7 Real Life Tips That You Won't Find in a Cancer Brochure
A lot of the "cancer tips" that are found in waiting room magazines are vague and outdated. This cancer survivor gets down to the truth with these seven tips.
The traditional advice for newly diagnosed cancer patients is often something along the lines of "get a second opinion" and "make sure your caretakers have support." All good advice, but there is also a lot more to it than that. So when friends ask me for advice based on my bout with ovarian cancer, I dole out seven tips you won't find in any cancer brochure.
1. Don't let chemo fatigue trick you into over-eating.
- If you're lucky enough to have an appetite, I should add. By my fourth treatment, getting out of bed in the morning was a trial. Climbing stairs was torturous. I caught myself eating in hopes of triggering an energy burst. Unfortunately, I caught myself two months too late. By then, I'd gained six pounds. Did the extra food give me energy? Of course not. Chemo-induced fatigue does not respond to food. Do yourself a favor and watch the calories, or pay the piper later.
2. Be prepared to not be prepared for baldness.
- I filled a box with scarfs and hats. I bought a wig. I was 100% comfortable with what was coming. I thought. Then those first strands of hair clung to my hand during a shampoo. I stared at them like they were tentacles from an alien being, and then I lost it. My husband pointed out the obvious: "You can never be prepared for going bald." (By the way, your hair doesn't come out in clumps; it's more like an intense thinning process.)
3. Reset your expectations for bonding with others.
- I pictured enduring chemo treatments in a room with other cancer patients, laughing, crying, offering witty insights on life as we lay on gurneys with life-altering chemicals pumping into our bodies -- you know, like you see in movies. In reality, you'll probably sit in a chair in a curtained off "room" where privacy equals isolation. Still, make the most of it. Invite visitors to squeeze into your space if you want, or take a great nap with the help of your chemo cocktail. But if you want to bond with fellow patients, you'll have to get creative.
4. Don't take going public on social media lightly.
- Some people thrive on the attention cultivated by sharing blow-by-blow accounts of their situations on Facebook and Twitter. Me, not so much. Either way is fine, but once you open the door to your virtual cancer ward on Facebook or similar online sites, it can be hard to shut.
5. Take full advantage of going bald.
- As your hair falls out, go crazy trying new hairstyles, risk-free. When my hair starting shedding, I hacked off a few inches. A few days later, I chopped another few inches. And so on until there was nothing left to cut. I experimented with a Meg Ryan-like choppy style, and a super short, I-look-like-I-belong-in-New-York-City crop I never would have dared to try pre-cancer. What did I have to lose? If I messed up, I only had to live with the damage for days.
6. Have an iPod in the hospital for your surgical recovery period.
- You can't do anything about the constant vital sign checks the nurses conduct every time you're about to drop off into much-needed sleep. But you can drown out the distracting, invasive hospital noises with music or an audio book. My iPod was the only reason I got any sleep at all during my post-surgery hospital stay.
7. Honor your body.
- Honor your whole body - the missing parts and the remaining, traumatized ones. I used a yoga technique to come to terms with my post-hysterectomy self. With each breath, I sent a silent thank you, to my absent uterus, my missing ovaries and my expunged Fallopian tubes. Acknowledging my body's sacrifices, and stating faith in the remaining parts to see me through the rest of my life, helped me heal.
While it's sad how often I've dispensed these tips in recent years, my friends have been grateful. When I can make someone else's cancer battle a little bit easier, then I'm grateful, too.
Do you have any tips to add to this list? Share yours in the comments below!