To those embarking on the cancer journey, know there is hope. You will find strength you never knew you had. You will grow in patience, love, faith and gratitude. You’ll learn what’s truly important and how to more deeply savor every moment. You will inspire others to do the same.
>> PERSONAL JOURNEY: The gift of cancer: Why I’ve never been luckier
Here are 15 things I’ve learned in my journey that I share with you — 15 things everyone with cancer should know and do.
1. Laugh — a lot.
Humor can increase the antibody IgA (immunoglobulin A), helping fight disease. Vigorously amuse yourself. The boob jokes never got old. Neither did the hair jokes. At one point during chemo, I looked like Powder, that bald, pale-faced kid with ESP from the ʼ90s movie. I now have super-short hair, and the easiest Halloween costume ever: Eleven from “Stranger Things.”
2. Cry — a lot.
This is a wild and emotional ride. Peer support from the women I met through the Noble Circle Project helped immensely, and I’m still seeing a therapist. Writing in my journal also helped me unpack and process the many feelings, some of them surprising, that arose.
3. Know that everything is going to be OK.
Call on your faith, beliefs, support network and everything that will help you stay positive and focused on healing.
4. Accept and appreciate your journey for what it is.
No one’s is the same. Be kind and patient with yourself and understand your body will heal in its own time.
5. Rally your crew.
One of my BFFs set up an account on Lotsa Helping Hands to organize a meal train, flower brigade and other opportunities to help me out, as well as give updates on my progress. When people offer to help, make sure you have their contact info — and don’t be shy about calling upon them. People truly want to help you, and it brings them joy to do so. It’s a win-win.
6. Gather your caregivers.
Identify your primary non-physician caregivers, such as a spouse, partner or friend. Provide them with your physicians’ contact information, a schedule of your appointments and details about your type of breast cancer so if you go down, they can step up with all the info they need in hand.
7. Plan your coming out.
Decide with your family how to tell others about your diagnosis. I had my hair cut short and when people complimented me, I’d say something like, “Wait until you see my wigs” as a way to lightheartedly break the news. Once my family knew, I posted something on social media — with a plea for all women to check their breasts and get regular mammograms.
8. Consider a fundraiser.
I was resistant to this idea at first, but one of my BFFs created a Go Fund Me campaign and it’s been a lifesaver when it comes to those medical bills. Breast cancer is a very expensive venture.
9. Be your own best advocate.
You are in charge of your body and care. The human body and medicine are so complex, there’s no way every doctor can know every single thing. Do your own research on credible websites and read books by those with the best credentials. I spent a lot of time researching, asking about and trying such complementary therapies as massage, acupuncture, aromatherapy, meditation, yoga, nutrition, supplements and the Qigong I learned through Noble Circle. You also can get a temporary handicap parking tag if you develop mobility issues.
10. Get organized.
Even if you just put stuff in a pile and sort through the details later, keep all your medical bills and records in one place. You might have a nurse navigator who can help walk you through the journey as well. You’ll be loaded up with a lot of information at your first appointment. Don’t get overwhelmed: Call on your support network to help you sort through and read everything.
11. Be patient with and love on yourself.
I had to drop all volunteer work, which was difficult for me to do. But I now know there’s no way I could have kept up. Your No. 1 job now is healing.
12. Ask lots of questions.
Do your homework before doctor’s appointments and come with a list of questions. Lists of suggested questions are on breast and other cancer websites. Always ask, “What can I do to help myself?” Take notes at each appointment and record your conversation with your docs. Bring one or two family members or friends along to milestone appointments. They often think of questions you’re too overwhelmed to imagine and remember things you forget.
13. Keep a journal.
Whether verbal or written, digital or on paper, this is a good place to take notes from appointments and keep a list of medications, vitamins and supplements. Mine included blood pressure readings, daily notes about how I felt, poems and emotional purges.
14. Eat well and exercise.
It can be a struggle to get out of bed some days, but keep physically active as much as possible. Take advantage of available fitness resources. Focus on eating a healthy, whole food diet, avoiding sugar and processed foods.
15. Create a morning ritual of hope.
Even on the days when I felt like dog poo, I tried to start with a positive affirmation or prayer. Sometimes, that was simply telling myself, “I’m going to have the best day possible and love myself today.”
Contact contributing writer Kristen Wicker at firstname.lastname@example.org.”