We sat down with Michael Solomon, author of "Now It's Funny" and had a candid conversation about his book and his experience with lymphoma. Read more to learn why Michael believes it's important to individualize your cancer experience and not compare it to others.
Sometimes, when people are around someone who is struggling with an illness, they have a tendency to want to cheer us up. Well, maybe we don't necessarily want to be cheered up. Maybe we want to face what we're facing and not necessarily feel good about it.
There will be times when you will feel optimistic and there will be times when you feel very, very depressed and very, very sad. I think it's better to know that at the outset so that when it does happen, you don't feel like something is wrong. Instead, you understand that something is right and what you're going through is perfectly normal. And it's not your job to get yourself out of it - it's your job to be good to yourself as best as you can. That means being honest with yourself and figuring out what YOUR cancer experience is - not base it off of someone else's.
What story are you going to tell yourself?
The morning after you are first diagnosed with cancer you can't help but take stock of your life. One of the most important things is to figure out how you are going to present yourself...to yourself. Are you saying to yourself, "Oh My God, I'm dying," or are you saying, "I'm not going to die; maybe this treatment will actually work."
When I was first diagnosed, I was thinking I was going to die because I had a friend who died of liver cancer very quickly; she got it and three months later she was gone. I thought I was dying of liver cancer, but then further testing uncovered that there was actually nothing wrong with my liver. So I realized I needed to have a more realistic attitude about my expectations.
I'm not sure if I can say that stress causes cancer, but stress certainly doesn't make it easy to deal with cancer, so you have to manage it and actively do things that make you feel less stressed. For me, that means watching movies, going on bike rides, telling stories with my friends, and laughing. I try and find the humor in things because it relaxes me.
As soon as you recognize that you can't completely avoid stress and accept that it's going to be in your life, you're better off. Then, figure out those things that make you feel less stressed. At that point, you’ll at least feel a little bit more in control of your cancer experience.
My advice? Take small steps to eventually get to the point where you are able to laugh about things. That's a good place to be.
Once you figure out how to present your cancer to yourself, you have to figure out how to present it to others. Check back for Michael's advice on how to talk about your cancer, and even tell your children, in next week's column: The Cancer Conversation.