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Accept and Fight

How I’m Coping with Cancer

by Anne Beckman

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For six and a half years, a monster named cancer has been chewing on my body. It began with breast cancer. After a year’s treatment, the beast went into remission. Three years later, pre-cancerous cells demanded a hysterectomy. Two years later, cancer reappeared on my skull and spine.

Clearly, a coping technique was in order. Through experience, I have mine. It is “Accept and Fight.” A dual attitude leading to dual action. Adopting this dual attitude is survival gear. Every coping technique flows from either one attitude or the other.

Acceptance is the attitude that says, “Yes, I have cancer. I will do what the doctors say. I won’t hide my cancer. I realize I will need help from others. I realize this disease will make profound, permanent changes in my life.”

Acceptance first means listening to your body, knowing what cancer is doing to it, trying to keep ahead of it. It also means organizing. Coping with cancer is your job now, so know your stuff – your doctors, medications, limitations, pharmacy, treatments. Keep a list of them at home and in your Blackberry.

Acceptance means letting others help you. This goes beyond casseroles and get-well cards. It includes any tasks family and friends can do for you, as well as visits when you can handle it. It lifts others’ spirits to help someone they care for.

Finally, acceptance can lead you to receive help from a group with a common experience. The Wellness Community was my rock when I had breast cancer. I could cry there, learn there, laugh there, and teach there.

Fighting is the attitude that says, “I understand I have a life-threatening disease, but I will fight it with all I have. I will feel angry and sorry for myself. I will feel sick. But I will not let this disease conquer my spirit.” It’s the attitude that says, “I have cancer, but it will not possess me.”

There are days spent vomiting, objects stuck in your body that hurt, hair loss, and hospital stays. These can cause you to lose your morale. There is also anxiety: Will I ever get better? How much is this costing me? I look so ugly without hair! Anxiety can make you as sick as the cancer can.

Depression can come so easily from a weakened body. After four chemo treatments, breast surgery, then more chemo during an especially harsh winter, I let anxiety claim me. My sense of humor disappeared. I talked little and was afraid of the telephone. I kept everything inside, until I broke down during a doctor’s appointment. This breakdown could have been avoided by giving voice to my feelings early on.

Lesson learned: Kill the anxiety – or any lousy feeling – before it kills you. Asking for help to fight painful emotions is just as important as fighting the disease.

I still have cancer. I get a monthly treatment to remove this monster from me. As I write this, the metal cage that replaced the two cancerous vertebrae is securely in place. The CAT scan I had last September said the cancer is no longer spreading, but my lymphatic system is weakened. I do what my doctors say. Life is okay! Just keep to the plan. May it work for you, too. You have all my support.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Anne Beckman is a breast cancer survivor living in Indianapolis, IN.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, January/February 2010.