Monday, October 24, 2011

What If You Had Cancer?

Left Photo: Deb in middle wearing pink
Bottom Right: Deb on right / Top Right: Front row in baseball cap

I sat down with a friend recently. We’re more like business acquaintances than friends, since that’s how we met, but surely she could be my friend…I get the feeling she could be anybody’s friend. 

Kind, upbeat and giving; Deb is a great listener and conversationalist, she is the epitome of sunshine.

She just glows.

You might attribute her attitude to the fact that she’s a cancer survivor.  Fifteen years ago she was diagnosed with a fast growing cancer, which luckily, was found and treated.  

She’s been living a full life ever since.   

What’s not to be happy about?

Well, recently, Deb was diagnosed with cancer for the second time.
It’s been several weeks since she shared the news with others, and amazingly, she is still shining.

I’ve found it incredibly encouraging that she could still be so positive during this. I am not sure how I would handle this ordeal once…never mind twice. Personally, I’d probably be scared to death, and sadly might have headed towards the biggest pity party...

I can’t even be sure I’d want to tell anyone about it.

Aware that there are others coping with the same thing she is, but might not be sure how to stay upbeat and positive through it, I asked her if she would sit down with me so I could ask her some questions.  She agreed.

Deb’s responses are in blue.

 ‘What did you say to yourself when you were diagnosed with cancer…not once, but twice?’
 “When I was diagnosed for the first time over fifteen years ago, I never asked myself ‘why’d this happen to me?’ I just stayed positive and did what the doctors told me to. I couldn't feel bad for myself, what good would that do? I just had to do what the doctors say; what else can I do?”
“The second time I was diagnosed, I did have a few moments of self doubt…and at that time, I did ask myself, ‘Was it something I did to make it come back? What am I doing wrong?’ But to get through it I knew I had to stop trying to find the reason why I got this. I had to realize that there are some people who have very healthy lifestyles, and do everything right, but they still get Cancer. “

Why did you tell people, including clients and co-workers, about your cancer?
“I know that some people keep it inside… and I couldn’t do that. Career wise, it helped others to understand and know that it’s okay, and I would still be here with them. It helped them to know I would be fine and I’d still be working with them regardless of treatment. I did have a harder time telling some people the second time; mostly my family. I felt guilty, as if I’d done something wrong to get this again. But I needed to tell them because people want to help, and if we keep something like this to ourselves they will think we don’t trust them to be able to handle our situation. Telling others also helps make it easier to get through the disease. By doing that I learned that it’s common to have a second diagnosis and that we cannot always find a reason for everything…we don’t always cause everything in our lives to happen to us. When you talk about it, you are also being proactive in your treatment, and you are helping others cope too. It reminds us that we are not alone. I don’t tell others about my diagnosis so they’ll treat me any differently.  I tell people because I feel better with support, and I also want to help others beat it too. Knowledge is power and the more information you have, the more you're equipped to handle the disease."

Do you believe that thinking positively and sharing your diagnosis helped you beat cancer the first time?

Do you think it will help you again this time?
“I tell everyone that I will be okay! This cancer is different and not as bad as the first cancer I had, but I still get treatments. And in the mornings I get up and walk for an hour then head to my appointment. Once there, I sit in a room with several other people going through the same thing. It’s actually an opportunity to help each other. The more you talk about it the more you find other people have it, have had it and have survived it. I know I could be a lot worse off. I have known other people to struggle and have invasive surgeries, more exhausting procedures and treatments and it puts my diagnosis into perspective! But I believe that this is not a death sentence, and perhaps the reason I was diagnosed a second time was so that I can help others."

Did you have a particular saying or mantra that helped you when you were down?
‘I am not down too often, but when I am, yes, there is a Swedish Proverb and it goes like this: 
Fear less, hope more; Eat less, chew more; Whine less, breathe more; Talk less, say more; Hate less, Love more, and all good things will be yours’.

What would you say to those who’ve recently been diagnosed with cancer or who’ve just begun their battle?
“Cancer does not have to be a death sentence. I’ve met many people who have had other cancers like colon, prostate, etc. and they are alive and well, living 10-20 years past their diagnosis!”

What did you take away from your first bout with cancer?
“I became very grateful for life.”

And the second bout?…What are you learning now?
“That I have a second chance…"

What advice do you have for someone who has never had to worry about cancer?
“Enjoy the moment. Live life in the present; don't always be thinking ahead to the next even, meeting, etc.; enjoy today. Time is limited, so pay attention to what you eat, take better care of yourself, wear sunscreen.”

According to the American Cancer Society, Cancer Facts & Figures 2010 , an estimated 1,529,560 men/women will receive a cancer diagnosis in the U.S. But the death rates have been declining. This is both terrible, and excellent news. We are still fighting a huge battle, but we are also working hard to save lives!

Many of us help nominally, by walking and raising donations, buying ribbons, magnets and t-shirts, and by mailing in our contributions. But we need to help minds and hearts, as well.

Please pass this on to someone you know.

You can visit these sites and learn more about how to get involved, give and/or receive support in the fight against cancer.

'Thank you Deb for being so brave to share this personal testimony. I know that many will benefit from your sincere words of encouragement, and with the odds, it may even be me or someone close to me. None of us are immune to Cancer, and we need messages like yours to remind us that a diagnosis does not mean we should give up.' ~ Truly, Amber