The doctor has just delivered frightening news. You are in shock. You feel unprepared. You don’t know what to do first.
Give yourself a little time to let the emotions sink in. The goal is acceptance, and all of the emotions–fear, denial, anger, blame, rage–you are experiencing are part of the process of dealing with the disease. Don’t let yourself stay stuck in any one emotion. Allow yourself to move through all of these emotions.
Next, take charge of your life, get into gear. Begin to gather information about your condition and its treatment. Take responsibility. Understand that it is your role to gather information and make decisions about your medical care. This is your body and your life. Do not leave important decisions regarding your health to a stranger (remember, the letters M.D. do not stand for “medical deity”). It’s likely that you may receive several differing, even conflicting, medical opinions about how to proceed. The decisions are up to you.
Question everything. Keep asking questions until you are satisfied with the answers. But resist the temptation to ask “How long will I live?” No doctor can tell you when you will die. A prognosis is only a statistic based on a large group of people, and you are not a number or group but a single individual. Ask instead, “How can I beat the usual prognosis for this condition? What do we need to do to ensure I can be one who is cured or outlives the prognosis?”
Get a second and third medical opinion about your case. Locate the doctor or institutions that specialize in your particular illness. Understand that what one doctor tells you is his or heropinion, but it is not necessarily the only reality. Another doctor, perhaps one more experienced with your type of illness or practicing at a facility with newer technological advances, may have a different opinion.
Do not give the illness too much power. Remember that even young David was able to prevail over Goliath. It may be helpful to remember that no illness is the monster that we are often led to believe it is. There are many things you can do to influence your healing. Adopt a healthful diet, take nutritional supplements and herbs, use visualization, massage, meditation, acupuncture, counseling, get some exercise. Everything you do to contribute to your well-being is part of your healing. Treatments by your doctor are not the only medicine.
You must believe 100% in your treatments. Align your purpose with the goal of your treatments. It is important that you choose treatments that you feel, deep down inside, are necessary for your healing. You may also want to avoid treatments you strongly feel will not work for you. When you choose a treatment, put your complete faith in it and don’t allow yourself any regrets. And remember to assemble a team of skilled practitioners to assist you.
If you live, eat, feel, and act exactly as you have always lived, eaten, felt, and acted, what changes can you expect? Up to now, your life has not been working perfectly, for it has led you to this illness. Now is the time for change. Consider your illness to be a wake up call, see it as a turning point.
Now is the time for you to focus on healing. Simplify your life so that you can put your full attention on this purpose. Organize your daily activities so that you will have opportunities throughout the day to focus on this goal. Invite healing into your life.
Should you keep working? If your work brings you joy…you may want to continue working. If your work detracts from your joy, consider taking a leave of absence.
Get help. Don’t be afraid to ask for it. Organize friends, family, and community to help with housework, cooking, and errands so that you can focus your energy on healing. Let go of any fear of asking for help. Many people who love you want very much to help and will be grateful for the chance to do so.
If possible, join a support group. Making connections with people who are facing a similar situation allows you to dissolve your feelings of isolation, learn from others’ experiences, and share and receive compassion. Cultivate a positive attitude. Embrace HOPE. There is no such thing as false hope; there is only false hopelessness.
Letting go of stress is paramount. Stress, fear, and worry put you in Sympathetic Nervous System (“fight or flight” mode). But the body’s healing processes occur under Parasympathetic nervous control (“rest and repair” mode). Learn to relax. Get plenty of sleep. Try meditation and breathing exercises. And remember that laughter, too, fosters healing.
Begin to cherish each day. Celebrate your life, your loves, your relationships, and your self.
This material was adapted from “It’s Cancer, Now What?: Healing Strategies from the Personal Experiences of Cancer Survivors” © 1998 Nutritional Solutions.