It was almost exactly 15 years ago when a doctor in Seattle told me I had leukemia and that it was a disease that would almost certainly shorten my life. At that time I had two young children, a wife, and a growing business where I shouldered the responsibility for making payroll for several employees. I was 45 and usually a pretty calm person. But I was reeling. Maybe something similar has happened to you. If not, maybe someday it will. There are many articles that talk about medical treatment, but they usually address physical health. Emotional health is critical too. You have to find ways to “right” yourself. To get some equilibrium back.
At the moment of diagnosis it is natural to feel very alone. To feel like “damaged goods.” Healthy, vibrant people are all around you and you see yourself as anything but that. I remember vividly those first few weeks as, with the help of my wife Esther, I tried to get back in balance, as much as a cancer patient can. We spent some time exploring how I might have developed leukemia. Was it from our tap water? Was it from the power lines across the street? Was it radon in our house? None of this expenditure of energy was productive or helpful.
Then there was all that time spent exploring whether I should make changes on my own to fight back. My wife heard Dr. Andrew Weil say that stopping drinking coffee could help. So she made me stop. A neat trick in Seattle, where we have Starbucks on every corner! We switched to distilled drinking water. My wife bought a juicer. We went to an “energy medicine” practitioner and then an herbalist. None of this lasted or seemed to matter (at least in my case). And it was “crazy making” in the process.
What did help though was going to a counselor. A friend with lymphoma, a world-famous trauma surgeon and neighbor, directed us to his therapist. He was a man whose wife had also been treated for leukemia. He felt our pain. My wife and I started going for couples counseling. She had been a “basket case” too. Over many weeks we got back in control of our emotions and developed an emotionally sound plan to fight the cancer and go on with our lives, even with the uncertainty that illness brings.
Another thing that really helped was connecting online with other patients with the same illness. Nowadays there are online communities for virtually every condition. Some of us in my online group found we all lived in Seattle so we started to have monthly lunches together. That was a huge help. And we shared strategies for how to talk to friends, family and co-workers about our diagnosis. It was empowering.
When I wrote my new book, The Web-Savvy Patient, I felt it was important to let people know that the Internet can provide more than just reliable information about treatment. The web can also help you find your community. You are not alone, no matter what diagnosis you face. Someone somewhere has “walked in your shoes” and is further along in the journey. How did they cope with it? How did they go on with their life? They will tell you and help you heal emotionally.
When you are diagnosed with a cancer or a chronic condition you are changed forever. But, with the help of professionals and a community, you can get back to your emotional center and make the best of every day.
About the author: Andrew Schorr is a medical journalist, cancer survivor and founder of Patient Power, a one-of-a-kind company dedicated to bringing in-depth information to patients with cancer and chronic illness. Audio and video programs, as well as transcripts, help patients make informed decisions to support their health in partnership with their medical team. Patient Power is at www.PatientPower.info and on Facebook. Schorr is also the author of “The Web Savvy Patient: An Insider's Guide to Navigating the Internet When Facing Medical Crisis." http://www.websavvypatient.com/