10 Ways to Cope with Cancer
by Glenn Brooks
In September 2011, I heard those most-unwelcome, life-changing words: “Glenn, you have cancer.” The news is better now. Following excisions, surgeries, radiation, chemotherapy, hydration, some sketchy moments, and incredible medical care, the cancer is no longer active. But I am! I vowed to use my story to encourage others, and with that, I give you my “10 Ways to Cope with Cancer.”
10 What? Cancer? Get Out of Town!
Literally, get out of town. Take a “cancermoon.” Escape for a few days with a loved one, or by yourself, to prepare mentally for what lies ahead.
9 You’ve Got We
You don’t have to go through this journey alone. People are willing to help; you just have to ask. You hate asking for help? Now is not the time to be proud; right now, you need to receive. You’ll have your chance to give again soon.
8 Write It Down
The mind has an amazing ability to block out unpleasant experiences. Keeping a journal can help you look back and remember what your cancer experience was really like, because someday, someone else may need your wisdom.
When times get tough and your very existence is threatened, it’s time to “badger up” and fight like you’ve never fought before.
7 Know Thy Enemy
Cancer is a complex creature. Read, listen, and listen some more. Have questions? Ask them. Are you so overwhelmed that you don’t even know what to ask? Listen and learn. The questions will come to you.
6 Listen to Your Body
Each body is unique. If you pay attention, your body will tell you what you need. Be careful, though; sometimes your body may want to give up. That’s when your brain will need to take charge to help you soldier on through treatment.
In the beginning, with clearance from you doctor, walk as much as you can. As you continue on, if walking becomes too difficult, make your exercises smaller – arm circles, leg flexes, jaw extensions, tongue drills. And don’t forget the best exercise – laughter! Sure, it sounds silly, but the effort will pay off.
4 Pick Up a Hobby
After my diagnosis, I started playing piano again after a 30-year hiatus. Talk about making a joyful noise (emphasis on the word noise). I also tried my hand at coloring books, where I learned that I had an amazing knack for staying within the lines. Find something you enjoy to keep your mind alive and alert.
3 Discover Your Inner Badger
No one will tell you that cancer is going to be easy. There will be times when you feel like you just can’t get locked into that radiation mask one more time, or like you can’t muster up the strength to even get hooked up to that chemo IV. But you have to. Like a cute little furry badger, when times get tough and your very existence is threatened, it’s time to “badger up” and fight like you’ve never fought before.
2 Celebrate Progress
Any step forward – any step at all – should be celebrated. Of course, the celebration method may not be a drink of champagne or a big piece of chocolate cake (it probably won’t taste like anything but cardboard anyway), but you need to congratulate yourself. That first spoonful of Cream of Wheat, that lap around the mall after treatment, having a chat with your niece for the first time in months – these are all reasons to celebrate.
1 Expect the Unexpected
Friends, during your cancer journey and beyond, you need to remember one thing – expect the unexpected. It might be a side effect that you’ve never imagined (hiccups? really?), or it might be a childhood friend stopping by for a surprise visit. Or maybe your dad telling you, “Son, you are my hero.” Someday, something’s going to catch you off guard. Be ready for it.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Glenn Brooks is a stage IV head and neck cancer survivor and a 2013 member of the American Cancer Society Voices of Hope Team.
This article was originally published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, March/April 2013.