Doris Cardwell received a life-changing diagnosis of inflammatory breast cancer in 2007. While undergoing treatment, she co-founded a mentor program for the cancer center treating her. She also created community events to educate, encourage and empower people regarding cancer. Doris was the first Survivorship Community Outreach Liaison for her local cancer center. She is an advocate, educator and encourager on issues facing cancer survivors. Doris is a wife, mother, empty nester, survivor of life and lover of all things coffee. An avid speaker and blogger, she is available at www.justdoris.com.
One survivor shares three things that helped her find a sense of control in the chaos that a cancer diagnosis can bring.
Cancer can do many things in our lives, most of which we have absolutely no control over. While there are some people in this world who don't struggle with that, I am not one of them.
When we find ourselves in situations where we have no control, what do we do? If you are like me, you look for what you can control even if it seems insignificant because there has to be something right?
I read the Bible. A verse in the book of Proverbs reads: "Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it." I decided early on in this cancer journey the only thing I could control was my heart. Responses to adversity are highly individual. There is not a right or wrong way. This was just my way. What worked for me. And let me be clear, it didn't work all day, every day. I don't think anything does, because we are human, but three things did help me find a sense of control.
First, I had to look for treasures. I had to find small places where I could find good in the bad. One thing I remember, we had to clean out our refrigerator and pantry of perishable things. We were traveling back to our home state for treatment. At the time, we thought for three months.
That was one of the moments it became real. Life as I knew it was changing.
We called a family and asked if they would like a box of food due to our situation. My husband delivered it to them. As the mom unpacked the box, she voiced continual joy. It seemed we gave her almost an exact list of what they were out of. The same day, he took meat from our freezer to a food pantry. In that visit, a damaged relationship found some healing. I wrote these down in my journal — they were treasures.
Second, I had to take time-outs. Many, many times I had to step away from people who were not in my inner circle. There were people I refused to speak with, places I refused to go and things I refused to do. These timeouts allowed me to keep precious energy for our children.
I also learned sometimes when people think you might die, they don't want to carry guilt. So, there were people who wanted to come back into my inner circle of friends that had been outside of it for some time. They wanted to make amends. In some situations that was not what was best for me. I had made my own peace already. Sickness did not obligate me to help them find theirs. When energy is minimal, maximizing how you use it is key. Only people who could bring encouragement and positivity were worth it to me.
The third thing I found helpful was listening to testimonies of other survivors one, in particular, changed my view for the better. I still remember when it happened, we were leaving the hospital after talking to nurses about what was to come. One of them told me about a woman who had lived twenty years with metastatic breast cancer. She told me she lived a full life. In that moment I decided that surviving was not enough. I wanted to thrive.
I found strength in her testimony that if she could do it, maybe I could too. I decided in that moment that I was not a victim. Cancer would not become my identity; I would make sure of that. I would continue to be a wife, mother and friend. I had to deal with cancer, but it would not become who I was.
I decided I could find treasures. I could choose to take time outs and I could use other people's testimonies in order to thrive. These things I could control, and I did.
I wish I could say it was always easy, I wish I could say I don't still struggle with not having control. But what I can say is that while life is unpredictable, these three concepts still hold value in my life. Maybe they can add value to yours too.