Don't Overshare Your Cancer Journey

     When faced with cancer and all of the stress and tough decisions that come along with a diagnosis, you want to know what family and friends think, but too much input can be harmful and influence you against your own beliefs and in some situations shame you or make you feel unworthy of the decision making process.  Sharing all of the details in your medical life may feel empowering and a way of releasing stress and worry, but you might be oversharing. Sometimes it is hard to know if what you are sharing is enough or too much.         

     Take stock of the people in your life that you are the most open with about your cancer and your personal life.  Who are they?  Your siblings, parents, coworkers, friends?  When you talk to them about your choices and ask them about whether to do chemotherapy or radiation, to remove one or both breasts, to seek alternative medicines and treatments, are they really supporting you or do they have their own agenda?  If you have someone that is always argumentative, won't listen and gives you advice that doesn't align with your treatment or beliefs, you really don't have their support.  Support from your inner circle should include listening without judgement and respecting your decisions.

     As a person dealing with any stage of cancer, it is alright to choose a couple people in your life that you trust and that support you unconditionally.  Stop telling everyone your business, especially if it incites arguments or negativity.  If you constantly bump up against the same reaction from someone, you are oversharing and you need to take a different approach with them.  If someone that is not supporting you asks how you are doing, tell them you are trying to get some space from always talking about your cancer and change the subject.  You don't have to tell everyone your business.

     If you need someone outside your inner circle of friends and family to listen to your dilemmas with treatment, your fear of side effects or you just want to get it all out, find a cancer center in your area.  It is so freeing to voice your concerns with other people that know exactly what you are going through.  Sitting in a room with other people in varying stages of their cancer can be so enlightening and comforting. 

     When I was in the middle of breast cancer treatment, I realized that only a handful of people were there for me all the time and I could rely on them and share my journey without fear of criticism.  I bumped up against several other people that did not agree with my choice to do chemotherapy and actually told me that it would kill me.  They got dumped out of my inner circle and I remained polite with them, but no longer talked about my cancer in detail.  Do you have someone that is not supporting you, but you keep telling them everything?  You don't have to do that.  Stop oversharing with those that are not supportive. Choose to keep yourself in a place that is filled with positive people that reflect back love, kindness and understanding. You deserve that.  

Practical Cancer Do's & Dont's: Someone you know was just diagnosed...

When presented with an illness like cancer, you have to be your own advocate.  You cannot let anyone make the decisions for you.  This is so personal and you have to follow your intuition and gut on treatment options.  This doesn’t mean that all of the options that are suggested or offered are not valid or don’t have any benefits.  It just means that this is your journey and you have to find the path that is best for you and one that you believe in.  Staying positive and believing in the treatment that you have chosen for yourself is so important.  

Here are some easy Do's & Dont's when you get the news that someone you know has cancer:

Do: Listen!  You can’t fix it, so just hear them.
Don't: Immediately try and fix it by giving advice.

Do: Let them speak before you respond.
Don't: Lecture them. Avoid sentences that begin with “You have to…”

Do: Tell them how you are feeling; shocked, sad, scared. Be honest, it’s helpful.
Don't: Tell them any terrible cancer stories. You would think this was obvious, but hearing scary cancer scenarios is not helpful.

Do: Keep your beliefs positive, kind & understanding.
Don't: Give any unsolicited medical advice like “Tumeric kills cancer” There will be time to share ideas, just not now.

Do: What ever you share, make sure it is positive & supportive.
Don't: Make judgements or criticisms about anything they share with you.  

Do: Ask how you can help?  Offer to bring dinner or pick up their kids from school. Simple, practical offers are so needed.
Don't: Insist that you help.  It is very hard for some people to ask for help. Offer it and let them decide if they want to accept or not.

Do: Respect any medical or non-medical options that they are investigating, even if you don’t agree.
Don't: Say “Chemo will kill you,” or anything remotely similar, that is just plain wrong.

Do: If you have first hand experience with cancer, share it, but keep it upbeat.  Just because you did it differently, doesn’t make their way wrong.
Don't: Have an agenda. This is their journey, not yours.  We all have the right to our own ideas and decisions.

Do: It’s ok to say “Cancer Sucks!”  It does!
Don't: Ever blame the person for causing their own cancer. Don't even imply it, that is just mean and judgmental!  Don’t do it!

Stay tuned for my next segment: Practical Do's & Dont's: You've offered your help...


Cancer Cure Overload

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, I was immediately thrown into a whirl wind of medical terms, treatment options, and total disbelief that I had breast cancer in my 40’s.  As soon as I began to share my diagnosis, friends, family members and total strangers inundated me with cancer cures they had read about on the internet.  

I was told, I needed to immediately get on a plane and seek treatment elsewhere as they couldn’t possibly treat me where I lived.  I was told again and again, the best alternative treatment could be found in Texas, Mexico and Europe among other far flung destinations.  I was desperately warned about Western medicine and told I must immediately change everything in my life to survive.  As the owner of a candy store, the first obvious suggestion was that this cancer had been caused by sugar and that sugar had to be completely eliminated from my life…yesterday. 

Advice was given to add turmeric to all my food, drink hydrogen peroxide, take gobs of bizarre supplements, most I had never even heard of.  You must ingest medical cannabis oils, tinctures and edibles with abandon, immediately go vegan, cutting out all meat and animal products, start a green juice fast and avoid chemotherapy at all cost as it will kill me!  Wow!  I'm not saying that all of these suggestions are not without merit, I'm just pointing out that I had cure overload from all of the information.

I was completely overwhelmed and decided that the best way for me to deal with my breast cancer was to do my homework, choose a team of Doctors that gave me choices and not listen to anyone else unless I asked them for help and advice. This proved to be the best way for me to deal with breast cancer, but it did not stop the influx of emails and messages that basically were insinuating that I was not capable of making choices about my own medical care. Looking back, I find it interesting and just a little upsetting that not a single one of the people offering all of this treatment advice had any medical background.  They were not trained in oncology or medicine, Western or Eastern and the majority of them had never been given a cancer diagnosis!

I completely understand the need to give advice to someone you know, but I have learned a very valuable lesson; only give that advice if it is asked for.  Cancer is complicated and every type is different.  When you give unsolicited advice to someone with cancer, it can make them feel overwhelmed, confused and quite frankly it can cause them to feel shame that the cancer is somehow their fault.  "If you only had done xyz, you wouldn't have cancer..." is the message that often comes across.  

In my next blog I will share with you some valuable do's and dont's when supporting someone with cancer.  In my journey, I found tremendous support with OjaiCARES, my local cancer support center. Finding a cancer support center is vital to help you wade through all of the cancer muck you find yourself trapped in.  Trained, caring professionals can help answer questions and guide you with sound advice while supporting your ever changing emotional needs.  Not all advice is bad, but learning the best way to give it can make all the difference.

Stay tuned for my next segment: Practical Cancer Do's & Dont's