“Is there a pressure to be positive all the time?” my friend Kathy asked.
It’s a good question. I said, “No,” and then “Yes,” and added in a “Maybe.”
But it’s not a simple yes, no, or maybe. It’s actually Yes-No-Maybe all at the same time. My kid is on Facebook and so is my family. My friends are on Facebook and they want the best or at least to know I’m not suffering. I’m aware of that and of them. But that doesn’t mean I show up fake or put on fronts. I don’t.
The pressure to be positive isn’t external. I am safe to be real with SO MANY people and that luxury is a gift beyond measure. The desire to be positive comes from within but it’s not motivated by pressure. It’s real. In general, I ACTUALLY FEEL positive.
And also, when my oncologist asks how my partner or daughter are doing, I say:
“Well, I’m cranky, lethargic, have chemo-brain, and obsessed with recurrence so that’s fun for them…”
That’s also real.
Real is positive.
So, when people say I’m strong, a rock star, a warrior, and a fighter, I can’t say I feel I am any of those things. My day to day to life has been changed and though I feel 100% half-ass as a mom, partner, friend, relative, and employee – I also know I’m doing the best I can.
I don’t even have much time to think of how I’m doing because I’m so busy doing, if that makes sense.
It’s like I woke up after surgery standing in the middle of a highway I didn’t drive myself on. The focus is dodging the cars going 75 m.p.h. on my left and right while feeling groggy and confused. When I manage to make it to the sidewalk or the rest area, the relief I feel is real. I’m happy to be alive and out of danger. It’s a genuine and consuming experience. I’m relieved any time I’m not in the road and also aware I could be dropped back on that highway in another minute, day, week, or year.
That’s the complexity and reality of living with cancer (#ovarian, high-grade serious, stage 3) that, even when it’s effectively treated, still recurs 75% to 85% of the time. To have no evidence of disease isn’t the type of blessing I’ve been in the habit of counting.
For decades, I have had the luxury of physical wellness and had never stayed overnight in a hospital. Health isn’t something I take for granted anymore but that doesn’t make me a warrior as much as it makes me someone changed by cancer more than by choice.
I used to think people were sick with cancer, and either mounted a “successful” fight and returned to living or lost “the fight” and died. It seemed either/or and as those were the two extreme outcomes.
I knew my mother HAD cervical cancer in her early 20’s and survived. I knew that my Nana and her two siblings had cancer in their 60’s, and did not. They died.
I know cancer is always a full-on fight for the person with cancer and those that live with and love them (us), but fights are won or lost and that is the problem with the “fight cancer” narrative. It’s way too simplistic for the complexity of cancer, cancer treatment, cancer survivorship, palliative care, and grief.
It omits the vast amounts of time that many of us live with cancer. We live with it in active form, or in remission, or in fear of recurrence, and sometimes with recurrence after recurrence. That way of living may last one or two years or one or two decades. We may have years we seem to be “winning” the fight and years we seem to be “losing.”
But winning and losing is far too simplistic. Some live and have loss. Some die and should be counted as winners.
I’d never known some fight the same cancer repeatedly, or “beat” it before getting another kind and another and another. I didn’t know that people cancer can be a lifelong disease and that some kinds are genetic time bombs in our bodies and families that can put us at risk even if we never smoked.
I didn’t know that one can have or five surgeries, that the side effects can start at the head (loss of hair, headaches, chemo brain, no nose hair, dry mouth, hearing loss), for example, and go all the way to the feet with lymph edema, joint pain, neuropathy, and that all the organs in between can be impacted as well.
I didn’t know that most cancer side effects are not from cancer but the treatments to fight, eradicate, and prevent more cancer.
I didn’t know that in addition to chemo, one might contend with liver or kidney issues, with high or low blood pressure, with changes to the way heart beats, the digestive symptom works.
I didn’t know that cancer surgery might include a hysterectomy and removing some or several organs, lymph nodes and body parts I’d never heard of. I didn’t know how it’s impossible to know what is from cancer, chemo, menopause or the piles of pills one is prescribed.
I didn’t know how much the body can endure and still keep going. I didn’t know I’d have a body that would have to learn and know all that I was mostly ignorant about -even though cancer is a disease not unknown to my own family members.
I am still learning and knowing and going. I hope what I learn keeps others from having to have first-hand knowledge of the cancer experience.
And even as I say that I know the ways I’ve been changed are not all bad, hard, or grueling.
I didn’t know that at, even in the midst of being consumed by all things basic bodily functioning (breathing, heart beating, eating, pooping, sleeping, and staying alive), one can also be grateful, satisfied, and appreciate life and loved ones.
I know it now and feel grateful daily.
Five months after my diagnosis, I’m what’s called NED (No Evident Disease). It means that after surgery, and then 5 rounds of chemo, a carbo/taxol combination every 3 weeks, there is no sign of ovarian cancer. My CA 125, a cancer marker in the blood, is back to normal. Things are looking better today and I’m grateful, optimistic, relieved, but also know that my life is forever changed, and I’ll never be out of the woods.
Despite my NED status, my chances of being alive in 10 years are 15%.
Despite my NED status, my chances of being alive in five years are less than 30%.
Did you know 70% of those with ovarian cancer die within five years of being diagnosed?
I’m not a statistic, but a person – still, it’s hard not to do the calculations.
5 years from my diagnosis I’ll be 57, and my daughter 21.
5 years from my diagnosis, my partner will be 62.
Will we get to retire together, ever? Will I get 5 years?
It’s hard not to wonder if some or all of those five years are what most would consider “good” years and how I will manage well no matter what? And how my loved ones will fare…
So I focus on moments, days, and now.
My new mantra remains, “In this moment….”
It’s how I approach all of my days.
I do think and worry about the future, and even plan for the worst while also planning for the best. Because the best is always possible.
What if, I’m the 15% and live for 10 or more years? What if I make it to 62? What if a new way to detect, manage, or treat ovarian cancer is discovered? What if I discover some synergy in remedies and medicines not yet combined?
Maybe I will see my kid graduate college or start a career. Maybe I’ll help her shop for furniture in a new apartment. No one knows the future. No one guaranteed more than now.
Maybe I’ll get to go to Europe with my partner, elope and return married, or stay forever engaged.
Maybe I’ll attend a mother-daughter yoga retreat with friends like I’ve always wanted to do.
Maybe I’ll spend a month at a cabin writing and eating good food with my besties?
Maybe I’ll be able to be there for my family members and friends the way they have been there for me?
Maybe I’ll get to walk my dog at the same beach and park, with my guy, my brother and sister-in-law, and our dogs and kids?
I don’t know how much time I’ll get or what life holds.
I know when my Nana died in her mid 60’s it seemed way too soon. I know that now, if I make it to my mid 60’s, it will be miraculous.
I don’t put as much into my retirement savings.
I think more about how to spend time, and money, now.
These are not negative thoughts they are the thoughts of someone contending with cancer and wide awake while pondering my own mortality.
“You won’t die of this,” some have said. “Cancer won’t kill you.”
But no one knows that for sure. It’s not an assurance the oncologists offer.
People mean well when they say such things but I no longer bite my tongue when I hear these words.
I say, “I might die of this,” (and I think, but don’t say, and you may as well).
I do remind people that we are all going to die and few of us will get to choose the time or place or method. It’s not wrong to acknowledge mortality. It’s not depressing and it does not mean one is giving up. I want to be responsible, and quickly, as I don’t have the luxury to be as reflective as I used to be because cancer is all-consuming.
I’ve barely had a moment to reflect on the past five months never mind the last five decades. I am trying to stay on top of the bare minimum requirements of being alive. I can’t yet keep up with emails or phone calls or visits. Projects and goals and plans of all kinds have shifted, paused, halted, or been abandoned.
My energy is now a resource I have to monitor and preserve. My will is not something I can endlessly tap into or call upon to motor me and keep me motivated. There’s no resource I have yet to tap into or call upon. Each day, I must consciously and repeatedly work to fill the well. And now, when friends and family who work while sick, I no longer think they are tough or strong. I think of how we routinely punish and ignore our bodies. I notice how often we run on fumes, require more of ourselves than we have as though we will never tire out.
I think of all those who must or feel they must keep going no matter what, without pause or rest, oblivious to the toll it will take or of those who have systems that can’t fight their germs. And I think of employers who sometimes require it because they offer no paid time off.
I used to run myself ragged. I used to say, “I’m digging deep, into my bone marrow if I have to.” I wasn’t being literal.
Now, when my iron and my platelets go low, I think of my old words in new ways. Now, even my bone marrow isn’t what is used to be.
I’m entirely who I always was and completely different.
I am more and less of who I was.
My life and days are simple and structured now and also heavy, layered, and complex. Who and what fills my day, by choice and not by choice, is radically different.
Cancer changed my life. That’s irrefutable and will be whether I live or die in the sooner or in the later.
I speak with and interact with doctors, nurses, life insurance and disability insurance and pharmacists more. I spend more money on supplements, clean eating, and make more time to walk, exercise, and sleep. There’s so much less I am capable of.
But sometimes, even without hair, I feel totally like myself.
Sometimes, like this week, my daughter caught me in the middle of life, reading a book, petting the cat, on my bed in my heated infrared sauna blanket. I was relaxed and at ease.
I shared this photo and someone commented on how my “cat scan” was quite feline, – the image brought a whole new meaning to the “cat scan” image.
I laughed and laughed and laughed. I’m still laughing.
In this moment, in many moments, I’m humbled by the enormity of all things cancer and being alive. That’s real. That’s there. It can be intense.
But also, in this moment, I’m laughing.
And laughing, it turns out, is my favorite way to live.
When not recovering or coping with her recent ovarian cancer diagnosis, chemo brain, and the other treatment-related side effects, Christine “Cissy” White works as Community Manager of the Parenting with ACEs community on ACEs Connection and blogs at www.healwritenow.com. White has been published in The Boston Globe, Spirituality and Health, Ms. Magazine, The Mighty, To Write Love on Her Arms, Elephant Journal, the Center for Health Journalism, and ACEs Too High. She is the 2019 recipient of the Touching Trauma at Its Heart Award, given by the Attachment Trauma Network for her work advocating on behalf of families coping with traumatic stress from developmental trauma. White has led Parenting with ACEs, Parenting After Trauma, and Writing to Heal workshops and speaks passionately about the need for first-person perspectives and the power of lived expertise. Her survivor-led advocacy has been written about in The Atlantic, Huffington Post, and The Mighty.
What happens when someone close to you has been diagnosed with cancer?
How do you find the right words to say?
What is the best way to support them?
And how do you cope with your own emotions and feelings at the same time?
In this month’s article, I am sharing advice that comes directly from those who have personal experience of cancer – either as a patient themselves or as a friend or family member to someone with cancer. The following tips are some of the things that friends said and did that were most helpful to cancer patients at the time of diagnosis and treatment.
Firstly, acknowledge that this can be a hard time for you too
Hearing that a friend has been diagnosed with cancer may impact you in ways that you might not be prepared for. You may have many different emotions to cope with. You may feel angry, sad, and scared that this is happening to your friend. You may even find the news hard to take in and feel numb. Breast cancer survivor, Nicole McClean describes her feelings of numbness on hearing the news that her best friend was diagnosed with the same disease: “I didn’t know what to feel. I didn’t know what to say. Everything I had said to other people didn’t really apply because this was MY friend. Not a stranger that I was comforting. Not even myself that I had to give a pep talk to.”
But don’t make it about you
In the shock of hearing about a friend’s diagnosis, it can be tempting to slip into a place of dwelling on your own fears and anxieties. Nicole cautions others not to make this about themselves. “Please don’t be a friend like me. Don’t be the friend who makes the person with the diagnosis have to stop her own grieving to console you,” she says. “This is her moment. Her time to BE consoled. I don’t ever want her to feel like she needs to console me or comfort me during this time. That’s no longer her role. It is now mine.”
Just ask what’s needed
“My number one tip,” says radiation oncologist, Dr Matthew Katz (@subatomicdoc), is “just ask what you can do to help. It can be hard to predict and may vary at different times in the cancer experience.” Breast surgeon, Dr Deanna Attai (@DrAttai) agrees: “Ask the patient what do you need, ask if they just want some company to sit, listen and be present.”
Above all, advises author and advocate, Nancy Stordahl (@NancysPoint) “don’t try to be a fixer and please, avoid using platitudes. Don’t tell her she’s strong, brave or courageous. Don’t add to her burden by making her feel she must live up to some gold standard of “doing cancer right”. Let her be real. Witness her pain. Listen. Just be there.”
Listen, hear and do
“The steps to being a good friend and supporter are simple”, says Nicole, “Listen and do.” The first part is listening. “Listen to her. Or just sit with her silently. But either way, give her space where she’s comfortable sharing with you what’s in her heart without that moment becoming about you.“
John Moore (@john_chilmark), founder of Chilmark Research, echoes this when he says: “Listen, truly listen and they will open up in time to the fear they hold within – just how scary it can be at times.”
Julia, co-founder of online breast cancer support community @BCCWW agrees. “Listen and hear,” she advises, “if they have bad days let them, cancer isn’t fun times. Flip side: if they feel good, believe them.”
And it’s ok to not know what to say sometimes.
“Something that I think is helpful is for friends and family to remember that it’s okay if you don’t know what to say to the person with cancer,” explains Lisa Valentine (@HabitgratLisa), ·who blogs at habitualgratitude.com. “Show up, say “I don’t know what to say, but I am here for you.” Take it from there. Showing up and listening usually takes care of what can happen next.”
HER2 breast cancer patient, Tracy (@tracyintenbury) suggests offering to go to “chemo sessions if the person with cancer would otherwise be attending alone.” Metastatic breast cancer patient, Ilene Kaminsky (@ilenealizah) appreciated those who attended medical appointments with her “especially during the first months when everything seemed to proceed at the pace of tar, and again during critical appointments/ chemo days.”
Do what needs to be done
“Don’t ask her what she needs, just do something that she needs,” recommends Nicole. “Show up, and help out.” Chair of Cardiomyopathy, CR UK patient board and NCRI rep for kidney and bladder cancer, Alison Fielding (@alisonfielding) agrees: “Make specific offers of help such as lifts, company or chores rather than waiting to be asked.”
“Anyone who said let me know if you need anything wasn’t going to get an answer,” explains Ilene “so during difficult times, one or two of my friends would do my wash, change the sheets and put the clothes away. She’d bring me smoothies while I’d be knocked out from my pre-taxol Benadryl and knew exactly what I’d like.”
Clinical Professor of Pathology, Dr David Grenache (@ClinChemDoc), cautions following through with offers of help. “From experience: when you tell them you will do what you can to help, then follow through with that when you are asked for help. You may have to drop a high priority task but when the call for help comes. Go!”
Victoria (@terrortoria), founder and community manager of @YBCN_UK (which supports young women with breast cancer), recalls a friend who “made home made soup for me when I told her I couldn’t bring myself to eat things. She left them on my doorstep as I couldn’t bring myself to see people either for a time. It was a 90-minute round trip for her. She’d listened to how I felt and then helped me within my limits.”
This theme of cooked meals comes up again and again.
“Cook meals so the person with cancer has something warm and nutritious,” recommends Tracy. Maureen Kenny (@MaureenKenny1), a patient living with secondary breast cancer, agrees, saying “you can never go wrong with a cooked meal.”
After a long day in hospital, breast cancer patient advocate, Siobhan Feeney (@BreastDense) recalls the day she came home to find “in the porch, cooked dinner, homemade bread, marmalade and fresh eggs.” A gift she says she’ll never forget.
Alleviating the pressure of cooking and housework is a super practical way to help a friend with cancer. Sarah Connor (@sacosw), shares a story about her neighbour who “came once a week, took away a basket of dirty clothes, brought them back washed, dried, ready to put away. She didn’t know me very well. Still makes me tingle.”
Give thoughtful gifts
From warm socks and soft blankets to body lotion and lip balm, there are many gifts you can bring a friend who is going through treatment. Beverly A. Zavaleta MD, author of Braving Chemo, writes: “Each time someone sent me a gift I felt a connectedness to the giver and to the “outside world,” which was a welcome escape from the cancer world that I was living in… when I received a gift, I appreciated the time that that person took to remember me, to think of what I might need and to choose, assemble or make the gift.”
Breast cancer survivor, Karen Murray (@murraykaren) recommends practical gifts like “hand cream (skin very dry after chemo), gel for mouth ulcers (also common), some nice sweets/fruit.”
Male breast cancer survivor, Dennis Keim (@denniskeim) suggests “a jar of Aquaphor might be a nice gift. Especially if their skin is getting hammered by chemo.”
“Help the cancer patient pamper themselves,” proposes Lisa Valentine. “You know your friend or family member well enough–get them something they wouldn’t get themselves because they would think it’s extravagant–i.e. the expensive chocolate or a pedicure.” What may seem like an indulgence can also be extremely practical. “Taking me for gel nails protected my ever softening nails,” explains Ilene Kaminsky.
Although be mindful that not everyone appreciates the same things.
“I wasn’t interested in toiletries, candles. Wine gums – they mask the taste of a nasty pre-chemo antiemetic,” says Syliva (@SylviaB_). “People often think buying flowers is naff. I adored it when people bought me flowers. A couple of people bought spectacular flowering plants.” Breast cancer blogger, Sheri received the fabulous gift of a monthly subscription to in-home flower deliveries during treatment.
Help with treatment decisions
If you have already been through cancer yourself, your friend may turn to you for treatment advice. You can guide them to helpful resources and share your own experience, but ultimately the final decision is theirs alone. Sometimes you may not agree about treatment decisions. This can be hard for both of you. Try to accept this and support their decision. “I think not being critical with someone’s choices is very important. Support should not be in spite of circumstances,” says Ilene Kaminsky.
Offer compassion and kindness
Two-times breast cancer survivor and patient advocate Terri Coutee believes the best gifts you can offer a friend is compassion and kindness. “Hold a hand if you are with a friend or loved one in person,” she advises. “You don’t even have to say anything. Perhaps your warm, human touch is enough. Tell them you have no idea how they are feeling at the moment but want to support them in any way you can. Be sensitive to the fact they may only need someone to listen, not advise.”
John Hanley (@ChemoCookery) considers “small practical actions and warm, soothing, short reassuring words are perfect.” Words like “I’m going nowhere and I’ll be here shoulder to shoulder when you need me. A little note/text/card “Here for you 24/7 anytime.”A HUG, an Embrace, a hand, eye contact.”
Sara Liyanage, author of Ticking Off Breast Cancer  reminds us that “a cancer diagnosis turns your world upside down and overnight you can become scared, emotional, vulnerable and anxious. Having friends and family step up and show kindness is a lifeline which can carry you through from diagnosis to the end of treatment (and importantly, beyond).”
Treat your friend like you normally would
Researcher, Caroline Lloyd (@TheGriefGeek), cautions us not to “make it all about the cancer, they are still a person.” Writer and metastatic breast cancer patient, Julia Barnickle (@JuliaBarnickle) agrees. “I prefer to keep conversation as normal as possible for my own sake – I don’t want cancer to take over my life.”
Stage 4 melanoma patient advocate, Kay Curtin (@kaycurtin1) suggests you talk to your friend “like you would any friend. We haven’t suddenly become aliens who require a different style of language,” she points out. Sherry Reynolds (@Cascadia), whose Mom is a 15-year metastatic breast cancer patient, talks about how her mother “really appreciated it when people talked to her about regular things vs always talking about her cancer or asking how she was doing. She was living with her cancer, it wasn’t who she is.”
Know when to back off
“What I didn’t want, which is equally important, was people trying to encourage me to go anywhere or do anything,” says Syliva (@SylviaB_).“ I spent a lot of time on my sofa and felt guilty saying no to people who wanted me to go out.”
Knowing when to be there for your friend, and when to give them space isn’t always easy. but it’s an important balancing act as a good friend. In Tips for Being A Great Cancer Friend, Steve Rubin, points out that “sometimes, the overstimulation from nurses popping in, PT sessions, and all the tests/drug schedules can become so exhausting that you just want to be left alone. Other times, the loneliness kicks in and you could really use a friendly face.”
It may take time to find the right balance, so let your friend guide you. Nicole McClean shares her experience with her friend: “I haven’t spoken to her a lot. I didn’t want to become that sort of pesky, well-intentioned friend who searched for every little thing that might show how she was feeling at any particular moment. Because I know that her feelings would change from moment to moment and sometimes… sometimes it’s just too much to have someone repeatedly ask you… “how are you really feeling?” even when you know they mean well. At this point, I am letting her guide me into how much she needs me and where she wants me to be.”
At the same time, Terri Coutee advises gentle persistence: “Don’t give up if you offer help and they don’t respond. Revisit your offer to do something for them with gentle persistence. One day they may decide they need your help,” she says. Maureen Kenny recalls “a friend who texted me every time she was about to go shopping to see if I needed/wanted anything while she was out. I rarely did but I always really appreciated her asking.”
Make your support ongoing
Support is not just one and done. In the shock and drama of a crisis, friends rally round, but once the shock has worn off many disappear. True friends stick around long after the initial days, weeks and months of a cancer diagnosis. Ilene asks that friends continue to“remember birthdays, cancerversaries, and remember me on holidays. A card means a lot even to just say hi.”
Many studies have found that cancer survivors with strong emotional support tend to better adjust to the changes cancer brings to their lives, have a more positive outlook, and often report a better quality of life. Research has shown that people with cancer need support from friends. You can make a big difference in the life of someone with cancer. 
“I personally loved just knowing I was cared for, says lobular breast cancer campaigner, Claire Turner (@ClaireTTweets). “A number of friends didn’t contact me or come and see me and that hurt, so simply be there in whatever way means something,” she advises.
“The truth is basic,” says Nicole McClean, “nobody wants somebody they love to go through cancer. Especially if they’ve been through it themselves. You want people you love to be spared this type of hardship. But you can’t protect them from it. You can only help them through it. Be there for them in the ways that they need.”
your help to what your friend needs and enjoys most is the best way to be a
friend to them. As four-times cancer survivor Sarah Dow (@he4dgirl)
points out “the answers will surely be as varied as we are, both in life
generally, our experience of cancer, and our connection with our friend.”
 Nicole McClean. My Fabulous Boobies.
 Beverly A. Zavaleta MD, The Best Gifts For Chemotherapy Patients
 Life After Why
 Terri Coutee, DiepCJourney
 Sara Liyanage, “What To Do (And What Not To Do) For Someone With Breast Cancer”
 Steve Rubin, The (Other) C Word
 American Cancer Society, “How to Be a Friend to Someone With Cancer”
A Stanford Medicine X e-Patient scholar, Marie Ennis O’Connor is an internationally recognized keynote speaker, writer, and consultant on global trends in patient engagement, digital health and participatory medicine. A board member of the Patient Empowerment Foundation, a network of people, foundations, organizations and medical institutions dedicated to empowering patients worldwide, Marie’s work is informed by her passion for embedding the patient voice at the heart of healthcare values. She writes about the experience of transitioning from breast cancer patient to advocate on her award-winning blog Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer.
This podcast was originally posted on December 11, 2018 by Target Ovarian Cancer here.
“A diagnosis of ovarian cancer and the resulting treatment can cause emotional and physical difficulties which can impact on your sexuality, sex life and relationships. We caught up with Lynn Buckley (Clinical Nurse Specialist and Psychosexual Therapist) to answer your questions and talk about what physical and emotional issues you may face and how you can seek help and support.”
Dr. Sangmin Lee shares the benefits of meditation and yoga and explains how mindfulness can affect your overall health.
Dr. Sangmin Lee is a hematologist-oncologist specializing in blood disorders and blood cancers at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York Presbyterian Hospital. More about Dr. Lee here.
How about this one? A positive attitude and mindfulness can improve treatment response.
Absolutely. Absolutely. Treatment for leukemia can be tough. Some of the treatment involves intense chemotherapy. Treatment for leukemia can involve stem cell transplant. And a key important aspect of treatment is being healthy and being optimistic about treatment, because a lot of treatment can have side effects, and side effects can be not as apparent if you are physically more active, and in a good state. So, I think that having a positive outlook is very, very important.
Quality of life issues are difficult for some people. How do you talk with your patients about their quality of life, and staying healthy during their treatment?
So, quality of life is absolutely important. I mean, the whole point of treating leukemia and any other treatment is not only to address the leukemia, but also have good quality of life. So, when discussing treatment options, you always have to balance the quality of life and side effects versus potential benefits. So, that’s always on our mind when discussing potential treatment options, and how it impacts the quality of life. Throughout the treatment process, we always tell our patients that being active, and having a good quality of life, and having good nutrition, is absolutely important, because that’s a key aspect of treatment for leukemia.
What about meditation and yoga for coping with anxiety around cancer diagnosis and treatment? Mindfulness.
Absolutely, absolutely. Those can help. Especially having leukemia, it’s very life-changing, so a typical way that patients are diagnosed with acute leukemia is patients live a normal life, and then they develop, all of a sudden, abnormalities. And they’re diagnosed with acute leukemia, and it can be very sudden. And it can be very difficult. So, that can understandably make patients have anxiety, and other issues.
And I believe that meditation, and yoga, and other exercises can absolutely help cope with this.
And there’s tons of resources for meditation and yoga out there, that are reliable.
Yeah. Should patients regard yoga and meditation as part of their treatment, as part of their self-care, during this process?
Absolutely, absolutely, if the patients are into meditation and yoga. Meditation is very harmless, and it can absolutely help in terms of guiding their mind through their treatment journey. Yoga is good if you’re physically able to do it. So, one caution is that, if you’re not someone who does yoga normally, then you should start off slow, and not push yourself as aggressively.
Editor’s Note: Blog written by MyLifeLine.org founder and ovarian cancer survivor, Marcia Donziger. She shares 5 of the lessons learned after she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 27.
In 1997 I was 27, happy, free, and traveling the world as a flight attendant. Newly married and ready to have a baby, I felt strong and invincible. My future was unfolding just as I expected it to. Until the symptoms appeared ever so subtly. Squeezing cramps around my waist. It hurt to pee. After a few weeks, I marched my invincible self into my doctor’s office, told her I diagnosed my own bladder infection, and may I please have antibiotics.
She decided to investigate a little further. After an ultrasound, she discovered a grapefruit-sized tumor growing on my left ovary. “Could it be cancer?” I asked. “No,” my doctor assured me, “you’re too young to have cancer.”
Surgery was scheduled to remove my “benign tumor.” I was excited to get it over with, so I could go on with my life and have babies. After 5 hours of surgery, I woke up in the recovery room, my body uncontrollably thrashing in pain. My doctor hovered over me and broke the news, “I’m sorry. You have ovarian cancer. You’ve had a complete hysterectomy. We took everything out.”
What I heard loud and clear was “Cancer. You can’t have children.”
The diagnosis came as a shock. Stage IIIC ovarian cancer had taken over my abdomen, resulting in an emergency hysterectomy that I was not prepared for. The intense grief hit immediately. The loss of my fertility was most crushing. I had always wanted to be a mom.
Halfway through chemo treatments, I celebrated my 28th birthday, but there wasn’t much to celebrate. My marriage was dying. Cancer puts tremendous stress on a couple. Some couples can handle it together like champs. We didn’t. We divorced 1 year from the date of my diagnosis.
After treatment ended, I looked in the mirror to see what was left. I was 28 years old, ravaged physically and emotionally, divorced, and scared to date as a woman unable to have children. Who would love me now?
Now, almost 20 years later, I feel strong again (although not invincible).
With the benefit of time and perspective, I’ve distilled that traumatic cancer experience into 5 life lessons:
- Trust grandma’s reassurance, “This too shall pass.” As an ovarian cancer survivor herself, my grandma is living proof of this timeless wisdom. Stressful events don’t have to be permanent. We don’t have to be victims. Although cancer is extremely painful and unwelcome, the bright spot is we are forced to build character traits such as resiliency, emotional courage, and grit.
- Create your own joy in the midst of crisis. There are ways to uplift yourself during the chaos of cancer treatment. For example, I took a pottery class throughout my chemo months to find solace in distraction and art, which helped soothe my soul and ease the journey. What would make you happy? Do some-thing just for you.
- Stop doing what you don’t want to do. If you were doing too much out of obligation beforehand, try to change that. You are only obligated to make yourself happy. No one else can do that for you. The key is to use this wisdom to prioritize your time and honor yourself, so you can be healthy for others. Drop what doesn’t serve you. Drop the guilt. Life will go on.
- Connect with others. The emotional trauma is hard to measure in a medical test, but it’s real. Anxiety and depression can go hand-in-hand after cancer—it did for me. In response to the emotional challenges I experienced, years later I founded MyLifeLine.org Cancer Foundation to ease the burden for others facing cancer. MyLifeLine.org is a cancer-specific social platform designed to connect you with your own family and friends to ease the stress, anxiety, and isolation. Gather your tribe on MyLifeLine. You are not alone.
- You are lovable after cancer. No matter what body parts you are missing, you deserve love just as you are. Cancer tore down my self-esteem, and it took significant effort to build it back up. I am dedicated to personal and professional growth now. Look into your heart, your mind, your spirit. Try fine-tuning your best character traits, like generosity or compassion. Never stop growing and learning. We are not defined by the body.
To wrap up my story—I learned that when one door closes, another opens. Today I am the proud, grateful mother of 11-year-old twin boys. Born with the help of a surrogate mom and an egg donor, my dream finally came true of becoming a parent. Where there is a will, there is a way. Never give up on your dreams!
About MyLifeLine.org: MyLifeLine.org Cancer Foundation provides free websites to connect cancer patients with family and friends so patients feel supported. To learn more about how MyLifeLine.org can help you or someone you know affected by cancer, please visit www.mylifeline.org.
An expert panel discusses different methods to cope with anxiety and depression through all the phases of a cancer journey. Jane Williams, MSN, RN, FNP, says one of the best ways is to communicate openly with your healthcare team and loved ones. Letting them know how you feel and what you need can lead to you feeling better. Remember that you’re not alone in your journey, and sharing your emotions can help you figure out what works best for you, whether that be running, meditating, etc. Watch the full video below for all the panel’s advice on coping with anxiety and depression.
Founder and CEO of CanSurround, Meg Maley, alongside a panel of Niki Koesel. MSN, ANP, ACHPN, FPCN, Eric Roeland, MD, and lung cancer survivor Randy Broad discuss the definitions and differences of supportive and palliative care, and what it means to them
Founder and CEO of CanSurround, Meg Maley, alongside a panel of Niki Koesel. MSN, ANP, ACHPN, FPCN, Eric Roeland, MD, and cancer survivor Randy Broad discuss the emotional side of cancer and how symptom and comfort management should be apart of your treatment from the beginning.
Deana Hendrickson talks about how important it is to connect with other patients and advocates online. Connecting online to patients with your same disease allows you to make amazing and empowering connections. Check out the whole clip below as Deana explains: