I have spent the last two years constantly correcting my cancer diagnosis from being referred to as ‘terminal’, instead preferring the term ‘incurable’. However, I have recently come to realise that this term is not right either. After all, how many people go around saying they have ‘incurable diabetes’. They don’t. Instead they say that they have diabetes. The fact that it is incurable is irrelevant, all we can hope is that it is manageable.
So, whether my cancer is incurable or terminal, or whatever else you want to call it doesn’t really matter to me any more. What does matter is that my cancer is manageable. What could be more important than that?
I spent a long time, although positive and happy, living with a background fear of cancer returning. Now, I take comfort in dropping this terminology entirely. Instead I understand that my cancer may ‘flare up’ just as a diabetic may have a ‘bad spell’ or someone with chronic fatigue may have a period worse than others.
I now understand, however, that this fact doesn’t need to cause me to live in constant fear. It is a fact that I can live with.
Of course, I understand that at some point a ‘flare up’ may be so severe that I don’t survive it. Is that today? No! So why should I spend my time worrying about it.
I think if medical professionals, and society for that matter, were to switch the terminology around cancer to match that of other long term, life limiting conditions then cancer warriors would experience less anxiety, fear and mental health issues following a diagnosis and treatment.
Did you know, for instant, that most cancer patients say that the worst part of their journey is the constant fear afterwards? This fear is a death sentence in itself. The slow decline of their belief in themselves results in many receiving psychotherapy following the end of treatment (not at the point of diagnosis) – even if they are in remission.
How is this constant state of fear living our greatest and best lives that cancer could have woken us up to?
So this is why I now view my cancer like any other life long condition. For me, it may as well be asthma. It is managed through treatment and lifestyle and, provided I don’t have a ‘fatal attack’ all is well and good in the here and now and the day to day.
This realisation has led me to another belief. (Now I’m no medic and I wish not to offend anyone with my following statements so please read it with the view that this is what helps *me* and, maybe, it could help you too.)
Most long term conditions are managed through life style changes and, sometimes, medical intervention.
Take diabetes for instance. Some diabetics can manage their condition through diet changes alone. Some also need insulin. However, what is universally recognised is that those who change their diet and lifestyle require less emergency medical interventions.
Let’s look at asthma. Some people manage their asthma through not smoking and gentle exercise. Some need an inhaler. However, again, those who make lifestyle changes (i.e. exercise) require less emergency care than those who don’t.
The same can be said for a range of conditions such as heart disease and even mental health issues where it has been universally proven that exercise can have a greater positive impact than medication alone on people who are depressed or anxious. Even just time outdoors in green spaces has been proven to reduce the symptoms of a range of conditions from autism to anxiety.
Now, let’s look at cancer. Want a piece of cake? On you go. Want some alcohol? Let me pour you a glass. Want to sit about on the sofa resting all day? That’s ok you are entitled to the rest….I was actually advised to eat chips and cake when I was diagnosed so that I didn’t lose weight! (True story!) And I’ve never been in the hospital and not offered a biscuit or chocolate…can you imagine the outcry if that was the case in a diabetes ward?! (which I used to work in by the way).
Well I say NO MORE.
The more I research there is limitless evidence that all of these factors affect cancer and its spread.
Cancer is the only condition that can affect every organ in the human body and that can spread from one organ to the other. What if we started to view cancer as your body reaching a crisis point desperate for survival? Would lifestyle changes seem less crazy then?
I can’t even begin to comprehend cancer not being affected by lifestyle. This is why I have made the changes that I have. For me, my body was in a state of dis-ease when I was diagnosed and emergency medical intervention ‘wiped the slate clean’. However, what I am really getting at now is it is my job to keep the slate clean, to keep my body healthy and to keep it in a state of ease.
For me, my changes in diet and lifestyle are what keeps my cancer manageable. I may be offered chemotherapy again some day but, after lengthy research and honest discussions with my beloved husband, I have made the decision that I would decline further treatment.
This may come as a suprise for many, especially as I have already undergone 6 rounds of chemo and a massive operation but this is a very personal choice for me.
I believe that there are better options out there and I believe that there is another way. When a body is in a state of dis-ease and crying out for care, I no longer feel in my heart that filling it’s veins with chemicals is the answer to the problem. If anything, for me, it feels as though this is the very opposite of what the body needs. It is well documented that in an attempt to ‘kill’ cancer, chemotherapy also kills the remaining healthy cells in the body.
Let’s look at it another way.
Cancer is made by the body. It is a part of the body. As we kill cancer we are killing part of the body – both good and bad. As cancer returns and we repeat treatment we are killing off more and more of the body. Sometimes the body has had a chance to recover from the last treatment and is in a condition that it can survive having parts killed. Other times, the body is not so equipt and the person sadly passes away, consumed by cancer or treatment or both.
For me, as a researcher, this explains why those with a late stage diagnosis have a poorer response to treatment than those with an early diagnosis. Their body is too weak already to keep having parts killed. To kill all the cancer is too kill most of the person. If then they need further treatment then more of the person is killed. Understandably then, at some point the body is no longer able to recover and slowly, perhaps over time, the body starts to die.
This is not the life I want for me. I respect and love my body and I do not want to fight or kill any part of it. My body created cancer, it is not an outside force. I was not ‘given’ cancer, I did not ‘catch it’. So if it is a part of me then everything I do to my body must affect not only my healthy cells, but those that are cancerous too. The food I eat, the drinks I drink, the air I breath, my thoughts and so on are all affecting every cell and it is in my power to help them to become as healthy as possible.
One universal analogy for this is the notion that if a fish is sick from living in a dirty tank that you would instinctively change the tank water before treating the fish. You wouldn’t put medication into the dirty tank because you know that the dirty water is a likely factor in having made the fish sick in the first place. Now, of course, changing the water and treating the fish may not make it better but, I’m sure you will agree that the fish will have a better chance with the water changed.
Another, personal apology of mine (detailed in my book) is sunbathing. If you get sunburnt, and are sensible, you will stay out of the sun at least until the sunburn has healed. You wouldn’t, however, sit in the sun the following day expecting your sunburnt skin to get better. You know it would get worse. Even if you were now using a higher factor sunscreen, you know that your skin would recover faster and better if you were to abstain from the sun completely.
So why are these obvious analogies not applied when we are thinking about cancer?
Why does the person continue to smoke, drink, eat ‘bad’ food, live a stressful life, not follow their dreams, carry negative thoughts, sustain emotionally draining relationships, or always put others first to the point of their own suffering?
Why are we so unable to change the ‘water’ of our own fish tank even at the point of our body *screaming* out in desperation for us to listen and make changes.
“what if cancer was not the body trying to die but it’s final attempt to live?” – author unknown
It makes you rethink the entire situation doesn’t it?
Love and light, Fi xxx
*I actually wrote this nearly a year ago and only today found it buried as an electronic note in my phone. Even now as I adjust to life with a cancer recurrence, I still completely agree with every word I wrote. I never normally reread my blog posts so it’s almost as if this one wasn’t meant to be published when I first wrote it. Instead, it is as if it were just sitting their waiting for this day when my ‘future self’ would need to read these words.xxx
I am wishing you all an abundance of health and happiness on your life journey xxx