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What do we do when we get a bad report from the oncologist? How do we cope? Here is one suggestion.
The doctor said expressionless, “Well you need to know that the average life span for this type of cancer is 104 months.”
I shut down totally and felt the room spin.
I left the office devastated. I had walked into this office a few days ago with anemia and came back out with a diagnosis of cancer. I had myelodysplastic syndrome. Like most people, I had absolutely no idea what this meant. I started researching online, but that was depressing too. There are five different types of this blood cancer and the patients can typically live any length of time from two months to 10 years. Every report stated the final prognosis is not good. Treatment can only slow down the cancer, not cure it.
It is truly a frightening experience to face the idea we are not immortal. I was 59 at the time. My parents and most of my other relatives had lived into their eighties and nineties.
I did find another fantastic doctor who was optimistic and compassionate. She acknowledged that the average time is limited, but, “There are so many things we can do.” I found what I was looking for which was an oncologist who would fight this horrible disease alongside of me and give me hope.
It is now seven years later. I started out on oral chemo, and now get 10 painful shots in the stomach and arms over five days each month. I have several bone marrow biopsies a year to test how many of the cells are mutated. With each procedure, I hold my breath wondering what the cells will tell me. The number of abnormal cells has fluctuated in a range from 30 percent to 95 percent. I have lost a great deal of my hearing, also.
I know I am approaching that 104-month mark. The chance of living past 10 years is not great. However, I was younger than most people when diagnosed.
I would be lying if I did not admit that I get extremely depressed at times. I wonder when we are planning family events if I will be here for milestones. I am hoping to make it to my 70th birthday and have a huge party!
But something wonderful has happened along the way. I have met many brave and courageous people on my journey. I see them every month in the cancer waiting room. I share messages with them on Facebook. I belong to a nutrition group for people facing cancer and the aftermath.
I never knew how anyone would go through something like this and survive. The human spirit is amazing and we do rise to the occasion. My faith has become stronger, and I find my church to be a huge support group for me.
I have been thoughtful and deliberate to define what I can do instead of what I cannot do. I reserve my energy to be with family, friends and doing activities I enjoy. I have been going on cruises to special places.
All of this has been wonderful. BUT the most helpful activity is my own self-talk. I have a doctorate in counseling. I used to instruct my clients to think positive instead of negative thoughts. It is absolutely a fact that the brain is not able to harbor two thoughts at once. It may be a millisecond, but the brain cannot think something positive and negative at the same time. This is the theory behind the popular counseling technique named cognitive therapy.
So what I do is this. When I get scared, when my medical reports are bad, when I am really hurting from the chemo, or wondering how long I have to live, I remind myself that I just spent fifteen minutes or more worrying. Because of the cancer and my chemo draining me, I do not have much energy now. Do I REALLY want to waste my remaining energy upset or do I want to embrace adventure? These 15 minutes of stewing accomplished nothing except to rob me of my zest for life. If I had spent 15 minutes enjoying the sunset, or talking with friends, or writing an article, I am much happier. Of course, I have my days of feeling sorry for myself and that is OK too. Mentally, I need to have some time to vent. But I dare not let this attitude consume me or I will spiral into a drain and never come back up.
Actually “seizing the day” is good advice for anyone with or without cancer. I cannot choose what happens to me in life. I can choose how I react. Am I going to worry or be positive and enjoy life? It is up to me!