Take a Break from Cancer Overload


A male breast cancer survivor offers some alternatives to stress.

I think about my breast cancer every day. It's not because I want to. But more often than not, the discomfort of the mastectomy scar that divides my left breast is problematic, and of course the bathroom mirror never tells a lie.

But I also think about music and writing and nature and my cats and riding my bicycle in the lovely Sonoran Desert.

These are positive images that give me great pleasure and purpose in my life. And these are a few of the things that offer me a "break" from the stress of my life with cancer. Now that three years have passed since my original diagnosis, I try to include my cancer thoughts in the line-up of positive images I have about my life each day. But how do we think positively about our cancer?

My brain tells me that I have cancer, but my heart reminds me that I am alive, reasonably pain-free and as far as I know, still earning the title of “no evidence of disease.” There's no easy or even dependable way to regulate those thoughts that race through our heads, but I've found both meditation and positive imagery exercises to be quite helpful.

Part of my willingness to examine and allow thoughts about cancer to come and go as they please is based on the fact that I made a decision early on to meet my male breast cancer face-to-face by dedicating some time to be of service to other cancer survivors, and by accepting that a life with cancer is still a life to be lived and treasured.

Logic would tell us that the first thing we might want to do is forget about this dreaded disease and get on with our day as best we can. After all, fear has a way of creating havoc that clouds our vision of living a long and symptom-free life.

But logic again takes us into thinking, and thoughts are often the antithesis to living well with a life-threatening disease. I've certainly been scared, angered and frustrated by my cancer. And that's why taking a break from time to time is crucial in my recovery. When we're in distress, it's not always easy to switch gears, and that's when it becomes imperative to remember those things that bring us joy in life, and make the effort to bring them into our daily routine.

One way to trigger a positive response under stress is through music. Choose something that resonates with you and let it play in the background. Call a loved one on the telephone. Take a walk outside. Thumb through a photo album that carries fond memories. Laughter has a good deal of research supporting its positive effect on all of us. And don't forget a few moments of meditation. The list is endless and personal — only you can compile it.

So, take a good look at all that gives you joy in your life and put cancer on hold, if only for a moment. Surviving can be hard work. And we all deserve a break from time to time.


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