Few words have the ability to instill shock in man as cancer. One small, simple word has the ability to instantly turn a life inside out and leave one scrambling for both understanding and answers. Those who must fight this deadly disease are faced with many decisions in creating their battle plan. In the end, those who find meaning, acceptance and peace are winners no matter what path they take or where they find themselves in the end.
Nearly three years ago, during a routine self examination I noticed a lump. Although I thought I was much too young to worry about the ‘C’ word. I naively assumed breast cancer was a disease I didn’t have to worry about until after menopause. Concern convinced me schedule an appointment with my family doctor. The following weeks brought appointments, ultrasounds and ultimately a core biopsy. While my experience ended positively, as a young mother I couldn’t help but wonder how I would handle the unique challenges that come from a diagnosis of cancer. I read the story of James “Rhio” O’Connor and realized that his story needed to be shared with anyone that may face a terminal diagnosis. Not only because of the power that his story can lend to others who have been told medicine held no hope for them, but because each of us can learn from his battle plan and the success that he must have enjoyed in the additional years on the Earth his spirit and determination allowed.
Imagine sitting in the doctor’s office being given the news that not only do you have cancer, but the prognosis is poor. Instead of worrying about what you will be having for dinner that night you will now be consider things such as radiation, surgery or chemotherapy. Before any of these treatments can be considered I believe it is essential to learn. As a nursing student I believe being an educated patient is one of the greatest factors to increase your odds of successful care. As healthcare workers, those who train in medicine learn all they can about the human body and expected outcomes, but ultimately no one knows your body as well as you. Studies have shown that education decreases fear and anxiety which helps your body focus on healing. Becoming educated on your diagnosis should be the first step of battle preparation.
In the information age the internet. Online medical journals, articles, chat lines, group forums and articles are literally at our fingertips. What is not available at the click of a mouse can be found meeting with specialists and interviewing others that have dealt with cancer in their lives. Unfortunately, most have been touched in some way by this deadly disease. Learning about the challenges and side effects of chemotherapy, radiation and other therapies may help you decide if you want to pursue that course based on your diagnosis. While the medical community has your best interest at heart, no one can decide what is best. We each hold the responsibility to ask questions and become educated. Once you have learned about your particular form of cancer a battle plan can be drawn.
I once saw on a commercial for a hospital that has stuck with me. A patient, in sharing her experience, stated that after being given a terminal prognosis she asked her doctor how long she had to live. He took her hand and told her that in all the assessments and tests they had run he had never once seen an expiration date on her body. How true that is… how many times we hear stories about those who defy the odds. Sometimes cancer will take one young child and spare another. Even those who have been diagnosed with the same forms of cancer vary in their ability to successfully fight the disease. I believe part of the answer lies in the human spirit. Because we have now taken the time to learn all we can and understand the available treatments- now is the time to find resolve.
The human mind is an amazing organ. Through optimism and spirit miracles occur. For some the miracle may be to find peace and acceptance. To be able to enjoy the time they have left on this earth as pain free as possible creating lasting memories for those they leave behind. Others may find the courage and desire to fight waiting to help carry them through the arduous journey of chemotherapy, radiation and other medical treatments. Still others may turn to alternative therapies such as natural remedies, religious healing or other nontraditional care. Regardless of the plan of attack it’s time to get your armor.
Educated, armed with a battle plan, let the war begin. Therapy, no matter what route is chosen, is sure to be filled with one challenge after another. There will be days when retreat seems necessary and others when great strides are made. Your war may include a series of ongoing battles or one mighty fight. Even the lucky who find remission are sure to be found looking over their shoulders as they wait with baited breath each check up.
Regardless the path or eventual outcome, success CAN be found in the journey. Those who decide to forgo the demands of traditional medicine may find peace and comfort in being able to enjoy their last time on earth with those they love. Those that choose to take up arms may find success in knowing they did all they could to increase their time regardless of the final result. I can understand both points of view but can’t imagine which course I would ultimately take if faced with the challenge.
As a mother of three young sons I would like to think I would fight to the bitter end, searching the planet for any possible option that could allow me to see one more birthday, celebrate one more anniversary or tuck my boys in one more night. I can also imagine spending my last time on earth creating memories for my family free of radiation sickness and chemotherapy effects. I don’t believe there is a right path to take, each of those faced with cancer must decide for themselves how to fight. Will I fight to live, or peacefully submit? Whether we go down in arms or find victory in our own war, for each of us, success can only be found if we find peace in the journey.