Cancer patients are often so overwhelmed by the disease and harsh treatments that they have trouble finding a path that will return them to a state of wellness. Many expect their oncologist will supply the roadmap; others just never get that far in their thinking. But after dealing with this disease for many years and meeting with tons of survivors, I’ve found that patients who create their own path to wellness tend to manage the challenge better and have an easier time with recovery.
Start with a vision. Every great plan begins at the end, the state we want to arrive at when the plan is achieved. I found that visualizing time with my loved ones again -- enjoying things we enjoy -- creates a powerful goal. Feeling stuck? Create a dream board, a collage of family photos and future vacation spots or symbols of future events. It is what keeps me motivated when the hill seems too high.
Assume a survivor mindset. A major shift occurred when I stopped thinking like a cancer victim (this terrible tragedy has happened to me) and instead thought “my body is in trauma and I must do everything possible to support it.” This allowed me to be objective with steps that led to a healthier mind and body, more accountable to ensuring myself the best chance of success.
Decide what’s in your control and start taking control. Cancer patients' bodies are being assaulted by cancer and treatments, their minds go to scary places, their spirits are broken -- leaving them feeling like they've totally lost control of their lives. They are in a place they never imagined being, so they are disoriented with no frame of reference. They can feel disempowered, disconnected from reality. But there is more happening to a cancer patient besides cancer treatments. By identifying all the things we still control, we begin to take control.
Create a strategy for the day that incorporates the things that will help encourage recovery. Even in chemotherapy, patients can exercise control of what they eat (even though the body is rejecting food), physical movement (even with surgeries and fatigue) and certainly their mental and spiritual thoughts. Yes, eating is difficult when you feel nauseous and things taste awful; however you’re not eating for enjoyment but for fuel. Yes, staying in bed sounds better than walking but managed exercise reduces nausea, helps remove toxins and slows the loss of muscle mass –- a major contributor to fatigue.
And mentally, anyone who is dealing with cancer can benefit from a trained therapist to help sort out the explosion of feelings that you get as a free bonus with a cancer diagnosis. Psychotherapy, although underutilized by cancer patients, can be the most important first step in building a recovery plan by offering tools, coping skills, clarity, stress reduction and focusing on useful thoughts and emotions.
Every person’s cancer journey is unique and there are some for whom these ideas are just not possible. But if you are feeling overwhelmed by cancer treatment, these ideas might help you find the path that leads to your return to wellness.