Going through the experience of having cancer can certainly teach you a few things about life. After going through treatment and coming out the other side as a cancer survivor, the most important lessons you’ll have learned will most likely be about yourself. Here are some tips for getting through the cancer battle based on my own experience as a 20-something breast cancer patient.
More Than the Sum of your Parts
Know that you are more than the sum of your body parts. Sometimes cancer forces us to give up parts of ourselves, both physically and emotionally. But it’s the loss of physical aspects of our bodies that sometimes seems most difficult to overcome. In my case, I had to worry about losing part or all of a breast. Just remember that you are not defined by your physical self. Who you are is so much more than that.
Ask for Help
Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Some people will offer to drive you to appointments, cook you meals, or even clean your house. Others might want to help but will be unsure of how to tread through your new world involving cancer. But the people who care about you do want to help and sometimes they’re just waiting for you to ask them.
I was stubborn and rarely asked for help even though I needed it. When I was dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis I was single and living across the country from my parents and other relatives. But I did have many good friends nearby who would have been more than willing to give me a hand, only I was afraid to ask them for help. Whether you need a ride to your next chemotherapy or radiation appointment because you’ll be too tired and sick to drive yourself home or you just need someone to lean on, don’t hesitate to reach out to the people in your life. Beyond asking family or friends for help, there are also many wonderful cancer support groups out there so seek out the help and support you need.
Know that it is okay to say no when you need to. Decisions about how to navigate through the major hiccup cancer imposes on your life are yours. It can be tempting to try and keep up with everything you were doing before cancer, but it is okay to take a step back from the “regular” activities in your life while going through treatment. You might find yourself working fewer hours, if at all. You might not keep up with chores at home. You might even stop working out, but you give yourself a break and save the guilty feelings for times when you actually do something wrong. Sometimes you just need to stop and catch your breath.
It is also your decision to say no to certain types of treatment. The doctors will make recommendations, but you don’t have to do anything you are uncomfortable with. When I had breast cancer I was quite young at just 28. Because I was so young and otherwise healthy, the medical oncologist recommended chemotherapy even though my lymph nodes had tested clear and there was no reason to believe the cancer had spread outside the breast area. She just wanted to be sure the cancer was completely wiped out and knew I was strong enough to handle the chemo. Ultimately, I declined chemotherapy but agreed to another type of treatment. And, you know what? Everything worked out fine even though I worried initially that I should have taken her advice.
You’ll Get Through It
No matter how challenging things might seem you can get through it. Battling cancer is not an easy process, but it is one that you can tackle. And after you do get through it, you just might find yourself feeling stronger for it because if you can battle cancer, you can battle anything.
Life Gets Better After Cancer
Once you go through a cancer battle, you sometimes find yourself framing your life in terms of before the cancer and after. It can be easy to wonder how things might be had you never hit that cancer road block and were able to remain on the “before” side. But life will be good again after the cancer. In fact, it is often better than before. Not that anyone wants to be in the situation of battling cancer, but the experience gives you a chance to reflect and make positive changes in your life which are sometimes just what you need. Many cancer survivors find life to be happier and more fulfilling after surviving cancer because they’ve let go of their before cancer baggage.