How I kicked my cancer fear to the curb

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.

 

Sometimes you have to endure the rain to experience a rainbow

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!!

The F word…Fear

I’ve been thinking a lot about fear lately. Lots of people on the support boards are talking about their fears, and I think this is a great thing to talk about…partly because no one ever wants to talk about it and partly because I’ve been feeling this fear lately. So let’s talk about it.

So far through treatment, I have really tried to be as normal as possible. The initial shock of diagnosis and the emotions that come with waiting for a treatment plan were difficult. I went through all the stages that come with something big like this – shock, then anger, blame, denial and sadness. Eventually, as time went by and I began a treatment plan, it became acceptance.

But I’m not going to lie. I really went through a time where all I thought about was melanoma and cancer. I wanted to tell everyone and no one at the same time. The oxymoron of having cancer but looking normal was my norm. I hated being a patient, and I would purposefully do everything I could to look normal. Like having cancer was my little secret. But even if I looked normal, my thoughts were NOT normal, and my brain was screaming “I HAVE CANCER!” My person was a house with a beautiful facade, and a cracked, crumbling and leaking foundation that you can’t see from the outside.

I lived with my fearful thoughts everyday, and the list of “what ifs” just kept growing. What if I die? What if I make the wrong treatment choice? What if I have side effects? Complications? Lymphedema? How will I cope? How will my husband feel? The fear of the unknown kept growing inside of me.

Around the time I reached the peak of my fear, I realized my brain was a run-away train. These thoughts weren’t helping me to fight this disease, they were doing quite the opposite, because I wasn’t living my life. What makes us all unique is our thoughts, our psychology, our soul. I came to the realization that melanoma may take over my body, but what it couldn’t take was my personality. I am not my disease, and my disease will not limit who I am. I promised myself to fight the mental battle with this disease. And I promised I would win.

I’ve read a fair number of books on meditation and meaningfulness. I’ve read books (such as “When Breath Becomes Air” – a wonderful book) about life and death and cancer for perspective. Reading and mindfulness seem to help me quiet the fear. It gives me a different perspective, and reminds me of my mental goals. Whatever helps you to win that battle…do it. Whatever works for you. Try everything, and keep fighting. If you get too overwhelmed and find the fear is taking over, find help. Win the mental battle against melanoma and don’t let fear become your person. You are so much more than your cancer.