Many years ago, I read the book, Fighting Cancer, by Annette and Richard Bloch of H&R Bloch fame. He was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer and given three months to live. His survivorship was against all odds. After seeking a second opinion and undergoing two years of treatment, he was completely cured. I remember reading that he was told his odds were a 95% chance he wouldn’t survive. But his response to that was “I want to be in that 5% and if I survive, I will have survived 100%.”
How is it some survive against all odds? I believe resilience plays a role. Psychologists say resilience is adapting well in the face of adversity or significant sources of stress such as serious health problems. In Psychology Today, Katherine King, Psy.D., describes the Seven Skills of Resilience and practical ways to enhance well-being during the Covid-19 restrictions.
I hope you take a few minutes to read her excellent article. While all seven resiliency skills are effective coping strategies, I think these are especially relevant to navigating life during and after a cancer diagnosis:
• Cultivating a belief in your ability to cope
It’s easy to think “I can’t do this” or “I’m so scared.” Those thoughts can be replaced with “I’m going to figure out a way to get through this” or “I’ve had scary situations before and I’ve gotten through them,” or “I’ve got this!”
• Talking about what you’re going through
While friends and family can be invaluable support systems, sometimes it’s easier to talk to someone you don’t know. There can be a fear of burdening loved ones with diagnosis and treatment details or the fact that you’re struggling emotionally. It can be helpful to talk to someone who has “been there – done that,” which is why our Woman to Woman peer support program is so helpful.
• Cultivating an attitude of survivorship
Back in the 1990’s, one of our patients was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a relatively uncommon blood cancer. He was told his odds weren’t good, was given a few months to live, and told to get his affairs in order. He got his affairs in order, and waited. He had a hole in the bottom of his shoe but reasoned there was no need to replace it. Months went by and he waited. Finally, after a year and tired of waiting to die, he decided to live, stating he was sorry he wasted that year. He bought two new pairs of shoes – black and brown. He decided to live life to the fullest every day. He actually wore one black and one brown shoe to our support group, which made us all laugh. He developed a survivorship mentality choosing to live life to the fullest, which he did for many more years. He survived against all odds.
Read all Seven Skills of Resilience
Can knowing the statistical odds of surviving a cancer diagnosis guarantee survivorship? No…but there are things we can do to strengthen our immune system and improve the odds and our quality of life…things like good medical care, healthy nutrition and reasonable exercise, adequate sleep, and a wide-range of stress reduction techniques including mindfulness meditation, expressive writing, yoga, support groups, and finding meaning. We don’t have control over a diagnosis or a tragic event but we do have control over how we respond and live each day. Every day we can choose to live 100% - no matter the odds.
Join us the 2nd Monday of each month at 1:00 PM (MST) for a discussion related to this Blog. Request a Zoom link below, to join the discussion.
SUE'S GIFT BLOG
Sherry Martin is the Patient Services Director for Sue's Gift, a licensed clinical social worker with over thirty years of experience in the field of oncology social work, and author of the book, Beginning Again: Tools for the Journey through Grief: A Step-by-Step Guide for Facilitators of a Grief Support Group. Sherry lives with her husband in Woodland Park, Colorado.
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