When you think about it, there only only a few moments that really define your life:
There are the ones that give and take life: the day you are born and the day you die. There are the moments, or occasions, that define how we live our life: marriage, having children, buying a home, career choices, moving towns, pursuing a passion.
And there are the days that change us and our perspective, for better or for worse. A cancer diagnosis, or any life threatening illness, falls into this category. It doesn’t happen to everyone, and you ask, “Why did this happen to me?” “How did I let this happen to me?” “How can I be so unlucky?”
You can rehash these questions over and over. You can take medical tests to find answers. You can blame stress, bad habits, genes, cigarettes, whatever. You can cry, scream, kick, sulk, and retreat into your home and burrow in your bed, but you cannot hide from the fact that you have been diagnosed, and you have important choices to make that may impact the rest of your life.
Here are some questions to ask yourself to keep you moving forward rather than looking backward:
Where will I go to seek the best medical help I can afford? Ask everyone you know for recommendations. Believe me, everyone knows someone undergoing treatment and can recommend medical practitioners. There are numerous online resources but I found the recommendations from friends who had undergone breast cancer treatment, or who had friends undergoing treatment were the best sources. After that, my selection was based on A) Who participated in my insurance coverage network? B) How easy was it to get an appointment in the immediate future? (some doctors are booked for months which you do not have) C) How well did the doctor explain my diagnosis and my treatment options to me? D) Did I feel the doctor was someone I would trust and who I would feel comfortable with in helping me through my treatment?
How will I pay for my medical treatment? I called three people the minute I knew this might be the real deal in this order: my husband who was, and remains, my lifeline; a dear friend of mine who had just finished undergoing breast cancer treatment, for recommendations on breast surgeons, and my health insurance advisor, to assess my coverage and what to ask the doctors I would be interviewing. Hopefully you have health insurance. If you do: get in writing exactly what your coverage entails: your co-pays for hospitalization, major medical, doctors’ visits and prescription drugs. This will be your calling card. Keep your health insurance card in your wallet and a copy in your files.
If you do not have health insurance, there are a number of organizations you can contact for referrals and advice on financial assistance. One I recommend is CancerCare, Inc. www.cancercare.org. Hospitals offer social workers to help you navigate the system. Just don’t despair!
Who do I want by my side as my support team to help me through this? This is important. These are the core family and friends who will be with you as your second pair of ears at doctors appointments, accompany you to treatments, run errands when you are not up to it, pick up your kids from school, bring you meals and small gifts, and make you laugh. They will fiercely protect your privacy and also serve as your communications front if you need help reaching out to update everyone on your progress.
How am I going manage my illness so it does not take over and define my life?Try and compartamentalize as best you can. Relegate your medical phone calls and emails to a specific time of day. Schedule treatments consistently on a specific day and time. And schedule other activities and diversions to keep your mind and body active: working out, having dinner with friends, going to the movies, walking your dog- simple diversions are what you need.
What is absolutely necessary for me to keep doing and pursuing right now to keep my life “normal” For me, keeping a normal pace at work in my business was key. Also, maintaining a fitness regime, seeing my friends for dinner and taking an anniversary trip with my husband (with my oncologist’s approval), and not allowing myself to be overcome in cancer-talk. I used to tell my friends, who worried and called several times a week to check in, that I would only discuss my condition on Fridays. The other days of the week I wanted to focus other subjects and interests. For me, this control was important.
What is uncessary to my life right now that I can eliminate or put off? This is a good time to edit your activities. Rid your self of time and emotional bandits that take you off kilter. You don’t that right now. I carefully scaled back my schedule, focusing on my health, my work, my family, my friends.
“How am I going to use experience to redefine how I am going to live my life?” From the onset you have these choices: I will focus on the negative or I will focus on the positive. I will retreat or I will fight with all I have. I will see myself as being sick or I will set my sights on being and living healthy. I will use this situation to accept what fate has dealt me or I will use the experience to make changes in my life to make it better.
Here’s today’s take away: No matter what your diagnosis and stage: Treat cancer as a life sentence, not a death sentence. A backhanded gift of sorts: It can give you the chance to rethink how you want to live the rest of your life: what to eliminate that is dragging you down, what to change that feels obsolete or need reworking, and what to hold onto that really matters.