Take One Day at a Time

Rodney Warner, Esq
Rodney Warner, Esq

Cancer robs us of our most valuable illusion, the future. There’s so much we put up with, salving our wounds with the thought that things will get better in the future. That jerk of a neighbor will move. You’ll get a promotion, or a better job elsewhere, if you just keep plugging away. Your kid will grow out of that nasty phase. Once you retire, you won’t have to put up with all these clowns that cut you off on your drive to work. Ah, retirement, that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. So many plans. So many hopes. All those things you’ll do, places you’ll go, in the future.

Guess what? For many of us, there is no future. Those plans, desires, that sweet honey that got us through the day, can dry up and blow away. Many only have the cancer treatment treadmill to look forward to.

For me, getting through treatment meant blocking any thoughts of the future, because the future might’ve been declining health and increased suffering. Not something you want to think about. I tried to think about what’s needed to get me through the day, the week, the next round of chemo, the next blood test, the next scan. What can I do to make it a better day? What can I do to make myself feel better? I put the blinders on. This is where I am. This is how I’m going to make the best of it.

The future is the last thing I wanted to think about. The future I feared was in store for me made me break out in a cold sweat and my stomach churn.

I suppose some might get through treatment focusing on that happily ever after, after I get through treatment, after I’m cured, these are all the fun things I’ll do. I’m too much of a pessimist to take that route. That wasn’t my coping mechanism.

You have to take the path that works for you. Want to be the happy warrior, go for it! Want to play the Eeyore, do it! If someone doesn’t like your approach, cancer gives you the excuse to tell them and go somewhere and do something physically impossible with their opinion.

Of course, wallowing in depression is only good in limited doses. You can mourn the loss of your health, the loss of the future you always dreamed of, but you’ve got to move on. Clinical depression is not all it’s cracked up to be. If you feel you’re in a rut you can’t escape, get help.

One loss I deeply felt, was the loss of another illusion, control (I suppose it’s the flip side of the future). I remember sitting in my hospital bed, feeling lousy, not where I wanted to be, not at work supporting my family, not with friends having a good time, not doing anything I wanted to do. I felt totally adrift, at the mercy of my rebellious cells. Would I be cured? Would I die? I had no idea. I was just along for the ride.

How do you gain power when you’re feeling powerless? Be nice. Help someone else. Thank the nurse. Talk to your fellow patient. Try to make him laugh. Thank your doctor. However you can, make someone else feel better, feel appreciated. Even if all you can do is talk, you have the power to make someone else feel better. It may not be all the power you wished you had, but it’s a power that shouldn’t be underestimated.

Hope for the Best

I guess this contradicts not thinking about the future, but I’ve never claimed to be logical.

You know all the bad things that can happen if the cancer gets out of control. You’ve heard about all the nasty side effects of treatment. But given the roulette wheel nature of cancer treatment, no one really knows on which number the ball will land.

So don’t stress about it. Focus on today. Don’t think about all the bad things that might happen. Until you’re told otherwise, the bad stuff won’t happen. In 2002, I had really heavy duty chemo and an autologous stem cell transplant. I read about all the possible side effects and the infections. I wasted so much energy anticipating all this nastiness to start. They didn’t happen. For a month I felt like I had the hangover from Hell, and I was bald as an egg, but that was pretty much it. No infections, hospitalizations, long term side effects. I relapsed ten months later, but that’s another story.

Hope is a frame of mind. For me, it was the ability to force as many of the bad thoughts out of my head as I possibly could. What was left got me through the day.”

How do you cope?

3 thoughts on “Take One Day at a Time

  1. Mr. Warner,

    I would like to thank you for your recent posting. My maternal grandmother was diagnosed with Breast Cancer almost ten years ago. There were lumps in both of her breasts, and she was able to have the lumps removed. She is doing well now, still employed at the age of 72. She still is active in her church community and does things for her family, as far as taking them shopping, to work, and to school. In 2007, I discovered a lump in my right breast, and I made an appointment to have a Breast Biopsy completed. After the appointment when the doctor’s office followed up with me via mail, I was informed that the lump was not cancerous. Honestly, that was the last time I been to the doctor concerning the lump and as of today, I still have the lump.

    When people are placed in certain situations, at times they will respond appropriately, and at times they will be scared and not respond at all. With the results that I received, I assured myself that I did not have cancer and left it at that. Not to get off of the topic too much, my father died of AIDS almost seven years ago. Every year I do get tested for HIV, AIDS, and sexually transmitted diseases. With him being my father. His situation hit me extremely hard and that is why I do go to the doctor’s at least once a year to get tested.

    As people get older, they should be more conscious of their health and bodies, and want to be healthy in order to live for themselves and their loved ones. And yes people go through things in life that can remove them out of their normal elements, but they have to make the decision to get back on track. Now as a first time mother, I will be going to the doctor’s one day this year to have the lump examined for the second time.

    If I was given a dire cancer prognosis, I would research the cancer and the effects, I would consult with several doctors, specialized in the field of cancer or the particular cancer. I would do online research, obtaining chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery options to see which options are necessary to have, even if one, two, or all three are required. I would participate in discussion blogs with cancer patients and survivors and inquire about their situations. Lastly, I would even visit cancer treatment centers to speak to the clients, nurses, and doctors. I believe people with cancer, and the employees within the medical profession should help others who are going through the things they already been through.

    The steps I listed above that I would take, after all is said and done would make an informed decision on what exactly I should do. Who knows if everything referenced could be completed, especially if I found out the stage of cancer that I was in, would there even be enough time? I always hope for the best in everything, and will do what I would have to do.

    Even if I had cancer or not, I always keep the faith and live my life. Things can get you down, but never let those things control your life. We will all have upsetting moments and times in our lives, but we were placed on earth to be strong individuals and to set examples from any experiences we have.

  2. Mr. Warner,

    Thank you for telling it like it is! I can’t tell you how many friends, aunts, and other family members-recently including my mom- have had to navigate through their lives while dealing with cancer. Many of them have had it more than once. I have tried to be as supportive as I know how, and lately I’ve realized (as another friend was just diagnosed with breast cancer), that reaching out and being there for the patient can be enough. And it is so day to day. I used to try to distract my mom-talk about anything but the cancer-now I mostly listen-and make sure I bring her a treat every so often.
    Thanks also for reminding us to think outside ourselves and that each and every day should be treasured, no matter what tomorrow brings. Good luck.
    -Stella, http://www.solanova.com

    1. The more I’ve read about supporting others, the more it looks like just being there is the most important thing. There are no magic words to say, just being there says a lot.

      Bit I think it’s a good idea also to at least try to make regular conversation, because those of us with cancer crave normalcy. My first go ’round with cancer, a good friend from work was kind enough to visit me regularly, and it was nice to hear all the office gossip, just as if I were still on the job.

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