Many of us take great pride in controlling our lives, or at least the parts of our daily life that we can control. Our access to information through on-line media or in person enables us to have the information to do so at our fingertips.
Counting on that ability falls short when we face a cancer diagnosis in ourselves or a loved one. By definition, cancer is cell growth out of control. If we have done the things we are supposed to do to promote and preserve our health, our disappointment in ourselves becomes palpable. Our bodies, our brains, our spirit, our sense of control have all let us down, failing to shield us.
What we do before cancer is what we do after cancer strikes - but more so. Those of us who spend hours online gathering information to decide what car to buy, what airline to use, what hotel to reserve, take the time and make the effort to collect cancer information from whatever source we have: family, friends traditional media and online. When it comes to cancer, it seems that everyone has a story to share — everyone knows someone who knows someone who had cancer and was treated by "the chief of the department" — and feels free to offer well-meaning advice, some of which may not be applicable. The quality of information, face-to-face or online, can vary from timely and excellent, to old and scary. Late at night when the noise of daily life is low, we each tend to focus on the information skewed toward the pessimistic. Everything seems worse at night, when the sense of control seems less effective.
A more sensible and practical approach is to control what can be controlled, and in the midst of cancer there are many. Control how each day is lived and valued, even when the side effects of treatment may get in the way. Learn about your cancer and its treatment. Think about what you want your life to be like during and after treatment. Well-done studies and expert opinions agree that particular and careful attention to activity and nutrition make the recovery process easier and shorter. Getting rest, sleep and diversion not only helps how we spend our days but makes getting better a part of treatment and minimizes disabling fatigue and weight changes.
The specific tasks and techniques to do so are actually what we do or need to do every day for health maintenance and wellness. During the explosive growth in cancer treatments since World War II, these activities of daily life have been given low priority, despite their role in recovery. Ironically, we have thus far done a better job for patients whose cancer does not respond to treatment in end-of-life care than we have supporting patients whose cancer responds to treatment into long-term survivorship. Medical and nursing colleagues as well as the public at large mistakenly associate such care as palliative, traditionally used at the end-of-life. Beyond these misconceptions, these tasks are part of wellness for all of us. Even more important is the notion that these are the kinds of activities we can control during and after treatment.
During and after treatment, the components of wellness can be easily organized in The LEARN System®:
L – Living; focus on what makes life meaningful; helping yourself or someone else
E – Education; learn about your cancer, and what you can do to recover from treatment
A – Activity to the extent able during and after treatment to preserve energy and muscle mass
R – Rest and sleep; energy conservation to promote healing
N – Nutrition; tailored amount of “good” calories treatment to stay close to ideal body weight
Let's all put our energies where they pay off the most. Take charge of the everyday; the things you and your family can do, working in tandem with the best treatment available.
Learn to Live Through Cancer: What You Need to Know and Do