Recently, I’ve had many people ask me one of the most important (but most overlooked) questions about cancer treatment. How did I learn to cope?
I don’t mean physically cope with getting through the treatments. Coping with treatments and healing after surgery is really just ‘grin and bear it’. There’s no secret to physically getting through treatment – you just have to put on your rally cap and fight like hell.
But how do you MENTALLY cope with cancer? How do you endure a diagnosis like stage 3 melanoma and NOT want to crawl into a hole and cry yourself to sleep?
Well, I have to admit, there was definitely a little bit of that for me – at first.
I’ve always said that cancer is more of a mental battle than a physical one. My melanoma diagnosis hit me very hard. I’m in healthcare – I should KNOW the warning signs. I should KNOW to take care of my own health first and foremost. But I put my changing/bleeding mole on the back burner while I worked 60 hours/week taking care of other people.
I felt a HUGE amount of guilt and blamed myself for months. I felt defeated. I felt lost. Why me? How could I do this to my family? What if I don’t make it? How am I supposed to live my life like this?
And then I gradually began to realize that this was a battle of wills. Much like any sport, the team with the best mental state wins. I was NOT going to let this stupid cancer win. This cancer was NOT going to bring down my spirit. If I was going to fight like hell physically, I also had to fight mentally. My whole being had to fight – and fight hard.
I knew the odds weren’t in my favor. I knew that melanoma defeating me was more of a likelihood than a possibility. At the age of 31, I had to come to grips with my own mortality in a very real way.
But you know what? As the old saying goes: there are only 2 certainties in this world – death and taxes. If my life was going to be cut short, I better make it a damn good one.
So I came to the conclusion: cancer may take my life. But cancer would NOT take my soul.
I have a soft spot for country music, and Tim McGraw’s song “Live Like You Were Dying” to this day makes me cry. There’s something about facing death that makes you realize how precious life is – and you have to soak up EVERY MOMENT. Every day is truly a blessing.
Thousands of people have survived cancer and been given a second chance on life. And since treatment that has become my new mentality – I’ve been given a second chance at life. And you can’t have a full life when you’re constantly worried.
So I permanently shut off that leaky faucet of fears and guild and questions that kept creeping into my mind.
How did I do it? Mindfulness meditation.
I began reading books such as The Art of Power by Thich Nhat Hanh and it made me realize that meditation doesn’t have to be all granola and incense and “ohm”. Just being mindful – learning to soak in every moment – was something we could all do. Soaking in the joys of everyday life has made me more grateful and more introspective about how I want to live.
Think about it. Think about what you want to accomplish in life. REALLY TRULY accomplish. Because YOU are the only one who can make these dreams a reality. YOU are the only one who can choose to live in a beautiful state rather than living every day in fear.
Because living in fear is no way to live. And I choose living a life that’s worth living. And so should you.
So say NO to the fears. Say NO to melanoma and cancer. Put your foot down and choose to take back your life. Start LIVING your life while you still can. It’s that simple.
So get out there and start living!!