Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Cancer is a Team Sport

Huddle up!
Physically, cancer is a lonely road to travel.

Only you and your body go through the blood work, biopsies, and scans... Oh, and the chemotherapy, radiation, and recovery. And oh yeah, the hair falling out, skin complexion issues, and weird tastes in your mouth...

Not to mention fun things like constipation and infertility...

The good news is that there are thousands of people working around the clock to make the physical aspects of the cancer journey less intrusive and painful than ever before. By no means did I enjoy my biopsy, chemo, or days of recovery when I went through 8 months of treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma, but my oncologist and team of nurses were on call 24/7 to help make my journey as comfortable as possible.

And I love them for it...

Big time.

While there have been too-many-to-count advances in the physical treatment of cancer, I found there is a lot of progress to be made in how we approach cancer from a mental perspective. I say "we" because unlike the solitude of sitting in a PET scan tube, you, your caregiver, and closest support network have the opportunity to create an environment where all energy and focus are concentrated on healing and beating cancer.

It sounds like an easy task, but believe me when I say that when you and your support network are all of the sudden forced to face death square in the eyes and reexamine life, all bets are off in terms of predictable behavior.

With the benefit of hindsight, I've found 3 themes to practice with your support network in order to create a lower stress environment from which to mount your battle against The Big C:

3.) Don't Hold Grudges

I've written about this before on my blog in a concept I like to call The Score Sheet (Post HERE). When word of your diagnosis spreads through your relatives, friends, coworkers or classmates you will receive a ton of support from everyone whether it's a "you are in my prayers" or a "what can I do to help?" As the time tics on and you enter treatment you are going to notice that the people you expected to be there for you are nowhere to be found and the people you haven't spoke to in months are pulling through more than you ever would have expected.

While it will be tempting to keep score of who's brought you dinner versus who hasn't, I strongly encourage you to put down your pencil and rip up your score sheet. The fact of the matter is that some people are more nurturing by nature and can process extreme life events while others need more time to adjust. By understanding this concept you will be able to allocate the energy it would have taken to maintain your score sheet (think resentment) and allocate it toward getting proper rest and healing your body.

2.) Get Present

It is completely natural to think about the future and all the "what ifs?" that come along with it while proceeding through life. When someone is diagnosed with cancer these thoughts are accelerated and mainly focused around death.

Not fun, but true.

Prior to my cancer diagnosis I was very fond of saying "I can't wait until (insert event here)." One of the most incredible lessons cancer taught me was that there are so many amazing things happening in this very moment that I would be foolish to sacrifice them to get to a future I drummed up in my head.

By staying present and enjoying each day, you will remove your thoughts about life and death and come to appreciate the environment you live in, the people you encounter, and the beauty of the life that was in front of you all along.

1.) Be Honest and Open

While honesty may not always feel comfortable around a cancer diagnosis in terms of expressing how the fighter or supporter are dealing with the situation, it is infinitely more productive than keeping it to yourself, stuffing it inside, and not addressing it. Airing your feelings may create a sense of vulnerability, but it is in this moment that both the fighter and supporter learn how each other are feeling in dealing with cancer and can come to common ground on how to move forward.

I am not a big weight lifter, but I do understand that when you work out by lifting weights you lightly tear the muscle fibers. As you recover, your muscles grow back stronger which gives you the ability to lift more weight in the future from a sturdier foundation.

Honesty does the same thing to your character as lifting weights does to your muscles.

So grab a couple of dumbbells of honesty and get Lifting...