I have had quite a bit of experience with my own cancer and quite a few friends of which some have died. Unfortunately it is not limited to retirees.
I had prostate cancer but luckily found it very early so it had not spread. It was a bit scary because the concept in society is quite negative. I also had a friend who had cancer and survived only to have it relapse.
Unfortunately his had spread and after his last experience decided on no treatment and spent his last days pottering away in his woodwork shed, chatting and discussing the world problems while spending lots of time with family and friends.
After the initial freakout, you just need to follow the process, do some research and keep calm. I know it sounds a bit simplistic but it is the road to a better life. Also know there is choice.
So there are two sides to this common dilemma. You have the patient and then everyone else, children, family and friends.
Coping with a cancer diagnosis
Everyone reacts to a diagnosis of cancer differently. It is often difficult to take in the diagnosis immediately. It is normal to ask ‘why me?’ or to feel sad, angry, helpless or worried about your future. Talk to your doctor about what your diagnosis means for you.
Having cancer doesn’t mean you need to lose hope. The outlook for many cancers is improving constantly.
Sharing your diagnosis isn’t easy. You may feel uncomfortable talking about it. You may be unsure how you will react when you tell your family and friends and how they will respond. Having other people know will help you and your family share your anxiety and fears. You don’t have to face cancer alone.
My sons were very upset but took a few days off work to comfort me and so were very happy then. Also as a family we have always dealt with illness in a positive way which has helped them all cope more.
Tips for telling others
- Break the news when you feel ready.
- Ask for help. Family and friends may be able to tell others if you don’t feel like it.
- Be prepared for questions.
- Draw boundaries. You don’t have to share every detail about your diagnosis with everyone.
Helping your family adjust
Cancer is difficult for everyone it affects. Your family needs to adjust to the diagnosis too. Family members may experience stress as roles change and they learn to adapt and cope. They may feel uncomfortable because they don’t know what to say but feel they should say something.
They will experience the same fears, anger and anxieties as you.
If your family has difficulty talking about the cancer it may help to speak to a counsellor or have them go to the doctor or hospital with you. This may help them accept your illness.
How do I tell the children?
Children usually guess something is wrong even if they don’t know what it is. By telling your children you will give them an opportunity to ask questions and express their feelings about what is happening. Reassure your children that the cancer is not their fault – it’s not anyone’s fault. What and how much you tell your children will depend on their ages.
If you don’t feel you can tell them, ask your doctor or a relative to do it for you. To help your children cope:
- Tell them how you are feeling.
- Give them the opportunity to discuss their feelings and fears.
- Answer their questions simply and honestly.
- Reassure them you love them.
- Do things together.
- Assure them that cancer is not contagious.
Helping your friends adjust
Most of your friends will be looking for a comfortable way of dealing with your diagnosis. They may want direction on how to behave with you. Let them know how they can help you. If you think of something they can do, you will be doing them and you a favour.
Looking after yourself
Learning to live day-to-day will be hard and every day is likely to be different. Many people find that keeping busy helps them to feel that life stretches before them.
Tips for looking after yourself
- Stay active and exercise regularly if you can. The amount and type of exercise you do will depend on what you are used to and how well you feel.
- A balanced and nutritious diet will help you to keep as well as possible and better cope with the cancer and treatment side-effects.
- Do as much as you can – sometimes this may be less than you are used to.
- Let your doctor know if you are having trouble sleeping.
- If you are in pain, ask your doctor for help.
- Seek practical and financial help if you need it.
- Put your affairs in order. This doesn’t mean you are giving up. Everyone needs to do these things.
Remember, if you have any concerns or questions, please contact your doctor.
When my father in law died he always wanted his ashes to be spread on a headland overlooking the ocean as he was a keen sailor.
We did this in a very discreet and compassionate way however someone noticed and ended up calling my mother in law and reaming her out for spreading cancer all over the local area. It was extremely upsetting for her. It happens and the thing is not to react but put them onto someone who can answer their questions. This makes it nicer for you and them.
We had already checked with the crematorium and council who advised this was ok as the ash was not contaminated.
I thought I would put this in here as after talking to a lot of other cancer survivors there are some interesting commonalities.
Most people will not go into a doctor thinking they have cancer. I know I didn’t. Mine came through a regular blood test I do for Diabetes. The PSA was rising steadily.
Some of my friends went in because of symptoms, which I had none, like tiredness or general body issues etc. Strangely most did not have many symptoms especially for the lower range cancers.
Next will come a bunch of tests usually a CT Scan then possible a MRI and then a scan with radioactive compound. Once you have a number of test it will become evident of the actual cancer and then options.
Some will be cut it out and others will be Chemotherapy and or radiation. After these are the various ongoing treatments. Even if you get rid of it you are considered cancer positive for 5 years in remission.
You may have to deal with other physical problems after and the key here is to keep a positive attitude. I had a couple but have learnt to live with them and enjoying life despite them.
Where can I get reliable information?
Cancer Council 13 11 20
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