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LIVING WITH CANCER

by Wendy Doscher-Smith September 21, 2008
LIVING WITH CANCERCancer is so common that odds are most people are affected. Even those who have not been diagnosed with the disease likely know someone who is dealing with cancer. According to the Institute of Medicine, 40% of all Americans will be diagnosed with cancer at some point. While that statistic is sobering, more people are considering themselves not survivors or victims,but simply people, unchanged, except that now they happen to be battling a disease.

So while three simple words, “You’ve got cancer,” is probably the only three-word grouping as powerful in the English language as “I love you,”an immediate and total life over haul is not necessarily the best medicine.

Certainly changes in routine, diet and, sometimes, attitude, are key for coping with cancer, and for preventing it. However, continuing with life and, beyond that, embracing life, are just as important for overall well-being. If a positive attitude is nearly half the battle, then it follows that a positive attitude might not require substantial changes.

One of the best ways to help your body and your mind is to change what you put into it. Many fruits and vegetables inhibit the growth of cancer causing cells, some serve as antioxidants, others may shrink tumors, and others can help sweep carcinogens from the body.

According to the Cancer Cure Foundation, The National Cancer Institute estimates that roughly one-third of all cancer deaths may be diet related. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, berries and “superfoods” can help stave off cancer. Some of these include cruciferous vegetables including cauliflower, broccoli and kale. Like spicy food? Good news. Chili peppers and jalapenos contain capsaicin, a chemical that may neutralize some cancer-causing substances. Acai, a “superfood” from Brazil, has been proven to boost immunity. Superfoods contain high levels of phytonutrients that provide health benefits. For more information on cancer-thwarting foods, check out www.cancure.org.

Diet is not the only consideration when deciding on the best course of action for dealing with cancer. Methods of relaxation are quite therapeutic and can make the “mind over mind” difference. When Miami-based journalist Elinor Brecher was diagnosed with breast cancer, she turned to yoga and meditation. She also found the Serenity Prayer very helpful.  However, Brecher says that embracing a realistic attitude about her disease was perhaps most important.

“Really, the only way to cope is to find out exactly what you're dealing with, study all legitimate treatment options, be ruthlessly realistic about your priorities and goals, find a doctor you trust absolutely, and do what needs to be done,” Brecher says.

California-based publicist Lynne Merrill also took a realistic attitude when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She refused to be a victim, even though she says the very people who should have been helping her made her feel worse by insisting she was a victim.

“The medical establishment sometimes has the tendency to turn people with cancer into cancer victims,” Merrill observes. “My surgeon was great, but to the nurses it felt like I became a cancer victim.”

“Cancer is just a disease. You have it, you get rid of it, or you don't. But there is no need to change your life in the meantime.”

What bugged Merrill was the nurse’s insistence that she cut her hair before undergoing chemotherapy, and get a wig.

They sent me to a hairdresser who "specializesin cancer victims,” Merrill says. “She brought a bunch of wigs for me to try on, each of which made me look like a transvestite, and not the good kind. She was so eager to cut my hair, we had an argument. I told her I'd wait until it fellout. She said, ‘It will break your heart if you do.’Just to spite her, I never lost my hair. I did end up buying a wig in case I woke up bald one morning, but I never wore it and I never went bald.”

Working also helped Merrill stay focused on her life as opposed to the disease.

“They also told me to go on disability during chemo because I'd be too sick to work. I didn't– and I wasn't,” Merrill says. “Having to get up and go to work made me not give in to feeling a little crappy now and then. Chemo was no worse than a bad hangover.”

Brecher also subscribes to the non-victim role. But she sees no problem with airing your concerns.” Don't beat yourself up when you cry or need to lean on those close to you,”  Brecher says. “It's not a sign of weakness to be needy at such a time.”

Brecher also found solace in a perhaps unlikely place: dogs. “Your best friend in all this could well be your dog, who will never be judgmental or contrary, will listen to you forever, and will lick away your tears,” Brecher says.

Brecher also branched out beyond her own pets by going to a popular dog beach to ease her pain. “When you're surrounded by 300 leaping, yapping wet dogs,  it's hard to do anything but smile,” she says.

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