They say hindsight is 20/20, and that’s never been more true than when I look back on my cancer journey. There are so many things I wish I’d known back then! However, It’s a blessing to be able to share what I have learned in my journey with others who may just be starting theirs. If what I know now can help you, it makes it all worth it!
1. Cancer treatments can affect your whole body. Most of us only worry about losing our hair, or feeling sick to our stomachs, when really, treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation can affect your entire being. Your appetite, skin complexion, energy levels and especially emotions can be thrown off balance. So do seek help from others early, even with the simplest things such as grocery shopping.
2. Be gentle with yourself. Do not berate yourself or push yourself any further if you are feeling tired. Most of all, ask for help if you need it. As independent women, we may feel that we have to be able to handle everything, even in the toughest moments. Truth is, understanding that it is OK to be vulnerable is not a weakness, but strength of character.
3. Put yourself first. Many of us have work, family and community commitments. When you are diagnosed with cancer, you must absolutely put yourself first. Your medical care, home care, and emotional care must become your priorities, so you can heal completely in all areas.
4. Skin care is extremely important. Use lukewarm water and clean your skin gently, then pat dry. Moisturise, moisturise, moisturise every chance you get, and protect your skin from the sun with hats and gloves. Most commercial personal care products are too harsh, so don’t be surprised if your regular products suddenly start to irritate or burn your skin. Many also contain potentially carcinogenic ingredients I have never heard of. That was when I started reading labels very carefully and making my own facial products using essential oils and natural herbs.
5. Chemo rashes are not the same as acne. Many chemotherapy drugs can cause an acne-like rash, but this is not the same as regular acne. If you use harsh acne medications, you could cause the rash to worsen, possibly even permanently scarring your skin. Try more natural remedies like chamomile and water, an oatmeal paste facial mask, or an organic clay facial wash. Most importantly, be gentle.
6. Shop for a wig before you lose your hair. This is the best way to match your natural hair to your wig. Also when you do this, make it a lighthearted and fun experience. Be easy with it with no expectations, and go with a friend who makes you laugh!
7. Don't dwell on statistics. This is your experience, and no two people, cancer diagnoses or experiences are exactly alike. Be your own advocate. You know your body and want only the best for yourself, so speak up if something doesn't seem right.
8. When you’re laying out your options, don't rush into treatment. Where you go first for treatment matters. The decisions you make now can affect your treatment options and prognosis down the road. So, take time to choose a cancer center and evaluate your options. Get a second opinion if you're not happy with the options you're given.
9. Knowledge is power. Do your research and understand that cancer is beatable and not a death sentence. Thanks to new clinical trials and advanced treatment options, more people are beating cancer today and living longer than ever before.
10. Be aware of your thoughts and inner voice. Make sure you are always having positive thoughts. To practice this, find at least one positive thing every day to dwell upon – your favorite show or meal, a funny text, the sound of birds chirping. And don't forget to laugh.
11. You don't have to face cancer alone. Connect with other cancer patients, survivors or a one-on-one support group that connects patients and caregivers with others who have been there. Take life one day at a time. A cancer diagnosis is easier to face if you focus on one day and one appointment at a time.
12. Maintain as much of your routine and life as possible. Yes, things will change, and you may not be able to do some things you've always done. But when you can, live your life and retain some sense of normalcy. This will help take your mind off cancer. Eat clean and exercise when you can. Be good to your body, so it can help you get through the treatment.
13. Start a Facebook page or CarePages site to share your journey with your friends and family. This helps when you're tired of saying the same thing over and over, and it can help you stay connected with friends and family who are far away.
14. Acknowledge your emotions. Cry, scream, curse and laugh when you need to. These emotions are normal. Seek professional help to deal with your emotions and stress if you need to. Be patient with yourself and with your loved ones. Cancer is hard on everyone, and some things will change. Adapting to change and healing takes time. And that's OK.
(Photo credit: The Malay Mail Online)