Cancer and emotional trauma
“Whenever we begin to feel as if we can no longer go on, hope whispers in our ear, to remind us, we are strong.” Robert M. Hensel
Sure. We all know it’s important to have a positive attitude. I can do that when the skies are blue, the sun is shining, and the temperature is perfect in the mid 70s. With a little effort, I can choose a healthy attitude even when things are a little skewed. You know, maybe it’s a bad hair day and the roast got a little overdone. I know firsthand the challenge of finding the silver lining is far more challenging with no hair, a body that went on strike refusing to make enough red blood cells to distribute any oxygen, and the uncertainty of it all. It seemed like every time one thing mended in my body another one broke. First it was a tumor compressing my spinal column, next it was an enlarged kidney, then came a spiked heart rate, and on and on.
I didn’t want to talk about it anymore. People checked in on me, thankfully, but I just wanted to be able to say “All good! False alarm! I’m fine.” Instead, the cancer saga never ended. Maybe you can muster up a happy-go-lucky demeanor for a day but cancer often is a long road with twists and turns.. How do you keep it all in check?
Truth is, it’s not a one and done. It’s something you have to work on every moment of every day. Some days you’ll do better than others…but that’s okay! I think we get ourselves in trouble when we think of it as a binary switch. Either you’re “good” or “bad”. First, we don’t need to judge ourselves as “good” or “bad”. We need to accept that sometimes we will be better in the emotional fight than other times. It’s all part of it. We also have to realize it’s a marathon.
I was looking forward to getting my last chemo treatment in my rearview mirror. Mentally, I was prepared. I had plans to celebrate the milestone. Then my doc popped my balloon. She told me we couldn’t treat today because my platelets were too low. I was disappointed. I also understood if they treated me I’d likely end up in the hospital and I didn’t want to check into that particular hotel anymore, so I quickly moved on to figure out the next step. She said, “Wow, you took that really well. I had to tell a patient that on Tuesday and she threw a chair.” (I was instantly jealous that somebody in my condition had enough energy to pick up a chair, much less throw it.) While I chuckled at the thought of reacting that way I also realized it’s a “side effect” of the mental game of cancer. There’s a lot to process and we have to give ourselves and each other the grace to get a grip on our emotions. Just like it’s a marathon for our bodies, mentally it’s an emotion-thon.
The late, great Zig Ziglar was a motivational speaker that used to say, “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing, that’s why we recommend it daily.”
The evening after I finally got that last treatment in, I was at a banquet and coincidentally I asked the man sitting across from me what he did for a living. Imagine my surprise when he told me he was an oncologist. We got to talking and he commented on my positive attitude and then told me how the mental game impacts outcomes. I challenged him on that and he double downed. He told me it absolutely makes a big impact on the patient’s success and the day-to-day journey. Nobody told me about the importance of the mental game. I’m determined to help as many fighters as possible throughout every battle.