Three Tips for Gaining Control After a Cancer Diagnosis


There is no easy way to gain a sense of control when dealing with cancer. And we all definitely deal with it differently.

During a cancer diagnosis and treatment, there are so many things to think of and keep track of: the many doctor appointments, surgeries, treatments and, of course, dealing with insurance companies and medical bills. It is a full-time job when you are going through it, and that does not even include all hurdles emotionally that will challenge you daily.

All of these things can just further create stress and make the person feel even more like everything is out of his/her control. For me, control was one of the hardest things to give up because cancer really takes it all away. I always felt like the world was spinning, and I was just getting sucked up by a whirlpool of cancer crap that was not going to let me go. I felt like I was going to drown, and some days, I probably came pretty close.

Prior to my diagnosis, I had already been writing on my own personal blog as a runner and mother. During the process of a cancer diagnosis (it literally took four weeks to get the full staging), I started to veer off and write about what I was going through. It was a tremendous relief to put all these thoughts that I could not say out loud into words. It became my outlet.

There are a few things I did during my treatment and recovery that I would recommend to anyone on this "journey.” By the way, I still hate that word “journey” because cancer is not something anyone would choose purposefully like the word implies.

A few of these tips, and of course, your own version of them, may help.

1. Create something. Start a blog or keep a journal. You don't have to do this online and make this public, and you certainly don't have to be a great writer. But having an outlet to share all your feelings, fears, concerns, good days, bad days and everything in between may help give you the control you seek. It will give you a place to document all that you are going through, and someday, eventually, you may want to go back and reflect on all that you have gone through. It won't be pretty, and it won't be easy, but it is a great way to see how far you have come.

If you are not a writer but maybe more musically inclined, compose some music and document what is going on when you created it. Maybe you are an artist and can paint or sculpt. Create something that will represent what you are going through.

Perhaps you are handy around the house or good with design, start a house project and get your family involved. I know my husband embarked on a huge renovation of our house while I was recovering from my surgeries. Starting a major house project gave him the same sense of control I was also seeking through my writing.

2. Get involved in raising funds for a cure. I know this seems like an impossible thing to embark on, so you may want to wait until you are through with all your treatment and recovery. But I highly recommend doing something. About six or seven months after my treatment, when I was back at work and physically feeling a lot better, I decided I would make my return out on the road racing, and I would do it to raise money for my oncologist who also works in research towards finding a cure. This was quite possibly the best thing I could have done for myself in my emotional and physical recovery.

Physically, I had to put in a lot of work to be able to start running the miles I was used to running. It took me six months of just learning to run again and building a base up before I even started training for the race. It was so hard because frankly, running at any speed was uncomfortable for quite a while due to scar tissue, tissue disruption and overall mobility changes. Committing to running the race to raise donations meant I would have to commit to a training program. No more excuses, and no more letting cancer call the shots.

Psychologically, I got a lot out of training because — like my husband’s home renovations – it gave me a sense of control. Here I was raising money even though I was very much not "out of the woods" so to speak. It gave me purpose. I felt like I was giving cancer the big "F*** you!" I also could not believe the tremendous amount of support I received from family and friends all over the country. It gave them an opportunity to show their love and support. It gave us all hope and gave us something to focus on that we could control.

3. Do something you have always wanted to do, but thought you never had the time. It's amazing how busy we all think we are, and then, when we are faced with adding in endless doctor appointments, surgeries and treatment on top of all our normal duties. We all think we don't have time until that moment a cancer diagnosis starts to dictate our time. We realize what fools we were, and we are desperate for every minute to be owned.

If you wrote down all the things you have always wanted to do in your life, what is on that list that you can do while dealing with your treatment and recovery? Have you always wanted to learn how to knit or speak another language? Have you always wanted to drive the three hours north just to see where the coast meets the mountains, or the lake meets the sunset? Maybe you have a pile of novels next to your bed that you have never finished?

Take something from your list that you always feel like is going to take too much time or that you don't have time to do in between the jam-packed days of "busy" work. See how many you can attempt and check off your list.

There is no easy way to gain a sense of control when dealing with cancer. And we all definitely deal with it differently. Finding some outlets to help you gain a sense of control will also inevitably relieve some of the stress of the unknown. Just know, that many of us have been there too, and there is no perfect way to do cancer but if you can feel like you have a little control over something, you may feel stronger to embark on this so-called journey.

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Dr. Kelly Stratton
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