My Cancer Toolbox

Cancer-fighting weapons need to be chosen carefully and deliberately by each individual fighting the battle for their life.

Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on,” and what an appropriate motto for those thrust into a battle with cancer. When I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, one of the first things I did was tell myself I was going to survive. It wasn’t only an instinct, it was the fighting spirit within me. My high school biology teacher had told me human beings are born with an innate ability to survive, and I was going to prove him right. I grabbed on to hope with both hands and held fast. It sustained me.

Another tool I quickly added to my arsenal was courage. I never considered myself to be a brave person, but I found a little bit of bravery tucked down deep inside myself. When I needed to be brave, I could be. All I had to do was muster up the “want to” and, before I knew it, I was doing what I needed to do. Just like the Cowardly Lion in the classic movie, The Wizard of Oz, all it took was a little badge of courage to goad me forward.

Determination and perseverance came next. As I began treatment and found myself battling fatigue, I had to fight hard. It wasn’t easy to make it through some of those horrific days, but I was determined to press on. Instead of focusing on the total number of treatments, I shifted my focus to taking one day at a time. As I made a conscious decision to move forward one step at a time, I soon found my treatment regimen coming to a close.

I’ve saved my best tool for last. The reason I’ve done this is because it’s the most important of all my weapons. This weapon, like all the others, can’t be seen or even felt as it’s wielded, but it’s very powerful against fighting cancer. My best weapon has been faith. Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to come this far in my journey. For the past two-and-a-half years, I’ve learned to lean on and draw my strength from God. In Hebrews 11:1, the Bible says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” It’s hard to believe in something you can’t see, but that’s exactly what it means to have faith. I’ve had faith I was going to live. I’ve had faith there was a reason behind all the suffering I’d been through. I’ve had faith my fight wasn’t going to be in vain.

Hope, courage, determination, perseverance and faith. All of these are vital weapons for fighting cancer. It takes a while to develop these tools and to wield them skillfully. Mastering them doesn’t come easily. It takes practice to make perfect. So how does one go about learning to use these tools? You listen to your heart and find whatever way works best for you.

Through trial and error, I’ve found it takes a little help from family or friends to lift some of these heavy, cumbersome tools. When I felt weak or unable to make it through another day, all it took was a word of encouragement to rekindle that spark of hope within me. Courage was a tool I struggled with on occasion but I found a way to make it work. You may laugh when you read the way I learned to wield courage. I received a stuffed Cowardly Lion from a friend. As silly as it may seem, that stuffed lion accompanied me to every single treatment. Having a physical reminder to be brave helped me realize I could have courage even when I didn’t feel like I did. Determination came from deep inside my soul. I wanted to live so I fought for it. Perseverance went hand in hand with determination. I guess another word for perseverance would be stubbornness. I was stubborn and guarded. My life was my most prized possession and I wasn’t going to let cancer take it away from me easily. Faith was the easiest weapon of all to wield. All I had to do was pick it up and lift it high, but then, I’ve always been a person of faith and I knew it would serve me well. For some, this might be the most difficult weapon of all to muster and master.

Your arsenal of weapons may vary greatly from mine and that’s OK. We each have to find the right tool or tools for the job. I can guarantee it will take time and energy to find the right tools. It will also take a lot of trial and error but when you find the ones that work best for you, guard those tools and use them often. Hold on tightly to hope and give faith a chance. Let those tools serve you well, and they will.