Maintaining Hope About Your Cancer While Being Realistic

by Jane Ashley

A cancer diagnosis is a tough diagnosis. Just look at what each of us faces.

Never Lose Hope

• Cancer is just plain scary.
• What about the side effects?
• It’s gonna be expensive.
• We might die.
• We might not be able to work.
• Fear of the unknown.
• What about my family?

Yet, we have to come to terms with our diagnosis and learn how to live with the uncertainly that a cancer diagnosis brings. If we don’t reconcile ourselves to our “new reality,” we’re liable to drive ourselves and our family crazy.

What is hope, and why is hope important?

HOPE is a feeling that regardless of our current circumstances that a better outcome is possible. Hope is not “wishful” thinking — hope is not ignoring our current situation and hoping for the best.

• Hope, rather, is a deep strength within us that allows us to realistically look at our circumstances and realize that a better outcome is possible.
• Hope is a yearning for something and believing that our “hope” is possible.

When we have hope, we are better able to prepare ourselves physically and mentally for what we must do when we are diagnosed with cancer. Hope allows us to acknowledge the risk that a cancer diagnosis brings yet believes that we may be one of those who respond to treatment.
Hope may be hard to define, but when we have hope — we become braver than we ever thought we could be. We learn to celebrate small victories. We can pick ourselves up after “not so encouraging” news, regroup mentally, and climb in the saddle again.

How do we find hope?

The news seems so daunting when we are diagnosed. It seems like we hear of someone dying of cancer almost every day. How do we find hope?

• Support group. Groups like WhatNext and other online cancer support groups are a great source of inspiration and emotional support. We learn that other people have felt just like us and have undergone the same treatments that we are facing. Cancer friends, both local and online, offer us hope by sharing their experiences.
• Looking forward. Part of hope is looking forward to things in the future. It might be your youngest child’s college graduation. It might be a trip to the beach after completing your treatment. It might be promising yourself to begin that hobby that you’ve always wanted to begin.
• Spirituality. Lots of people find hope through their spirituality. Prayer can help many people find the strength and courage during treatment to remain optimistic and hopeful.
• Gratitude. Being grateful for small triumphs (fewer side effects or less pain) contribute to our being hopeful.
• Research/Facts. Some cancer patients find that “knowledge is power.” We want to learn everything about the type of cancer we have and how it is treated. Then, we believe that we will understand our treatment and be better prepared to ask questions and understand the answers. The best resource for cancer knowledge is the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN.org). NCCN is a consortium of 30 leading cancer centers in the U.S. who share their treatment results and develop the “best-recommended treatment” by cancer type and its stages. The information is free — create an account and download your treatment guidelines.
• Personality. Some people are natural optimists. Having hope comes naturally.
We have to nurture our hope — as hope can be dashed with a setback. Keeping a journal expressing our feeling during our treatment is an excellent way to nurture hope. When we reread our feelings, we realize that cancer has its own rhythm. Events ebb and flow like the tide. Good news this week – not-so-good news the next week.

Another way to nurture hope is to make friends with a survivor — someone who has been there and done that. Their experiences will boost your confidence that some adversity during treatment is normal.

A Single Thread Of Hope

If I’m hopeful, am I being realistic?

Some patients are afraid that being hopeful is not being realistic. Having hope takes into account the reality of a cancer diagnosis. We know the reality — but sometimes, we mistakenly believe that almost everyone dies from cancer. But, in reality, there are about 17 million cancer survivors, and that number is growing.

Hope is not denial. Hope is that morning light that keeps us motivated to keep on going when others might quit. Hope helps us endure side effects and allows us to put aside our fears about upcoming procedures.

We human beings are pretty resilient. If we have a period of fatigue and pain, we might lose a little of our hope. Yet once our team gets our side effects back under control, our hope usually returns.

At some level, almost every cancer patient knows the reality of the diagnosis. But hope boosts our spirits, and we get dressed the next morning again and give life our best effect.

My personal way of remaining hopeful along with being realistic amid a Stage IV diagnosis was relatively simple. I quickly glanced at the 5-year statistics (12% - Okay, so now I know, but I’m not going there.). I heard my oncologist tell me during my first appointment that I would need a colostomy, and I put that problem up on the top shelf of my mind and said to myself that I would deal with that later. The only thing that I really heard that meant anything to me that day was she said that a cure “might be” possible. “Might be” was powerful to my husband and me that day. “Might be” gave us hope, and hope allowed us to stay positive and accept the side effects and a year of treatment with grace. 

Never Confuse A Single Defeat

HOPE is everything.

Related Articles About Being Hopeful

Hope And The Stage IV Diagnosis

How Would You Define Hope? 

Is There Hope With A Late Stage Diagnosis?

10 Ways To Find Hope When You Have Cancer

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