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Strategies for Completing the Cancer Triathlon

by Jane Loeb Rubin

Inspiration image

As I reach the end of my second phase of treatment and prepare to head into the third and, God willing, last phase, I have found myself struggling with the mental preparation I need. For the most part, I have heard scary, uncomfortable details of what is ahead, and although this last part will only take three rounds of three treatments, each round seems like an enormous mountain to climb.

The seeds of the triathlon concept began germinating a few weeks back when I was asked by a coworker what is ahead for me in treatment. I broke the process into three parts: surgery, intravenous chemotherapy, and intraperitoneal therapy. I sarcastically emphasized that the best part was saved for the finale, and I was currently nearing the end of part two.

Think about one stride at a time, and before you know it, you have gotten a mile under your belt.

I began to mull over the triathlon analogy and started to think about its meaning more carefully. I reflected on some of the isolated nuggets of advice two of my close work friends, Liz and Gayle, have given me and began to see the patterns. Liz, a triathlete herself, shared insights about the mental game needed to take on the physical challenge of the events, and her words added more shape and form to the similarities. On a very simplistic level, it all boils down to a few easy strategies that I have put into a mental outline. My husband has accused me many times of thinking in bullets, and I suppose that I do. But what he doesn’t realize is that bullets help me remember things. Here are my survival bullets; ready, aim, fire:

Stay positive, whatever it takes!

Externally, keep the outsiders who bring me down far, far away. Stay away from worrisome conversations, people with sad faces, and what I call the “tsk, tsk” people at work and home. They only make it worse! I know that behind the behavior is mostly well meaning thoughts, but their discomfort in knowing the right thing to say or do is not my problem today. Once I heard a doctor refer to my case as “unfortunate.” That word disturbed me so much that I was emotionally down all day.

Internally, become the mother superior of my own self-discipline – no downer thoughts and no downer conversations. Look for the toeholds in the rock and keep pulling upward. Replace all the negative baggage with rest and activities I enjoy, including work. I am fighting cancer and deserve to have all the satisfaction and fun I can rake in! This is the best time to be a caring friend to myself.

Stay in the moment. When the moment is big, tiring, and at times physically overwhelming, don’t add insult to injury by piling on more. As Liz might say, think about one stride at a time, and before you know it, you have gotten a mile under your belt. I use some of the techniques learned in Lamaze and guided imagery to help get through the bad stuff. Breathing slowly and fully, thinking about peaceful places, and sometimes adding medications have helped take the edge off. Knowing and believing that the symptoms will pass – and they always do – has helped a lot. If I feel up to it, I get busy at work or at home to distract myself; and of course, I write.

Remember the process. My therapy has been well studied, and great thought has gone into the risks and benefits connected with my treatment. So, like it or not, I have chosen to trust the science, medical therapy, physicians, and nurses who are guiding me through the journey. Keep faith, trust, and hope alive.

Everyone around me seems to understand that I am in the middle of a physical triathlon of sorts, and 99 percent of the time, they give me a break if I step out of line. The positive thoughts I have received from my family and friends have helped keep my mental tank full, and as time goes on, those around me seem to sense when I need a lift or extra help. So I pledge to remember that the next two and a half months will pass; I will take it one day at a time and make each day a positive addition to my life. In the end, I will finish this triathlon with a sense of accomplishment and pride.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Jane Loeb Rubin is director of neuroscience for Atlantic Health System and a breast and ovarian cancer survivor living in northern New Jersey.

Excerpted with permission from Almost a Princess: My Life as a Two-Time Cancer Survivor, by Jane Loeb Rubin, copyright © 2011 by Jane Loeb Rubin. All rights reserved.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, September/October 2012.