Living Your Best Life

by Jane Ashley

We often hear these words, “Living our best life as a cancer patient.” But what does this mean?

Live Out Best

Living my best life means living to the fullest … given my abilities, potential and current situation. It means that we don’t put off our hopes and dreams and find excuses for not doing them. Living our best is living up to our potential, but it also means that we will find ways to adapt to changes that occur in our life.

When Cancer Comes to Visit

So many of us hit the “pause” button when we are diagnosed with cancer or other serious disease. But today is the only day that we have, and we need to “live it” to the fullest, as best we can.

We need to see cancer as an adversity that can, potentially, bring out the best in us. Perhaps, life has been smooth thus far so we’ve never had to dig deep to discover how strong we are. The truth is that living our best life comes from within — we have the power within ourselves to overcome the diagnosis of cancer.

Perhaps, it’s true that “adversity is the mother of all inventions.” Since the time of Plato, philosophers and inventors have observed that either adversity or necessity is the mother of all inventions. What this means is that a change in our circumstances forces us to find new solutions for problems we haven’t faced before.

First Cup Of Coffee

Elements of Living Our Best Life with Cancer

None of us chose this life with cancer, but we only have two choices: 1) Hit the “Snooze” Button and Suspend Life as We Know It, or 2) Live our Best Life with Cancer. We might be in treatment for quite for a while, and we’ll be in surveillance afterward for five years. Five+ years is too long to snooze.

So what are the elements of living our best?

Acceptance. When bad news comes our way in the way of a cancer diagnosis, we are often frozen by the news. We feel disbelief, anger, and sadness. We ask, “Why?” We wonder, “What if?” We all have those moments. Before we can move forward, we have to accept our diagnosis. We have to say to ourselves, “It is what it is.” Acceptance lightens the emotional burden. Acknowledging the enemy is the first step towards conquering our disease.

Ask for help and support. Help, comfort and support are available from many sources. This may be from a friend who had the same kind of cancer. It might be our spouse. But more and more, cancer patients find the help and support they need from online groups. Some are websites like our WhatNext.com or Facebook Health Groups. We meet others who have been through what we are about to experience, and we begin to understand that if they did it, we can do it too.

Every Moment

Courage. Many of us have never faced a situation where we had to have courage. We are afraid of heights. We’re terrified of snakes. And we’re uncomfortable talking to a group at the office. Yet, here we are facing chemotherapy, radiation, surgery and other scary procedures. We don’t have a choice — we have to dig deep and show up for those appointments. Slowly, but surely, we develop courage.

Educate yourself. Cancer is complex, and the more you educate yourself, the more you’ll understand about your treatment options and your side effects. You’ll also better understand what your oncologist is talking about and what questions to ask. One of the most trusted sources of cancer information is from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN.org).

Exercise. Exercise is a powerful tool when we have cancer, but most people “hate” exercise and believe that taking medication is preferable. Exercise prompts the development of “feel good” endorphins – chemicals made by the hypothalamus and pituitary glands. These natural chemicals our body produces fight depression and help relieve pain. Outdoor activity is the best, providing Vitamin D plus being outdoors gives cancer patients a more positive attitude.

Financial responsibilities. Even with insurance, meeting the deductible and paying the copays are expensive. Ask to talk to the insurance coordinator so you’ll have some idea of the financial implications of your diagnosis. Ask for financial aid — there is no shame in needing help.

Dont Wait Do It Now

Forgive yourself. Many of us feel guilty, blaming ourselves that we got cancer. We regret having smoked or having consumed alcohol or becoming overweight. While some behaviors are related to certain cancers, those behaviors alone didn’t cause our cancer. Cancer is a complex disease with a complex interaction of behaviors and genetics. Forgive yourself and move on towards developing a positive attitude during your treatment.

Gratitude. Maladies beset all of humankind. Being grateful for the little things in life will enhance our quality of life during treatment and afterward. Small blessings include not feeling nauseated, our first sip of morning coffee, our cat snuggling on the sofa with us and sunshine on our shoulders.

Hobbies. If you already have a hobby, keep on doing it. (You might have to modify the activity a bit if it’s strenuous exercise.) Learn something new like knitting, wood carving or watercolors. Doing something that we love to do helps us cope.

Nutrition. Talk to your oncologist before you embark on a weight-loss program. Fighting cancer takes a toll on our bodies, and we need more protein to help rebuild the muscle we lose. If you’re a healthy weight, be pro-active to eat enough and not lose weight.

Mental Strength and Endurance. Do your best to develop and enhance your mental strength. Learn to focus on the small, everyday victories and to not to allow anxiety over “what ifs” to rob you of your peace of mind. Learn to endure accessing your port and drinking the contrast for scans. Not complaining about the “small stuff” helps us feel happier.

Seize The Day

Living our best life during cancer treatment means “living” right now. It means discovering the small joys that present themselves to us daily. It means “living in the now.” Don’t wait until tomorrow. Living our best means SEIZING THE DAY — TODAY — and doing our best with the cards that we’ve been dealt.

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