Maintaining Hope and Positivity Through Life’s “Ripples”
To me, “ripples” are events that change your life for a period of time until life goes back to “normal” or the “new normal.” Ripples can be surgeries, deaths, life changes, illness, etc. I experienced a major life “ripple” when I was diagnosed with cervical lymphoma eight years ago. So when your life has a ripple moment, how do you keep hope alive? For me, it was positivity. I’ve always had a positive attitude, but that attitude was tested during this time because of the uncertainty.
However, I was blessed with a helpful team of medical professionals. My main oncologist was humorous and a good listener. He was always upbeat, focused on how I was doing and how he could help. I also really liked how his team of nurses had a “care-planning” meeting before my appointments. They provided pamphlets of information that included suggestions on books to read, support groups, a wig/scarves catalog and timeline for losing my hair, so I wouldn’t be startled. Having this information made me feel more in control during this uncertain time.
Every doctor has a different style and when I was referred to a gynecological oncologist, I experienced that as another ripple. He was part of a larger practice, and it felt like they were just trying to get bodies in and out. His manner was very distant and like he was talking at you, not TO you. Of course, I can understand that sometimes doctors feel like they need to distance themselves from cancer patients due to emotions and the sheer magnitude of those affected by cancer. All I am asking for is a little bedside manner. J The first time I saw him was right after my surgery, and I had to have a pap smear, which I was very uncomfortable about because he was not my regular gynecologist. He introduced himself and said, “Lay down and let’s get started.” I said, “Hold on! I am more than a V (vagina). Let’s talk a little bit and discuss the care plan before getting down to business.” He had an “a-ha” moment, sat down on his stool, opened my chart, and explained his role in my treatment moving forward. I felt empowered because my voice had been heard, and that minor ripple went away.
How can we make the ripples easier? I think it’s through a support system, and that looks different for everyone. For me, it was having dinners ready through a group of moms at my children’s school. It was my father and husband taking turns accompanying me to chemo sessions. It was my mother picking up my kids from school and running things at our bakery business. (I would work for two weeks and then be home for two weeks until my blood counts went back up, but she really carried the business throughout my treatment and recovery time.) It was my children loving me even when I had a bald head! It was our family dog, Jackie, acting as a lap warmer and loyal companion while I was at home. It was being put on a prayer list at church as I had a whole congregation praying for me. It was having daily prayer and meditation time. We might not understand the “whys” of the ripples, but we just have to continue to keep faith and know that God has us supported in His hand. If you don’t have family near your area of treatment, look to co-workers, neighbors and church members. People want to help but can’t unless they know what you are going through. It’s pretty amazing what people can do when you give them the opportunity to help.
So people want to help and be supportive, but often they just don’t know what to say. I would run into old friends who I hadn’t seen in a while with my scarf on, and they would ask, “Oh what’s new in your life?” How was I supposed to respond to that? “Oh, you know just the big “C”?!” To this day, eight years in remission, I still don’t know how to respond. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section. I know what I didn’t like: comparisons. People would say, “Oh you have lymphoma. That’s not so bad. My sister had so-and-so.” Comments like that made me feel my journey wasn’t as hard or important as someone else’s. No two journeys are the same, so we shouldn’t draw comparisons. I also didn’t like when I went to support groups and people talked about only the negative things, not the positives. I realize that we do have to vent, and support groups are a great place to do so. But if we focus too much on the negative, it cultivates further negativity and puts you in an emotional downward spiral. If you go to a support group, I would advise you to not be frightened by others’ stories; what’s going on in their treatment journey won’t necessarily happen to you. Again, each person and journey is different. So now on to the positives—what did I love to hear?
From friends and family: “I’m here to help you!.” “Let’s do a countdown to the end of chemo and plan something fun to celebrate!”
From my oncologist: “Your blood counts are good, and you can go outside or back to work.” “Your PET scan was normal!” “I love how your hair is growing back all curly! Embrace the new you!
Comments like this can help ease the ripple. I also encourage you to not be quiet about your illness, because you will inspire others by telling your story. Miracles occur every day, and you can be the next!
Remaining positive through life’s ripples eight years later,
Stay tuned next week when Dominica’s daughter, Theresa, Patient Power’s Social Media Powerhouse, shares her own story, not only from the perspective of being a child of a parent with cancer, but also from the perspective of being a patient herself, struggling with a deadly disease.
Andrew is the author of the new book The Web-Savvy Patient: An Insider's Guide to Navigating the Internet When Facing Medical Crisis. He is a respected medical journalist and 15-year leukemia survivor. He founded healthtalk.com and patientpower.info and has hosted almost 3,000 online talk shows for patients with chronic conditions and cancers. Many of America's leading medical centers support ...