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Coping with Cancer: Resiliency

4 Mar

This is the second post in a new series: Coping with Cancer: 20 Ways to Find Calm in the Midst of a Health Storm. The first post, Coping with Cancer: Confusion, can be found here.

Are people born naturally resilient or do they have to work and learn how to become that way?


I think resiliency something you can develop, although I do think some people are more prone to being more resilient than others possibly because of their upbringing or things they observed and learned as a child.  No matter what, I believe that anyone has the power to be resilient – especially if you are a Christian and believe in the power of God to restore you mentally, physically, and spiritually after major (or even minor) setbacks.

Resilience is defined as “the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched.” also explains it as the ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like.”

If cancer patients don’t have a need for resilience, I don’t know who does.  We’ve been bent, compressed, and stretched about as far as we can go.  One minute you are cruising right along.  Life is good.  Your job is going great.  Your family life is sweet.  You’re happy and content.  And then, out of no where, you get the call.  Something’s not quite right.  We need to look closer.  And before you know it, the rug is yanked out from under you and you are lying flat on your back looking at the world from a completely different angle.  Things are so different that you wonder if things will ever be the same.

Being resilient, having a positive mindset that pushes you to restore yourself to health and life is absolutely crucial for cancer patients.

My dad has a saying whenever something negative happens – a mistake, a big problem, a bit of a crisis.  He’ll say, “it’s a small setback in a big operation.”  I can’t remember how many times I heard that growing up, and still hear it from him.  He never means it to diminish the experience or belittle what I’m feeling.  What he means is that it’s a setback and it needs to be viewed as such.

A setback is not a permanent condition.  It is a pause, a step backwards from the direction we were headed.  But there is nothing that says we have to stay there.

I think there’s such truth in that wisdom.  I’m not saying that cancer is a minor setback, because it can feel HUGE and it is HUGE.  But if we allow it to hold us back from recovering and rebounding to the person we were before (or possibly even becoming better than the person we were before!), we are selling ourselves short.

Maybe we need to think of cancer as a minor setback, a bump in the road in an otherwise fabulous life?  If we believe that we will always be the way we are during treatment, that we will never feel better, that we will always have the “C” hanging over our heads, then we will not be resilient.  We will hold ourselves back from the life that is waiting for us.  It may not be the same life that we left months ago, but it can be a good life.

This can be challenging for those of us who are not “cured,” who do not receive a definitive, “you are cancer free” from our doctors, but I think it’s important all the same.  Once we finish our primary treatment and return to some sense of normalcy, if we continue to allow cancer to invade our thoughts and distract us from the beauty that is all around us, we will be missing out.  And we certainly don’t want to miss out because as cancer patients, if we’ve learned anything, it’s that life is precious and we must savor every second of it.



Coping with Cancer: Confusion

25 Feb

I’m beginning a series of posts related to my experience dealing with cancer, Coping with Cancer: 20 Ways to Find Calm in the Midst of a Health Storm. I won’t be posting these every day, so if you’ve not been affected by cancer and don’t really feel these posts will be relevant to you – no worries. I will be posting other info that I hope will be useful to you. However, much of what will be included in these posts would be relevant to anyone facing a significant health challenge.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Coping with cancer is a learned art that evolves throughout your diagnosis, treatment, and – I’m guessing – for years to come. I’m less than two years into this ride, but I’ve experienced enough of it to know that my coping mechanisms are constantly changing.

There are as many different opinions on how to go about this as there are people with cancer. No one way works best for each individual. The method, process, and steps involved are unique to each person, form of cancer, life experience, and religious beliefs. It would be great if there were a 12-step process to guide you through from beginning to end, but there’s not. We all have to stumble, climb, and crawl our way through our new reality.

There are, however, some things I’ve learned in the past year+ that have helped me deal with this ugly, unkind, unwanted diagnosis – and I’m hoping they will help you, too.

If you’re not confused,
you’re not paying attention.
Tom Peters


The first emotion I felt was confusion. Truthfully, before I heard the word lymphoma, I didn’t really know what it was. I thought it was a form of cancer, but did not know enough about to know whether I should freak out or remain calm. Just thinking about it makes my hands tremble a bit as I tap on this keyboard.

The way the moment takes place may be different for everyone, but the emotions and the physical reactions it evokes within each of us are undoubtedly similar: fear, anxiety, nausea, heart palpitations. And for me, just plain ‘ole confusion. “Really??? How in the world? What is lymphoma? Hmmpphh.”

What added to the confusion was that I was not told “You have _____. We will begin treatment next week.” My initial diagnosis was general – simply lymphoma. We had to wait weeks . . . correct that, months, for the “official” specific diagnosis.

There were three ways I dealt with the immediate confusion: 1) opened my Bible, 2) talked to my husband, family and close friends and 3) researched lymphoma. Two of them were helpful; the third was not.

For whatever was written
was given to us for our learning,
that through patience and comfort of the scriptures
we might have hope.
Romans 15:4

My Bible, my husband, family and close friends kept me grounded and prevented me from getting too far out into the fear stratosphere. It also reminded me how much I am loved and provided me with a soft place to land when my thoughts stopped racing and settled on reality. At this stage, researching lymphoma was not super helpful because I knew so little about my specific diagnosis. The research left me swinging between hopeful and utterly terrified. I decided until we knew more details, I needed to keep my Google searches to a minimum.

If you are a cancer patient, survivor, thriver, fighter, struggler, or coper – what was the first emotion you experienced after your diagnosis?


3 Important Characteristics of an Oncologist [Plus a Chemo Update]

11 Feb

My 7th maintenance Rituxan treatment went well on Friday. I was much more tired than I usually am after treatment and had aches like the flu Friday night and Saturday, but am feeling really well now. Ready to take on a new week!


In spite of the fact that I don’t want to have to go there every eight weeks, once I arrive I am overwhelmed with gratitude for my doctor and the nurses who care for me. They don’t have to be kind, but they are. They don’t have to take the time to listen to me, but they do. They don’t have to be compassionate, but they are. They don’t have to care, but they sure do.

I am reminded with each visit just how grateful I am for Dr. Daniel and how confident I am that he was/is the right choice of oncologist for me. There are certain things I think each patient needs to find in their oncologist. It’s incredibly important to get the right “fit” for you, as an individual. If you are not confident and comfortable with your physician, your treatment, progress, and overall attitude will likely suffer. You do not need to have additional stress added to your life at a time when it is full of stress already.

Naturally, education and knowledge are extremely important, but there are other characteristics of oncologists that matter, too. I didn’t know what I needed in an oncologist until I was well into the process of working with Dr. Daniel, but now that I am 20 months into this journey, I am able to see what it is about him that makes him a good fit for myself and Barry.

1. Approachable Personality. From day one, I’ve felt comfortable mentioning anything to Dr. Daniel without fear that he would dismiss my concern as silly or nothing of importance. He listens to each question and gives a thoughtful answer. He doesn’t overreact, nor does he dismiss things lightly. This has helped me to develop a sense of trust in him because I feel that my care is important to him.

2. Sense of Humor. This might not be key for everyone, but it is for me. I couldn’t deal with a Serious Sam every time I went to an appointment. I need a doc who is serious when he needs to be, but who also accepts my sense of humor and expresses his from time to time. Cancer is serious enough – I need to lighten the load when possible and having my doctor on board for that makes him the right doctor for me.

3. Selfless Attitude. Despite his exceptional education and experience, my care has never been focused on him – how much he knows, or what he thinks. It’s always been about me. My specific situation, concerns, treatment plan, etc. If I have a question about something that is not his strength, he has no problem referring me to someone else who has more expertise or knowledge of the subject. He is careful to constantly share notes with my other doctors, too, making it possible for them all to communicate and coordinate my care.

Your list may be very different, but if you are just starting out on this journey (and I am so sorry if you are!), take time to think about the characteristics you will need in your oncologist and be prepared to find another one if the first one you are given does not meet your needs.

If you’ve been through this before, what characteristics did you look for or appreciate in your oncologist?