Wythe County, Va. October 20, 2014 — According to a report for the President’s Cancer Panel, a three-person panel that reports to the U.S. president on the National Cancer Program, approximately 41 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime, and about 21 percent will die from cancer. I am one of those 41 percent.
We all know people with cancer, but until a person actually experiences it, ‘cancer’ is equivalent to taking a trip to the moon. We know it has been done but we don’t anticipate taking the journey ourselves. I have yet to travel to the moon, but I have been through the gauntlet of cancer treatment.
With that in mind, I’d like to pass on a few things I have learned that may help those faced with the same dilemma.
Between being cooked from the inside out by radiation, poisoned with toxins while undergoing chemotherapy, having my insides rearranged with surgery, and endless trips to physicians, it was hard to hold onto my identity. With each passing day, I felt more like a guinea pig and less like an actual person.
This is one of many reasons you must have a good caregiver to survive the ordeal. Without a devoted advocate, the process can be a nightmare. More than once, the only thing that kept me from losing myself in that dark hopeless place cancer takes a person was the devotion of my caregivers.
I remained in denial to the point of looking at the entire experience through a third person point of view, almost like it was happening to someone else. Unlike other cancer patients who spend hours researching their options and possible outcomes, I didn’t Google a single thing about my diagnosis during the entire seven months of treatment. I showed little interest in what the doctors had to say beyond the date of my next appointment.
It sounds ridiculous, but we all have different coping mechanisms. Along with denial, I found myself rarely getting out of bed for days at a time. The pain medications kept me incoherent enough to pull this off, and the only social life I had was what little interaction I had going to treatment. Were it not for my caregiver pushing me to participate and doing the research to keep me alive when all I wanted to do was give up, I would not be here now.
If you do not have a spouse, family member or friend to fill the role, reach out to the many organizations devoted to taking the fear and loneliness out of enduring cancer treatment. A good place to start is http://www.cancer.org/index.
The team of physicians, nurses and technicians who took care of me were amazing, but they were not flawless. Having a second person to play watchdog is essential, especially since having cancer usually involves ingesting a variety of narcotics that cloud judgment and perception.
The physician who originally diagnosed me with esophageal cancer basically told me to get my affairs in order because my chance of survival was doubtful. Fortunately, my advocate helped me secure a second opinion that has proven to be quite the opposite. Don’t be afraid to get a second or third opinion. There are choices.
Any person who chooses health care as a profession has my admiration. Any person who does this job day in and day out with cheerfulness and compassion is a hero. We are always so quick to point out when someone is doing a bad job and rarely take the time to acknowledge excellence.
Of the dozens of people who were involved in my care and treatment, I recall only three who had no business in the health care field. In fact, I met many who went above and beyond what was required of them on a daily basis. I acknowledged their efforts with a variety of flowers, candy, fruit baskets, cards and a kind word whenever it was warranted. Everyone likes a pat on the back. Who better to give this to than someone who has your life in their hands?
Cancer is everywhere we turn. Rather than assuming it will never effect you, be pro-active where your health is concerned. And that person you know with cancer right now, see what you can do to help them in their struggle and always be ready with an encouraging word and a prayer.
The time may well come when you will be forced to walk a mile in their shoes. That mile is a lot easier to walk when it is done with company.