“Dealing with it is the operative word. I found myself at seven years not battling it. Not struggling with it. Not suffering from it. Not breaking under the burden of it, but dealing with it.” -Michael J. Fox
Cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, and although this is a frightening statistic, hearing the words, “You have cancer,” for the first time, is an even more frightening feeling. For many people who first hear these three life-changing words in their doctor’s office, images of despair and anguish immediately flood their minds as they come to the realization that their world has suddenly changed without their permission. For others, they begin to despise their bodies – a sense of betrayal washes over them because it would seem that the bodies, which they have faithfully relied on for many years to function and stay healthy, have now turned against them by growing cancer.
It is truly an uphill battle for many from the moment they receive the news of their cancer diagnosis; many people not only have to navigate through multiple chemotherapy and radiation treatments, managing physical pain and other negative side-effects of the disease as they go along, but they also have to battle strong emotions such as anxiety and depression, usually associated with fear of the disease outcome. This is where an important four-letter word comes in; a word that although may not change the outcome of the disease, helps the cancer warrior deal with the reality of his or her diagnosis and the life changes that come with it and be able to make peace with the situation regardless of the outcome. That four-letter word is Hope.
The Oxford dictionary defines hope as “a feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen.” Hope is the foundation on which many people believe that something positive may happen soon; it is an expectancy, an optimism of some sort in a world teeming with troubles and disappointments. For cancer patients, having hope is essential. And this hope may not necessarily come in the form of expecting total recovery and remission, it can also be in the seemingly little achievements, such as making it through another gruelling chemotherapy treatment or getting one’s appetite back after some months and being able to eat an ice cream once again. Having hope can also simply translateinto choosing to continue to enjoy the pleasures of life even in the midst of what feels like a storm.
Furthermore, it is imperative that the newly diagnosed is offered hope from the very beginning. Doctors can do this by offering cancer patients and their families the service of a therapist, who can help them process their emotions at each stage and keep them hopeful through the highs and lows of their cancer treatment.
Cancer support groups also play an important role in keeping hope alive; talking with other cancer patients weekly, exchanging resources and tips and generally interacting with people who “get it” can be an encouraging and uplifting experience. Some also find that their hope is strengthened and they are able to make peace with their diagnosis by tapping back into spirituality and religion. In the journey to recovery, it is essential for the cancer warrior to know that he or she is not walking alone and apart from family support, there are many resources available to make the journey less bleak.
Choosing to hope daily despite the reality of one’s diagnosis is an extremely courageous feat; it may not be easy at first and if perhaps one loses hope momentarily, of a better and more enjoyable future, in the words of author, Barbara Kingsolver, they “get to start over in the morning (as) hope is a renewable option.”
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