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The Best Advice I Could Give You After a Cancer Diagnosis

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Getting a diagnosis of any kind is scary.

When you hear words like “cancer” or “chronic illness” come out of a doctor’s mouth, it’s easy to let fear take over, causing your body and mind to go on overload.

I remember the first time I had cancer. I was 26 years old and went to see my family physician to get some cream for an unsightly rash on my arm.

I didn’t think much when he said he wanted to run a few tests because he was always looking to earn a few extra bucks with labs.

What I never expected was to be sitting across from him a week later as he was showing me the baseball-size tumor sitting on my heart and giving me a referral to an oncologist. I heard something about limited options and positive odds, but there was too much noise from the screaming in my head to really understand what he was saying.

The next couple weeks where a blur of well-wishers informing me of secret diets and bad tasting herbs that cured my particular cancer. What was even worse was listening to untold stories of somebody’s aunt or cousin who was cured spontaneously. Since that didn’t seem to be happening for me, it just made me feel bad.

People mean well, but there are some really bad recommendations of what to take or do out there in the world. Through six different diagnoses of cancer and autoimmune disease, I feel like I’ve experienced them all.

I’ve sifted through the bad advice to find the gold nuggets I wish I’d had when I got the bad news.

Here’s the best advice I can give you after a devastating diagnosis:

1. Slow down there, partner – Panic is an easy “go-to” when you hear terrible news. Your body automatically goes into a fight-or-flight response when you’re scared, which is why you want to run out of the room screaming. Remember to breathe. When you feel the rush of adrenaline coursing through your body, close your eyes and take 10 deep breaths. This pattern interrupt is scientifically proven to help change the stress response you feel and get out of “freak out” mode. I still do this exercise whenever I need to get labs or tests done to keep calm and carry on.

2. Do your homework – The first thing your doctor may tell you is to not Google your diagnosis. Although there is a lot of information that may not be in anyone’s best interest on the internet, I think it is important to get as much information possible about your disease. Also, make sure you take notes and have a list of questions to ask at your next doctor’s visit.

3. You don’t have to be quick to share your news – Hearing a loved one has serious health issues can be traumatizing. I spent much of my time in the early phase of diagnosis consoling my friends and family and reassuring them I would be all right. It was even more exhausting than having to deal with my own concerns. Feel free to spread your horrible news to the grocery checker, the postman, or clerk at the dry cleaner, and not tell anyone you truly care about until you are emotionally ready. It may fell unbearable to not blurt it out at the dinner table, but you can sit with your diagnosis for a moment until you are strong enough to handle them. Remember, they are scared too, be patient.

4. Find a doctor who will participate in your wellness, not your illness – Many health professionals are treating the illness, not the person. If you doctor is checking his watch or dismissing your concerns, do not hesitate to find another one. They work for you, not the other way around. Even in HMOs you can request a different practitioner if you are not getting your needs met.

5. Clean your house – There is no room for energy drainers in your life right now. Unload activities or people who aren’t serving you. It’s time to unapologetically put you first and clean out anyone or anything cluttering your life with drama.

6. Get uplifting support from folks who understand – Not all support groups are created equal. Some like to wallow in misery. Facebook as some great private groups filled with people just like yourself. Find the one that fits the best, and get to know the people there. They can also answer your questions about symptoms better than medical professionals sometimes because they have physical experience with them. Doctors only have book knowledge about your disease.

7. Don’t be afraid to explore other options – Stay grounded in your treatment, but don’t neglect other possibilities to treat your whole body. I found many complementary modalities to help speed my recovery. Find what works best for you.

8. Clean your internal house too – Your body needs all the loving support it can get. Take a deep dive into your kitchen pantry and get rid of anything with more than three ingredients on the label. Would you put cheap gas in a Rolls Royce? Start eating more real foods that come from the earth. For more tips and recipes check out these resources.

9. Ask yourself this question: “What if this where happening for me and not to me?” – We’ve all bellied up the the pity party bar at some point and poured ourselves a strong one. Once that is done and you are ready to move forward with your recovery, it’s time to turn your medical trauma into wisdom. Ask yourself why this is happening for you and the lesson may reveal itself. Then follow the answer to find your deeper meaning.

10. Never lose hope – Winston Churchill famously said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” He also said, “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never.” No matter what your diagnosis, keep moving forward in your search for wellness. You may not be perfectly healthy but you can always strive to be the best version of yourself no matter where you are in your healing journey.

Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: October 8, 2016
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