given. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of Transcendental Meditation, said, “That which you put your attention to grows stronger in your life.” Consequently, if you focus on negativity, it grows because it’s fed on the energy it is given. Susan Goldberg, MA, LLP, who shared this with me, says, “Let it starve!”

Brené Brown states, “Hope is a way of thinking—a cognitive process. We need hope like we need air. ”Having hope is a choice. C.R. Snyder, a researcher, calls it, "a trilogy of goals, pathways, and agency.”

Snyder suggests we make the effort to set realistic goals if we choose hope. My first goal was to set up appointments with three different oncologists plus a specialist at a large university hospital who is known for his lymphoma research. I felt if I was going to have hope, I needed to find out the facts and hear different opinions. Then, I made it a point to research my diagnosis by reading only the most respectable cancer resources. Finally, I decided to choose the doctor carefully, the one who calmed me down and gave me hope and a good plan because he would be on this journey with me.

Second, Snyder recommends a pathway. With this, one needs to be flexible. Perhaps different pathways will be needed. If the first plan didn’t work, I needed to know from my research that alternative plans were available. I didn’t want to research at a time when I was emotional. It helped to have a few possible plans in my head from the doctors and my research. This way I already had a “what’s next approach” if plan one didn’t work as hoped.

Third, Snyder calls it agency. We have to decide to be our own agent. I have also called it PMA (Positive mental attitude) in other blogs. We must believe in ourselves and know we will try each plan to the best of our ability. We have to choose to have hope and be positive, even when a miracle is needed. (It helps that I do believe in miracles!)

After I had time to process all, I didn’t complain or say, “why me?” I consciously chose to look at things differently. I tried to look for the gratitude I could still have. I had gratitude knowing at the time of diagnosis, new treatments were on the horizon. I am grateful for my latest treatment, which only became available on October 31, 2017, and that when or if this stops working, I have already researched what my next step could be. Eventually, I may have to try to get into available trials. I went to the research doctor to become a patient, so I could be on his radar if and when clinical trials could be my last hope. Of course, it also helps to be a person who has faith. I’m thankful that my faith has helped me deal with all the challenges I have faced.

I can only write about this now that I’ve gone through antibody treatments, radiation and infusions, and I am presently on oral chemo. Deciding what I believed to be the best path, taking action, being my own advocate and making good decisions are all choices I made to help me feel a little empowered as I took on one of my life’s biggest challenges… living with cancer.

Victor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning said, “there is no situation that does not contain the seed of meaning.” It’s up to us to look for it.

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