There are so many things we’re told to do if we have cancer, yet there are also things we shouldn’t be doing.
Don’t worry. This isn’t a list of things to add to your “should have/could have/would have” lists that make you feel crazy. In fact, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by some of the things that you should stop doing if you have lung cancer.
1. Stop Trying To Go It AloneNone of us wish to drag our loved ones with us into a situation like cancer. We want to spare them the roller coaster ride. We have no choice but to take this journey ourselves, and we feel guilty imposing that journey on others. But that is the voice of our ego speaking. People want to help. People want to be with us. And not only is that their desire, but their lives can be enriched by sharing our journey.
Another way to look at accepting help from your loved ones, is to realize that accepting their help is a way of honoring those people who want to be near you. If you don’t let them play a part, you are denying them the opportunity to experience not just the lows that go with treatment, but the highs that can only be experienced fully if you’ve been there for the lows. Open your heart and mind to let people take this journey with you.
All of that said, it takes a village to help someone with cancer, and one friend or spouse can’t do it alone. In addition to that, there are things that only someone who has “been there” can truly understand. Finding a support group and reading the stories of others who have lived with lung cancer is a good start.
2. Stop Tolerating PainPain not only affects us physically, but can lay a shadow over everything we say and do. The physical pain of cancer affects our whole being – body, mind and spirit. Amidst that shadow we are often called upon to make serious decisions about our medical care. It’s hard enough facing those decisions and discussing them with loved ones when we are pain free. Throwing pain into the equation can made a difficult situation seem insurmountable at times.
But you don’t have to live in pain. Many people who are tolerating pain are living that way because they didn’t ask -- or ask again -- or again. Your oncologist wants you to talk about your pain and wants you to be comfortable. A common concern is that using pain medications can result in addiction, but in the setting of cancer that is actually very rare. More and more studies are showing that the total amount of pain medication used often ends up being less when people stay on top of their pain.
3. Stop Thinking Your Doctor Knows EverythingIn this day and age getting a second opinion (or a third, or a fourth) when you have cancer is the rule not the exception. Just as you may interview several painters in order to choose the one you feel would do the best job, you may need to “interview” several physicians/cancer centers in order to select the one that you feel the most comfortable with.
And after you’ve carefully picked the physician/cancer center that fits with your personal needs, don’t be afraid to ask questions. The sheer amount of information on cancer that is coming out every day makes it impossible for any one person to stay on top of everything. Ask your physician questions, and don’t be afraid to ask her to ask questions as well.
- When do You Need a Second Opinion?
- Choosing the Right Doctor for Your Medical Care
- Questions to Ask About Lung Cancer Treatment
4. Stop Being Embarrassed by the StigmaLung cancer carries more than one stigma. One is the stigma of smoking. There is an unspoken feeling among the public that somehow people who develop lung cancer “deserve” it because they smoked. The other is the stigma about survival. Lung cancer is equated with a death sentence to many people.
Living with lung cancer I’m sure you’ve heard some of the comments. “How long did you smoke?” “Don’t you wish you would have quit smoking earlier?” “My neighbor had lung cancer and he died.”
We’re not going to change the world, but it can help to plan ahead and think about how you will respond to these questions and comments so they don’t drag you down. Don’t be embarrassed and fall into the trap of feeling that you deserve to have lung cancer. Nobody deserves cancer.
How might you respond graciously when someone makes an insensitive comment?
You may consider saying, “yes, I smoked, but there are many causes of lung cancer and smoking is only one." Or instead, “I’m one of the people who got lung cancer but never smoked --- that’s actually quite common. Perhaps you can be part of the effort to eliminate the stigma.” And, with those dreaded comments about the survival rate, a simple comment stating that you plan on beating this disease and could use support and positive comments should suffice.
Since your goal is to focus on your treatment, it is sometimes best to delegate dealing with these comments to a loved one. Who do you know that is tactful and can deflect insensitive remarks in a kind and thoughtful way?
5. Stop “Not Claiming” AssistanceWe are living in an economic time when it is challenging enough for people without cancer. Add to that the costs of cancer treatment and perhaps a reduced or inability to work fulltime and the results can be heart wrenching. But help is available. Just don’t be afraid to ask for it.
I know it’s hard to accept assistance, especially if you’ve been independent and you are the one who is usually assisting others. But allowing your friend, or a relief agency, or a non-profit to help now is one way of getting you healthy and on your feet enough so that you can return to your generous self when you’re feeling better. And if not, does it really matter? Keep in mind that many of these non-profit organizations and government agencies were designed to help people who are facing exactly what you are facing. A major life crisis.
6. Stop Concentrating on the End of Treatment, and Start Living Each DayIt’s easy to put your life on hold until treatments for cancer are done, but don’t wish away these moments. I’ve spoken with too many cancer survivors who look back at the time of their treatments and wish they hadn’t wished that time away. How often do you have the opportunity to experience the time and closeness with friends and loved ones that you do during cancer treatment? Perhaps the most helpful thing I did while I was going through cancer treatment myself is to keep a gratitude journal. In it each day I would record (yes, sometimes it was difficult) positive experiences and areas of growth in my life. Since finishing treatment I’ve found that keeping that journal was something I want to continue doing, and I’m so glad that I didn’t put my life on hold and hibernate during that time!
7. Don’t Stress Out Over the Little ThingsThis might be better worded to say “don’t stress out when other people stress out over the little things.” If cancer does one thing, it gives us a bigger picture about what is really important in life. And in doing so, it’s hard to not get annoyed when your friends and loved ones complain about the “little things.” I remember fighting for my life and listening to someone complaining about finding a good parking spot. It can be downright maddening at times.
I found it helpful to remember that just as a parking spot seemed ever so important to another, my loved ones were likely equally as bewildered by many of the items on my “most important” list. Remembering that we are all different – practicing forgiveness and tolerance including forgiving ourselves – and incorporating humor can help. Check out these other tips on lowering stress in your life.
8. Stop Trying to Be Positive All the TimeI know that “the books say” that it’s important to be positive and optimistic when you have cancer. I’m not denying that. Yet it’s also important to face our fears and struggles and take time to grieve. Grieving might entail a loss of your independence, or your hair, or the loss of that magical thinking of immortality that we were blessed with as teens. Take time to grieve. Let it all out with a good friend who understands the importance of “good grief” and won’t spend her time with you trying to “fix it.” This may require finding a friend who is comfortable with his or her own mortality. Take time to grieve, and then celebrate.
9. Stop Procrastinating and Complete Your Advance DirectivesI could honestly only share this step knowing that I have completed my own advance directives recently. Advance directives are a legal document explaining what your wishes are for medical treatment (and more) should you be unable to speak for yourself.
Many people put off filling in the blanks on these forms. I know I’m not alone in delaying the process as long as possible. But it is so peaceful to know I have written down my thoughts. It might sound like a morbid process to do so. Some of the questions are pretty sterile and technical. “If your heart stops beating, would you like medical personal to attempt to restart it?” But there is much more to advance directives, such as an opportunity to help your loved ones plan your memorial service at a time when their minds won't be thinking objectively.
And unlike that morbid sense you would expect to come with filling out forms talking about a time when you may not be able to speak for yourself, many people find the process to be heart warming – and even motivating. As I wrote about what I would wish for my children if I were gone, I thought even more about what I could do to make that realization true today. And those random thoughts I had to put in writing lest they be lost – priceless.
10. Don’t Stop Looking for Opportunities to See Hope in Your LifeNever lose hope. Hope doesn’t have to mean that you need to envision yourself as a 20 year old running marathons. It doesn’t even have to mean that you will survive your cancer for a determined amount of time. It means that you always have something to look forward to. That may be on this planet or not. It may be in thinking of dreams for your great great grandchildren that you wouldn’t experience directly even if you lived to be 120. Don’t ever stop hoping.
National Cancer Institute. Taking Time: Support for People With Cancer. Updated 01/19/11. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/takingtime/page1