You can exercise mindfully five times a week, eat all your fruits and veggies, live lean and green, be grateful and forgiving, meditate every sunrise and follow all the other healthy lifestyle rules you believe in, and still, one day, your doctor might give you some very bad news.
You have cancer.
It’s a shocker, a sudden and deep dive into our darkest fears. Life is fragile, and we are all vulnerable. So when we hear the news about Elizabeth Edwards’ returning breast cancer (metastatic Stage 4, spread to her bones) or Tony Snow’s returning colon cancer (Stage 3, spread to his liver) or your own Aunt Betty with late-stage lung cancer (and she never smoked), it’s only natural to stop and think, what would I do if it happened to me?
“I’m absolutely ready for this,” said Mrs. Edwards, 57, who displayed great poise when she announced the grim news. “I don’t look sickly. I don’t feel sickly. And I’m as ready as any person can be.”
The question is: How ready are you for a bad diagnosis? Would you know where to go, what to do, whom to trust? Do you understand your insurance options? Would you share the diagnosis with colleagues at work? Should you research ongoing clinical trials? How would you handle the fear?
There are several new books out that address all of the above and much more, useful guides that combine the deeply personal with the highly practical in a helpful and healing way.
One is called “AfterShock: What To Do When the Doctor Gives You - or Someone You Love - a Devastating Diagnosis” (Walker & Co.) by social psychologist Jessie Gruman, Ph.D., founder and president of the Center for the Advancement of Health.
“Receiving a life-altering diagnosis can cause tremendous emotional and spiritual upheaval,” writes Gruman. She knows what she’s talking about. She’s had three different kinds of cancer, at 20, 30 and 50, and a serious heart condition, too.
“While serious illness can shatter your sense of a well-ordered life,” Gruman says, “it does not mean that the strength and wisdom of your years are irrelevant to the challenges you face. No matter what your condition, you have choices.”
“AfterShock” - visit www.aftershockbook.com for more info - guides you through those first few weeks of choices in a clear and compassionate way.
And so does another new book called “Living Time: Faith and Facts to Transform Your Cancer Journey,” (Bantam Hardcover) by Bernadine Healy, M.D., former head of the National Institutes of Health, the American Red Cross and current health editor for U.S. News & World Report. Suddenly, out of the blue, feeling fine, Healy was diagnosed with brain cancer in 1999.
“So this is how I die,” she writes in her medical memoir. “Not in a car accident or plane crash. It would be my own cells, mutating and roaming inside my body - in my head, no less. I felt powerless and immobile. My own life’s work with the critically ill brought me no special strength or solace; if anything, I knew too much.”
She didn’t die. In fact, Healy says, her cancer taught her how to live. “Treasuring the moment at hand and all that it contains for you is what lifts the spirit. Dismiss it as cliched talk if you will, but to those threatened by a grave illness, every day of just being takes on a new light.”
Here are some more insights from the good doctor, taken from the chapter called “Weathering the Storm":
- Catch your breath. Ask a lot of questions, talk things over with your loved ones, and don’t make any snap decisions.
- Avoid the anger trap.
- Look for the humor.
- Insist on respect.
- Nourish your spirit. Healy points to studies that say nourishing your spirit may be the most successful complementary medicine there is.
Don’t let any of this get you down. Cancer isn’t a death sentence anymore. It’s an unexpected challenge that you can handle in a life-affirming way. These books can help.
“No one wants to hear the words, ‘You’ve got cancer.’ But I survived it and learned a great deal in the process. The treatment you choose in the beginning can determine your success for long-term survival.” - Linette Atwood, author of “Patient Resource,” a comprehensive new guide for people who want to manage their cancer treatment - www.patientresource.net. Free!
Marilynn Preston is a fitness expert, personal trainer and speaker on healthy lifestyle issues. She welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to MyEnergyExpress@aol.com.