Keeping a Positive Outlook in Recovery
by Debbie Fuller Thomas
A suspicious mammogram, the odd lump. The referral to an oncologist. How could I have cancer when I felt fine? A profound sense of the surreal, of my body’s betrayal, left me feeling vulnerable and alone. Could this really be happening?
These thoughts went through my head when I was diagnosed with breast cancer sixteen years ago. As I progressed through treatment, I found that my attitude made a world of difference in my recovery. Here are a few things I learned that helped me maintain a positive outlook.
- Don’t take other people’s treatment stories as your own. Your experience can be very different from that of others, so don’t anticipate the worst. Treatments and medications have advanced so quickly that some side effects of the past have been greatly reduced or eliminated. A patient’s age and general health can also make a difference in his or her experience. When I told one elderly friend that my first treatment went easier than I’d expected, she told me that they would get worse as I went along, as they had for her. But she was wrong. She didn’t know that her doctors had taken her age and health into account and gradually increased her dosage when they observed that she could tolerate it. Her story wasn’t mine.
- Give yourself permission to put your needs first. Know that it’s okay to focus on getting healthy. You may not be comfortable making yourself a priority, but the bottom line is this: take care of yourself so you can be there for the people who love you.
- Take a break from people who drain your energy (except immediate family). You know who they are—the overly needy and perpetually negative. Chances are, you’re not the only one they lean on, so if you’re unavailable they will find another. If someone is in true need, find someone else to help them, if possible. As for good friends, they will understand that you may not have a lot to give at this time. It may be the defining moment for true friendships.
- De-stress as much as possible. Scale back on activities, celebrations and holidays or hand them off to someone else. Relax your standards and simplify meals. Enlist the help of family or friends to taxi the kids or shop for groceries. Skype a little league game if you’re too tired to make it there. Step back from responsibilities that someone else can handle, even if you think no one else can do them as well as you.
- Take charge of things that you can change. Get a calendar to manage your life around your medical appointments. Block out time for rest, being with family and doing the things you enjoy. Revamp your diet. Pencil in physical activity, if you’re feeling up to it and your doctor approves. This can be empowering at a time when you feel life is out of your control. I experienced much anxiety when my hair began thinning because scarves and hats didn’t work for me. I decided to shave my head and buy a wig instead. Most people didn’t even notice I was wearing it, so they didn’t ask questions. This kept my life normal on one level and I had less to worry about.
- Don’t be a lone wolf. Enlist a friend or family member to accompany you to your appointments or treatments. Often a great deal of information is given quickly by medical personnel and a friend may catch something of importance that you miss. It will also help them understand how to better support you.
- Keep a journal. Writing down your feelings and experiences will help you recognize the normal ebb and flow that follows each treatment. These things are temporary, even predictable. You’ll see that when you feel better physically, your outlook improves.
- Stay connected to family and encourage conversation. Life is easier at home when there is open communication. Kids need to feel free to ask any questions that are troubling them. They may be worried about you or feel embarrassment when their friends are around. Older siblings and spouses may feel a bit neglected, along with the added burden of chores or responsibilities. Express your love and appreciation for their support often.
- Set your own pace for recovery. Resist the temptation to jump back into your old life when you start to feel better. Your family and friends will grow weary of the process of recovery and may expect too much too soon. Take clues from your body and don’t let anyone hurry you. It was six months before I was able to stay awake for an entire movie while sitting on the couch with my kids.
- This can be a time of deep spiritual growth. Know that Jesus sits beside you as you receive your prognosis and treatments. While family and friends can support you, no one truly knows what you’re experiencing except Him, and He can handle any doubts, fears or emotions that you have. Be truthful and honest with Him and He will meet your needs.
An oncology nurse once told me that she has noticed that a patient with a positive outlook and faith seems to fare better during treatments than one who doesn’t. I hope something I’ve shared encourages you or someone you know toward a healthy recovery.
Debbie Fuller Thomas writes contemporary fiction from a Gold Rush town in Northern California, drawing from her life experiences to share the mercies of God. Her debut novel, Tuesday Night at the Blue Moon, was a finalist for both the 2009 Christy and Carol Awards. Her latest release is Raising Rain.
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