In Treatment Now
When you’re in treatment for cancer, maybe you're still wrestling with the question, “Why me?” Or maybe you've worked through it, or put it behind you, or just moved on to the daily grind of cancer treatment. There’s often a lot of adrenaline at the start of the cancer journey. You get a rush from the emotional turmoil that accompanies the diagnosis. But after a while, you get into a treatment routine and a whole new set of questions arise.
Uncertainty. Anxiety. The anxiety of living with the uncertainty created by cancer may be the biggest issue for cancer patients and caregivers. The uncertainty created by the diagnosis often lasts through treatment and when you become a cancer survivor. What will the future bring? How do I live knowing that my life might be shortened? How can I make plans to take the kids to Disney World with a new round of chemo coming up? How can I make plans to go to Paris with my spouse if I don't know that I'll be feeling well enough to make the trip? While these questions are typical of people undergoing cancer treatment, the answers are not at all typical. They are highly personalized and very different for everyone. Maybe you are more comfortable trying to live as normal a life as possible during your treatment. Or maybe you're someone who wants to change your daily routine. Only you can answer these questions for yourself. If you are a religious person, you may understand the future as being in God's hands.
Cancer medications are often very harsh and they can cause unpleasant side effects. Treatments can be painful. You might hear lots of conversation about the concept of endurance. Friends and family go to triumph – “You will beat this! You are a winner!” – but the actual experience feels more like day-to-day drudgery. So it might feel like a disconnect, to try to live up to those images when you feel like you’re being dragged along.
Some people manage to keep a positive attitude during cancer treatment. In their view, the pain they endure has a payoff-- it buys them time to do the things they want to do, and to spend with the people they love. Other people – most of them – find cancer treatment difficult or nearly unbearable. It's almost impossible to tolerate. Sometimes you might feel like you can’t see past the suffering that you endure in the course of treatment. Hopelessness is endemic in cancer treatment at times. It wears on you. What happens when you wake up in the middle of the night and feel like you can't go on?
During the darkest hours, try to remember what you're living for. Now, try to draw strength from that. What gives your life meaning? Maybe it's family, or friends, or community. Maybe it's your work. Maybe it's a project that you've been working on and want to complete. Maybe it's your pets. Maybe it's the way you spend your leisure time: gardening, walking in the park, playing golf, dancing, listening to music, going to movies or watching your favorite TV show. Maybe you enjoy sitting on the porch watching the rain. Maybe it's the community you find in church, synagogue or other religious gatherings. Maybe it's your religious faith.
During the course of cancer treatment, many people start thinking about spiritual matters -- even if they didn't consider themselves spiritual people before their diagnoses. More and more, the healthcare community is focusing on spirituality as part of a holistic approach to health care. It’s a way to help people cope with their illnesses. Spirituality is one of those words that everyone understands differently; what does it mean, exactly? How can it help? Basically spirituality is your individual way of finding connection and a sense of peace in the world. It's different for everyone. You can look at the link on this site labeled Spiritual Exercises to give you some ideas. Maybe they'll work for you, or inspire you to find your own unique ways to connect.
You may have heard the phrase “I-Thou” somewhere -- or maybe not. These words come from the name of a book by the 20th century philosopher Martin Buber. He starts by saying: To man the world is twofold, in accordance with his twofold attitude..." which he goes on to describe as I-Thou and I-It. An I-Thou relationship requires active listening and being fully present, meeting others where they are. Buber understands divinity as refracted through these types of relationships. If you believe in God, maybe you see the face of God most vividly in interactions with others. If you're not a believer, maybe you see a type of spirituality or transcendence in human interaction and connection. Even if you lack the energy to do anything but smile at the nurse administering your chemo, that's enough. A smile or a pat on the hand can make someone else's day. And that in turn can give you the strength that comes from a feeling of connectedness.
I've heard people say that cancer was the best thing that ever happened to them. They’re crazy, right?
When you're in treatment for cancer, it does sound crazy that people say they're happy about their cancer. Physically, it's a nightmare. The treatments are exhausting and draining. They disrupt your daily routine and make planning the future difficult. So why would anybody say such a thing? Well, it has helped people focus on what's really important to them and what gives meaning to their lives. They say things like, “I never really learned to appreciate life before I got cancer.” So often we go through our days not thinking about what's around us and taking everything in our lives for granted. Sometimes people find that their cancer treatments help them see the small things that they missed in their headlong rush to work and accomplish and do. The one day that you feel particularly well, or the day that the sun shines in the clear sky. The day that the roses bloom, the smell of the honeysuckle. The recognition of all the gifts you have received in your life. It's this shift in perspective that people talk about when they say that cancer was the best thing that ever happened to them.