Helpful advice: A collection of words that mattered
By: Kayla Brown with contributions from other teens, young adults and parents
Being diagnosed with cancer is a challenge.
Some of that challenge lies in other people’s responses to your diagnosis. Cancer patients and survivors often recall times people reacted poorly or said things that weren’t helpful. For example, someone may have said, “God has a plan for you,” and meant it with the utmost respect, but to someone who isn’t religious, that’s not helpful. Or someone may have said, “At least you have the good cancer.” When you’re diagnosed with cancer, even an easily treatable one, it doesn’t feel like you have good cancer. And that’s because there’s really no such thing as good cancer.
While it’s easier to remember the negative words or reactions, sometimes there are words or advice that people give that are actually really helpful and stick with you for years after your last treatment. And here are just a few examples recalled by teens, young adults and their parents.
- “This isn’t your life, this is a speed bump.” –-Teen cancer survivor – when you’re diagnosed with cancer, it can feel like it defines your whole life, but it’s just a bump in the road. Cancer is a big part of your life, but it will not always be the main focus. Maybe now you think about it a couple of times a day. A year from now, you may only think about cancer once daily. And maybe five years from now, cancer will only be in your thoughts once or twice a week. It takes time, but cancer is a speed bump, not a roadblock.
- “It’s OK for her to be upset and moody and angry. Let her go in her room or somewhere by herself and let it all out. Then when she comes out give her a big mom hug and tell her you love her and it will be okay.” – Mother of a teen survivor – after my daughter finished treatment, she needed to see a therapist to help with PTSD and triggers. I also saw the therapist so that I could help my daughter, and that’s the advice the therapist gave me.
PTSD is more common in cancer survivors than people realize, and that’s likely because people expect cancer survivors to be thrilled about surviving. However, cancer leaves such an emotional toll on the survivor that sometimes happiness can feel impossible. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Sometimes just talking about it to a therapist, a family member or an oncology professional can be just what you need.
- Keeping your routines as normal as possible can help you feel better. – Mother of young adult – many people will end up in the hospital at least once during treatment. And your first instinct may be to stay in pajamas and lay in bed all day. But really, anything you can do to keep that routine will help you feel better. Get up, shower and dress every day. Eat sitting in a chair rather than in bed. And take walks up and down the hall or just around your room. It will help you in the long run.
- “You did not come this far to just come this far. You might be struggling right now, it might be really hard right now in your mind, but you did not come this far to just come this far … It is okay to struggle at times. It is not okay to give up.” – tt’s good to have your own motivational/inspirational sayings, whether it’s something you listen to like this or something you say to yourself. It needs to be something that gets you over whatever the challenges may be, something that inspires you and something that even puts a smile on your face. Another example is a power pose, putting your hands on your hips, head held high, and chest out, and saying, “I’ve got this!” It can be anything you find helpful.
- “Cancer has a place in your life and you have to give it its due, but don’t give it anything more, because unlike a good friend, it won’t return the favor.” – Dr. George Blackall, psychologist at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital – as people affected by cancer, we tend to give cancer a lot of attention, which is expected. But it’s important to not give it too much attention and continue on with your life as best as possible.
Cancer comes with many challenges, but these pieces of advice may allow you to lessen the challenges each day.
*Please share anything someone said to you that was helpful and the story behind it.
- ‘This isn’t your life; this is a speed bump.’
- After my daughter finished treatment, she needed to see a therapist to help with PTSD and triggers. I was frustrated that she was so unhappy sometimes, whereas I was elated and thankful for her treatment to be done. I saw the therapist as well, so that I could help my daughter. The therapist told me “ It’s OK for her to be upset and moody and angry. Let her go in her room or somewhere by herself and let it all out. Then when she comes out give her a big mom hug and tell her you love her and it will be OK.”
- During hospital stays get up, shower and dress everyday including shoes. Don’t stay in pajamas all day. Eat sitting in a chair not in bed, like you would at home .Walk and keep moving as much as you can. Keeping these small routines as normal as you can will help you to feel better.
- “You did not come this far to just come this far, you might be struggling right now. It might be really hard right now in your mind but you did not come this far to just come this far. We are gonna get through this just like we always have. And if you needed a reminder here it is you gotta keep going I know it’s tough right now but you have won 100% of your battles we are gonna win another one, it is okay to struggle at times. It is not okay to give up.” I listen to this on my bad days and it helps.
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