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Living With Your Cancer

December 23rd, 2012 |

by MichaelSolomon | Survivor: Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma    Connect

Once you're diagnosed with cancer, your whole life changes (even if you "beat" it). In this week's segment, Michael discusses how to live with your cancer diagnosis and covers everything from dealing with cancer guilt to the small changes you can make to lead a lower risk lifestyle.

When I was diagnosed with cancer, I likened my whole world to an earthquake. The strange thing about an earthquake is that it's the one natural disaster where there's not really anything you can do - the earth moves and there’s nowhere to go, neither up nor down. You can't grab onto anything; everything is unmoored and you're sort of at the mercy of whatever is going to happen next. I think that's what can happen to people psychologically when they get cancer. So when you find something to hold onto, and you survive the "earthquake," you never forget that there's a chance it can happen again, at any second. Because of that, you have to learn how to live with your cancer diagnosis.

Dealing With Cancer Guilt

We human beings are funny, when we get really bad news about ourselves, the first person we often turn on is ourselves - "it's my fault, somehow I did it." I used to be a smoker, so when I was diagnosed with cancer, my first thought was "OMG, I'm going to die, my son is going to grow up without a father because I couldn't stop smoking." I felt guilty, like somehow I've done something wrong because I had cancer. "That guy doesn't have cancer, but I do," I thought. What did I do that "that guy" didn't do? After a while, I realized I can't look at it that way, and that there's absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

Sit down and give yourself the "it's not your fault" hug - it will make a difference.

Making Some Changes

Now that I've lived through cancer, I've made a few subtle changes in my lifestyle. Nothing drastic, but I try to pay more attention to what I'm putting into my body and what is going on around me.

  • I minimize my exposure to potentially harmful toxins. When I wash my clothes now, I get the detergent that is full of lemons and herbs, instead of the one that is full of chemicals I've never heard of. If the directions tell me to put a full cup, I'll put 1/3 of a cup. They come out clean, they smell fine, and I'm taking less of a risk.


  • I pay attention to my body. I had an issue with my heart a few years ago - my heart beat was out of rhythm. I was going to have a procedure but then a month before it, I said to myself, "I wonder what would happen if I stopped drinking coffee." So, I kicked my coffee habit and soon enough, the irregular heart beat dropped by almost 70 percent. It didn't completely go away and it still had to be treated, but I realized I have the ability to help or hurt my body. Before that, I never would have known that coffee was affecting my organs.


  • I'm more prone to questioning. There's a possibility that my cancer diagnosis was tied to underground oil drilling that occurred beneath my high school in Beverly Hills. Sounded crazy to me too, but you can look it up -- it's a real eye-opener. So now, I find myself questioning things such as why certain facilities are being built in specific places, and I pay more attention to carcinogens, such as benzene.


Living With Uncertainty

The dialogue about cancer is changing, opening up a bit. There's not the same stigma that there used to be. When you're diagnosed with cancer, you'll probably ask "now what" and realize that you have to deal with a much higher degree of uncertainty than you've ever had in your life.

But don't panic. Don't panic. As JFK Jr. said, "nothing is ever as bad or as good as it seems." It's a long journey, but hang in there. You've got a lot of information to get before you can really process what's going on, so don't figure out how the play ends until you've actually watched the play a little bit.

How has your cancer experience changed your lifestyle? Do you have any tips to help others get over their cancer guilt?

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MichaelSolomon's picture
Michael Solomon is a New York-born writer and award-winning documentary film producer. He has written numerous screenplays, essays, and short stories. Most recently, he wrote "Now It's Funny: How I Survived Cancer, Divorce and Other Looming Disasters," a memoir about his experience with Lymphoma (and everything else that was going on at that time). You can buy the book on Amazon and iTunes - it is even available for Kindle and Nook!