Once you hear the words “you have cancer,” there are precisely a million and one things you’ll have to do, say, think, and feel. Most of them are unpleasant…a few of them are not so bad…a few are even cool. The amount of advice that a newly diagnosed cancer survivor could get is almost limitless, but here are four things that I really wish I had known from the minute I entered the hospital.
1.) Don’t be afraid to be a lazy slug that watches TV for 8 hours straight! — You’re having chemicals pumped into you; don’t worry if all you want to do is marathon House of Cards for a week. You earned it by dealing with something that most people your age don’t have to. One of the bright sides to your cancer journey is that the adults in your life will no longer feel right pressuring you to take more school credit hours, move out, find a “real” job, etc. They’re just concerned that you get better (and if they’re not, you should really evaluate if you want them in your life). So, put down the textbook, close the resume file, and watch some Price is Right, Golden Girls, and The Simpsons. You’ll be nice and recharged for all of those doctor visits, treatments, and tests.
2.) Don’t feel bad if you don’t want to explain your disease to every person you talk to– People that really care about you will want to know how you’re doing. During a call or visit, they’ll want to know things. Soon you’re going through the nature of your diagnosis and treatment 20 times a day. It is normal if telling your traumatic, personal story becomes upsetting. It is perfectly acceptable to politely tell whomever you’re talking to that you just really don’t want to talk about it right now. Well meaning friends and family do care about you; they just don’t necessarily realize how upsetting it might be for your to rehash the minutia of your daily radiation. I actually found it worked well to just say to them, “hey, I know how much you care, but why don’t we talk about something not related to chest ports!” You’ll probably want to be subtler than that, but you get the idea.
3.) Find food that you can eat, and just eat it!! —My doctors and nurses actually gave me this tidbit. If you find a food that you like, and it doesn’t make you nauseous, JUST EAT IT! Even if it’s terrible for you, if it’s something you’re craving when nothing else will do, go for it. One week I subsisted on just mashed potatoes. At one point during my bone marrow transplant, the only thing that I wanted was puffed cheese balls. Although I felt bad about wanting such terrible food, my doctors assured me that they just wanted me eating, even if it would not typically be considered a balanced diet. So, crack open the Ben and Jerry’s, Twinkies, or box of kale (something you should eat anyway, actually!) and enjoy.
4.) Read this article! —Man, I really wish this had been written when I was first diagnosed. That’s really all I’m going to say. This article nails so many great points about cancer survivorship. Just Read It!
No one can really tell you how to go about surviving, but I hope that this list alleviates some of your stress, and answers a few questions. Your life will never be exactly the way it was before, but that’s okay. This journey will make you even better. Now go relax, take a nap, talk to a friend, or watch some TV. What is most important is that you do what helps take care of you.