S.E.A.R.C.H.ing for Control
by Michele R. Lucas, LICSW
You have been diagnosed with cancer. You feel helpless and confused. Where to start? What to do? The S.E.A.R.C.H. model for living is your prescription for regaining control. It will help keep you focused and feeling empowered.
Simplify Learn to say no to others and to yourself. Your life has become complicated enough because of your diagnosis. If you have always been the first person to volunteer to help with anything and everything, you need to stop. If you are a perfectionist, you need to learn to compromise. You need to focus on yourself, get sufficient rest, and remain well nourished and hydrated. Your new obligation is to keep your body and mind at their optimal best in order to maximize the benefit of your treatment.
Educate Yourself and Those Around You Educate yourself about your disease, the most up-to-date treatments, and the most qualified doctors in your area. Is your doctor familiar with the national standard of care (the consensus throughout the country of how best to treat a disease) for your situation? Attend a disease specific support group for normalization and validation of the emotions you are experiencing. And educate those around you. Tell them how you really feel. Don?t close people out from the truth. If you are in pain or exhausted by treatment, be clear and straightforward.
This is a new time, a new life full of
This is your new normal.
Ask and Accept Ask for and accept help. Family and friends feel powerless at a time like this, and allowing them to assist is a gift for both of you. There are Web sites, such as www.lotsahelpinghands.com and www.carepages.org, that are structured to help people organize offers of help. Assign a trusted friend to set up and manage the site, and give access only to those you wish. Use an online calendar for organizing helpers that allows each person to see what others are doing. If someone sees that meals are being prepared and delivered to you on Tuesday, they could chose to help with meals on Thursday. If the soccer car pool is covered, they could drive to dance lessons. Don?t shut people out.
Redefine Your life is irreversibly changed from the moment that you hear your diagnosis, but not necessarily for the worst. Many people consider this a gift – a gift of time. It can allow you an opportunity to slow down and reevaluate life. What once may have seemed incredibly important suddenly may seem trivial. What once seemed mundane may now become incredibly significant. Replace losses with gains. Recapture the value of life, and do not dwell on the past. There is no benefit to comparing your current situation to your pre-diagnosis one. No matter how well you do, you are a different person. This is a new time, a new life full of possibilities. This is your new normal.
Change/Control Change whatever you can for the better. Finances may become problematic if you are unable to work, which may cause undo stress. Are there lifestyle changes that would ease the burden? Maybe this is the time to downsize. Do you really need two cars? Could you, should you, sell your vacation home? Remember, this is about reducing stress to maximize the quality of your life. Consider your options carefully, and take back control of your life.
Hunt Search for opportunities that bring you joy and satisfaction. It may be as simple as sitting on your deck watching the birds. It may be planning a trip. Take art lessons or learn to play the piano. If you cannot, or choose not, to return to work, consider volunteering. Volunteering can be extremely fulfilling and pleasurable. Hunt for what will make you happy.
Many people who have been diagnosed with cancer would say their lives have been improved. How can someone who has cancer say “improved”? I have heard many survivors say they feel they have become better people. Everything they once took for granted now has meaning. Their priorities have been reorganized. There is a renewed appreciation of family members and friends. And there is a restored level of naiveté and joy in admiration of the world around them. It is as if they are seeing their surroundings for the first time.
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Michele Lucas is the neuro-oncology social work specialist at the Stephen E. and Catherine Pappas Center for Neuro-oncology in the Cancer Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston.
This article was originally published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, July/August 2008.