10 Insights after a Cancer Diagnosis

Results of my PET scan
The results of my PET Scan in December 2017. The yellow glow shows the cancer.

“Cancer is very much a disease of ‘our time,’  and most doctors will tell you that one of the easiest ways to avoid it is by holding a good diet and a healthy lifestyle,” reads a health-focused website, I Trust Natural Cures.

My focus on a healthy lifestyle is both imperfect and implemented at the same time. Ask my daughters. When my youngest daughter began cooking her way to fame as a chef, food writers always asked her about passion for fresh and healthy ingredients. Buzz of LA wrote, “Dakota acquired her love for food when she gained an appreciation of fresh products, rising early to be the first to pick raspberries and apples from an organic orchard in her mother’s backyard.” And while my oldest daughter is not a chef, she insists upon a healthy lifestyle of both whole grain and organic foods, and plenty of activity for her family.  This is how I raised my children.

Presently, the healthiest of all of my friends, a woman who chose to be a fitness instructor above her academic training for journalism and a successful span of time in the business of insurance, is now in battle with an aggressive multiple myeloma. Her doctors have attributed her healthy lifestyle to her tolerance toward the equally aggressive forms of treatments she now receives.

When I was in treatment for breast cancer I lamented to the oncology nurse that I wish I had been more mindful about keeping my weight in control — knowing that there is some link between weight and cancer. The nurse looked me in the eye, in a loving way grasped both of my shoulders with her hands and said, “Charmaine, I’ve been an oncology nurse for 25 years. Where you sit now, I have seen every sort of woman possible. I’ve seen thin ones, fat ones, old ones, young ones, farmers, office clerks, military, stay at home moms, executives, marathon runners, weight trainers, rich ones, poor ones — all in this room in treatment for breast cancer. We classified you as a healthy one, so don’t beat yourself up over something that you probably have no control over in the long run.”

I won’t use my friend nor I as the basis of a firm point of view about healthy lifestyles and cancer, because if a healthy lifestyle of plant based organic foods and regular exercise are the main preventatives, then how do we explain the very young children who have yet to go out into the world who developed brain tumors and other childhood cancers? Again, one of the dear ones in my life, a fit, healthy, well educated mother and father had a child develop a malignant brain tumor long before he had a chance to dine on fast foods and sodas and sit in front of a screen all day — some things that I know his parents would not condone.

And this brings me to my gripe about attitudes toward cancer and cancer patients.

December 19, 2017: Once again I sat face to face with a specialized oncologist who first said, “You look healthy.” Then he went on to explain the malignant form of uterine sarcoma that pathology had identified within me. His discussion included the first stage of treatment — surgery. Then depending on the possible spread of the cancer, possible brachytherapy (internal radiation), and possibly chemotherapy after a study of my DNA since this sort of cancer does not respond well to chemotherapy.  Researchers, he explained,  have found that some personal genetics respond better to specific drugs used in chemotherapy more so than others.

Now imagine yourself listening to a specialist in this field of cancer treatment basically telling you that father time, cloaked in his black garments and clutching a sharpened scythe, has established his death-dealing self within your body. You have choices to make. Here’s 10 incites that will probably happen with that diagnosis:

  1. You will fire up your computer and begin researching everything about your type of cancer.
  2. You will discover good news and your will discover bad news.
  3. You will learn about conventional treatments (surgery, radiation, chemo). Some of this information may be decades old and irrelevant to current treatment philosophies.
  4. You will read about “Stage 4 Cancer Alternative Treatments” with an asterisk that notes “Results my vary.”
  5. You will read marketing news releases with attention grabbing headlines like “If Chemotherapy Fails 97% Of The Time, Why Do Doctors Recommend It?”
  6. You will, hopefully, perform due diligence and research the genesis of such publications.
  7. You will possibly beat yourself up for this diagnosis because it not only impacts you, but your family and friends.
  8. You will likely lose sleep, if like me, you tend to ruminate your day once the lights go out.
  9. You will fight anger, fear, and sadness.
  10. You will make the choice for treatment that best suits your personal will to survive.

It is my fervent wish that a cancer cure will come through herbal treatments and alternative therapies that do not include the removal of body parts, the burn of radiation and the negative side effects of chemotherapy. But in the meantime there is no proof that such a cure exists other than the stress relief of being treated on a lovely south of the border beach. On the other hand, progressive cancer treatment centers do encourage alternative health improvements, like yoga, mediation, and improved diet in coordination with current conventional treatment.

Meanwhile, it behooves us to take preventative measures that include mindful eating and physical activity, the avoidance of tobacco and known carcinogenic chemicals, risky behavior, appropriate medical checkups to include PSA tests, mammograms, colonoscopies, pap smears, and even vaccinations that are likely to prevent virus-caused cancers. Your best chance for curing cancer is to catch it early.

If and when your doctor states, “I’m sorry to tell you that you have cancer,” be prepared for well meaning family and friends to besiege you with all sorts of advice that ranges from instant cancer cures they’ve heard about on the internet, and prayer circles for miraculous healing. You can make your choice. For me, both cancer diagnoses tore me apart and I wanted to both wash and pray away the rogue cells from my body without the scalpel, the scars, the burns and side effects of cancer treatment drugs. But I also want to live. Science as we know it today offers the statistically-winning road to healing our bodies from many of the cancers that come our way.

And one last word about oncologists. I studied alternative healing websites during my two cancerland journeys. There seems to be an assault upon these women and men who treat cancer — as though they are in it for nothing more than the money. While there is always a greed factor in any line of business one choses, I’ve witnessed the fire in the eyes of oncology professionals. Money has nothing to do with it. They fully know they are dealing with life and death issues. Oncology professionals want you to survive, even those patients with advanced cancers with little or no survivability. I’ve watched others in my life with these advanced conditions, and the full arsenal of weaponry used to keep them on this side of the dirt. It’s both heartbreaking and inspiring to witness these efforts on the part of the patient and their oncology professionals.

So until you have been told that you have cancer, please avoid judging those of us who are or have taken conventional treatment. Do us a favor, don’t proliferate unproven cures and treatments. We love you and understand that you are doing what you can to help, but until you stand face to face with that big C diagnosis, just let us know that you care and that you are there to help in so many other ways.

UPDATE: “Unwanted or Unsolicited Advice.”  A sample from this essay:

Frequently, a new cancer diagnosis comes with a lot of unsolicited, and sometimes unhelpful, advice.

  • “I just learned about this wonderful thing you should be doing!”
  • “When my aunt was in your situation…”
  • “Have you tried…”

Very concerned and well intentioned people may offer a huge variety of suggestions in an effort to be supportive, but sometimes it actually increases our stress and anxiety. Some suggestions may cast doubt on the chosen treatment plan or they may be just one of many seemingly unending conversations that all deal with this tough diagnosis. What’s the best way to handle this situation?



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