I have made it through my first (hopefully my last) round of surgery to remove cancer from my body. As I sit here, on my first day back at work, I am remembering the emotions I’ve felt over the past two months.
A whirlwind two months….
I have been all over the Internet looking for ways I can help myself as I struggle with my cancer. There’s surprising a lot out there. But if you look closely at everything you read you’ll see and possibly understand what hit me early on. These realizations were my Cancer Reality Checks.
Reality Check #1: There is NO WAY TO ENSURE YOU WILL NOT GET CANCER.
I wondered what I had done to get the disease. What should I have done differently? How could I have prevented this disease?
According to my research it seems that there is a lot you can do to prevent cancer from occurring – maybe. There are articles and testimonials all over the Internet about what foods you should eat to prevent and to fight cancer. There is no real evidence, however, that says if you eat blueberries every day you will prevent cancer. There is nothing definitive that says Xmg of Vitamin D every day will prevent cancer. No – at best all you can hope for is some undefined reduction of your chance of getting cancer.
I’m not saying that you should not follow a better diet rich in antioxidants. Not at all. I’m just saying that there is no silver bullet that will ensure you will remain cancer free. There are too many variables and factors – genetic and environmental – that cause cancer. You just can’t get that assurance that you will not get cancer, people. I’m sorry.
Reality Check #2: Once you have cancer whether you live or die is out of your control
Strictly speaking, this is not true – but it is. Obviously there is some X-factor in the power of positive attitude and/or faith. Call it the placebo effect or maybe there is some real merit that perception creates reality. What struck me hardest about this, though – and still keeps me up in a cold sweat at night – is that aside from going to the doctor on schedule, keeping a positive attitude, and researching the Internet tirelessly for breakthroughs and possibilities there is NOTHING I can do to save myself. My life is in the hands of my doctors and their skill in finding and eliminating my cancer. I am out of control.
That’s a bitter pill to swallow. I’m also diabetic and have kept my diabetes under control for nearly a decade through simple diligence and attention to detail. I control my diabetes – it does not control me. I am not insulin dependent and my quarterly A1C is always under 5.5%. If I live or die from diabetes is something I have DIRECT control over.
Not so with my cancer. Cancer is not like diabetes. I cannot bargain with it. That bears repeating; you cannot bargain with cancer, people. I cannot do this to prevent that outcome. I cannot reason with it. All I can do is put my life in the hands of people trained to hunt and destroy it before it destroys me.
Reality Check #2 is why so many people diagnosed with cancer rediscover their faith or spirituality. We live in a world where we believe we can somehow control EVERYTHING. But we can’t. Some things are out of our control and we have to learn to accept it so we can move past. Some people find God. Others put faith in science. Some do both.
I’m sure a lot of people have had these realizations – not just with cancer but with any number of afflictions. These realizations are new to me, though, and I’ve been wrestling with my new found understanding that I am truly not in control. When I got divorced I got what I thought was a lesson in what I really control – I learned that I control nothing except myself. Now I learned that I can’t even control myself. That’s a staggering thought.
Reality Check #3: There is always hope and support
There is hope, though. Being out of control does not mean you’re hopeless. There are millions of us with cancer and never before in history have so many resources both spiritually and scientifically been leveraged against a single disease.
If you have cancer – find your support group. Don’t give up. Allow yourself to keep your humor and your hope alive. Stick close to those who support and avoid people who don’t support you or just want to be around you to make themselves feel better.
All is not lost, friends. My family, children, friends, and loved ones have been by my side every step of the way. They have been my heart, soul, courage, and lifeline. Find yours.
There are lots of resources for cancer support. My first “support” group was the Lance Armstrong Foundation. I ordered his free cancer survivor notebook and planner. It went a long way towards helping me learn to control the things I CAN control and opened my eyes to how many SURVIVORS there are out there. (http://www.livestrong.org/)
I may have cancer – but I am not yet dead. And if you’re reading this – neither are you.