8 Rules for Keeping Your Sanity
While Coping with Cancer
by Jane Loeb Rubin
As a four-year primary peritoneal cancer survivor and a fifteen-year breast cancer survivor, I am often asked how I’ve kept my head on straight when there seems to be so much fear associated with cancer. Drawing from some great advice from my husband, David, as well as my physicians, nurses, rabbi, children, and coworkers, I have come up with eight basic rules for keeping sane while coping with cancer.
1 Make sure you’re comfortable with your medical team.
It’s up to you to make sure you’re getting the best care possible. Research what’s available as far as treatment centers, doctors, and clinical trials. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or to seek a second (or third) opinion. Once I felt reassured that I had the best possible care plan in place, I was able to put my worry away.
Dealing with cancer can be overwhelming and emotionally taxing, especially with all the decisions you’re facing. When emotions begin to run high, just simplify. Engage in activities that calm your nerves and provide reprieve from stress. For me, this usually involves taking a scenic walk, reading, playing with my grandchildren, or watching a good movie.
3 Take things one step at a time.
Navigating cancer care is like driving the California freeway system. There are so many roads you can take that it’s easy to feel lost. It’s important to stay in the moment instead of getting bogged down trying to plan for every possible outcome.
My mantra is a signal to my brain to quit freaking out.
4 Develop a mantra to deal with fear and anxiety.
Mine is “Don’t look down.” Early in the diagnostic period when I was especially nervous about an upcoming CT scan, my husband suggested that I think about the things I was planning to do after the scan and that I, like a tightrope walker, “don’t look down.” Now when I have lab work and tests, I try to remember that the results are out of my hands, and even if they aren’t ideal, I have a great medical team assembled to care for me. Some people find meditation or prayer to be helpful, but for me, my mantra is a signal to my brain to quit freaking out, get the test over with, and move on.
5 Love yourself.
Cancer isn’t a punishment for anything you have or have not done. Most of us try to live healthy lives, but sometimes we get sick. That’s life. Try not to beat yourself up about it. Treasure the things you like about yourself, and above all be kind to yourself. I love to treat myself to the occasional massage to relax my body and improve my state of mind.
6 Don’t take on cancer alone.
The company of a support group, friends, and family can be reassuring. When I was writing my memoir, I had to call upon my relatives and friends to help me remember the details of my journey that I had forgotten. Reaching out to my loved ones provided the added benefit of companionship when I needed it most.
7 Find your funny bone.
We’ve all heard the saying “Laughter is the best medicine.” This is especially true when things are looking grim. Each time I visit the infusion lab, I rate the nurses by how uncomfortable the needle stick is on a scale from 1 to 10. After a few appointments, the nurses picked up on my system, and they now look forward to hearing how they scored. We always end up laughing, no matter how much the needle pinched.
8 Do something!
I’ve found that the best way to feel empowered is to get out there and do something. Within weeks of my diagnosis, I compiled a bucket list. My first challenge was to learn photography. Surprisingly, I have become quite good and am now the designated photographer for family events. I also have always had a yearning to travel, so in the past four years, my husband and I have traveled the world, from Hawaii to Israel and many places in between. Living your bucket list will make you feel happier and more fulfilled. But be warned; it is very addictive.
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Two-time cancer survivor Jane Rubin is director of neuroscience for Atlantic Health System in Summit, NJ, and author of Almost a Princess: My Life as a Two-Time Cancer Survivor. Learn more about Jane at AlmostAPrincess.com.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, March/April 2014.