Today, my song is dedicated to all people, for whom cancer has become a part of their lives and ongoing consideration. I think foremost about all those who have recently been diagnosed with cancer; especially if the cancer is terminal or has been discovered too late and is now too far advanced to be treatable. Such is the kind of news that instantly send shock waves through one’s mind and body, and within a matter of seconds, one’s stable world has been turned upside down, disturbing all remaining jumbled thoughts struggling for attention at the forefront of one’s mind.
My dedication also includes those persons who are having chemotherapy, radiotherapy, regular blood transfusions and other treatment courses. It is my clear understanding that any of these treatments affect all people differently, and there are significant differences in the numerous types of individual reactions. Even when two people have been impacted with a similar level of pain, they feel and react differently; determined in large measure by their different body interpretations and their different pain-level thresholds they have established.
I also dedicate my thoughts and song to those many people who were diagnosed with cancer, and who were treated and have now been cleared of cancer, having been in remission for six months or more. Finally, I dedicate my song to those who are in the last stages of life and will soon die with cancer. I believe that most people who have learned to live with cancer automatically help themselves to die with cancer. Just as there is a happy and healthy way to live for each of us, I believe that there is also a happier and healthier way for each of us to die with dignity.
Whatever words I use in my post today or advice I may offer directly or indirectly through illustration, reference and inference, let me say from the start that no two cancers are the same, as are no two individuals. No similar cancer has the same impact on different individuals, and how a person chooses to respond to their own situation is what they feel to be right for them. I believe that we each live and die with cancer differently. I would like to round off this universal ball of individualism by likewise adding that there is no right or wrong way of living or dying with cancer, but unfortunately, I believe that to be inaccurate. I know from my own experience and the many people with whom I communicate weekly who have or have had cancer, there is a better way.
I know there are healthier and happier ways to live with cancer, and there are also healthier and more content ways to die with cancer. It is possible to have cancer as your constant companion without allowing cancer to preoccupy your mind, constantly disturb your emotions, control your day and define you as a person. You are the one who chooses the way you live your life or the way you prefer to end it! You are the person who puts purpose and satisfaction into your life through your quality of experience, the positiveness of thought and honest intent and healthy expression. You, and nobody else!
Please do not think that I am putting myself forward as someone who says, “Look at me! I have had five different cancers in the past seven years, and I am currently being operated on and treated for three separate cancers in three different areas of my body; a terminal blood cancer, malignant skin cancer and rectal cancer yet to be operated on”.
Indeed, I know that my body will have a new cancer year-upon-year for most of the remaining years of my life, as it is the nature of the blood cancer I have to eventually infect all the major organs of my body with cancer; provided of course, that my absence of any effective immune system doesn’t kill me off first with pneumonia or some other infection my body cannot fight off.
I have been as frightened as most people who have cancer. I have cried with the thought of losing contact with my loved ones. I have struggled with the uncertain timing of my death; not knowing if I will be alive in the autumn to eat the potatoes and other vegetables that my wife planted in our allotment in spring; or see the flower, I plant this summer bloom next year. I frequently fall into frustration with my ageing incapacity; the gradual demise in my agility and dexterity of hand. Weekly, I observe the deterioration in my mobility of foot and unbalance of body that makes me prone to falling. I dislocated my shoulder three months ago and required a full operation under a general anaesthetic (itself highly dangerous for me) to replace. The damage to muscle tissue was severe and I now have only half the normal use, with no prospect of further improvement. Don’t think for one moment that I don’t frequently express frustration with my inability to put on my own socks and shoes, shirt or other dress. Do not hold me as a person who never shouts at his knee to bend, calling it ‘Stupid leg’, or who doesn’t swear and curse when I have to jump out of bed in the middle of the night with severe painful cramp in both legs that can take an hour to wear off with constant movement.
Please be aware that I am no model of approbus, as I have my human failings and weaknesses in ample number also. But I have learned how better to both live with cancer and die with cancer?
Please allow me to be so bold as to give a few tips to cancer patients that I have found helpful over the past seven years. There are three aspects of lifestyle which I call the blessed Trinity that is essential to buttress and conceptually support the advice I offer below. This trinity of essential lifestyle considerations involves establishing a baseline maintenance of health, happiness and hope within you. These aspects can only be functional in the mind and body of a person with cancer if they give full and proper regard to rest and sleep, the type of energy used; how, when, and in what amount, along with the nature of food intake and the daily routines established.
(1) There will be days when your body does not feel strong enough to engage either physically or mentally. On such occasions when physical activity is very difficult and can hurt, it is important to rest the body. Paradoxically, it is important to remember that the worst possible thing you can do is ‘Do nothing!’ Instead of falling into total lethargy, engage in any sedentary activity such as reading, writing, doing crosswords, arranging flowers, listening to the radio or chosen music and talking with your partner, family or friends. Note, that when we are not strong enough to engage in ‘physical activity’, it is very important that we engage in ‘mental activity’. Conversely, when we are mentally drained, that is the best time to have a little walk and take in some fresh air. The secret is ‘always to be engaged’, either physically or mentally when doing both are not possible.
(2)Engage oneself in something you find pleasurable and satisfying as often as possible during your day. I have always found pleasure to be the prime source of persistent practice and routine maintenance.
(3) When you find the diet, the exercise regime, the daily pleasurable tasks, the most suitable time of going to bed and rising each morning ‘that best suits you’, make them your established routine to maintain your maximum health, happiness and hope.
(4) End of life stages are like all life stages: they are easier to face when they are lived alongside others than on one’s own. Anyone who has family, neighbours and friends who care for you, is wasting the most valuable human resource of all if you prevent them from caring and being alongside during times of greatest need. Just as most people have a basic need ‘to help’, the person with cancer serves their own basic needs better when they allow others to help.
(5) People differ in terms of being entirely open about their condition. Some are prepared to tell all to the world and his neighbour about their illness, whilst others are more reserved and private in what, when and how much they are prepared to divulge, and to whom they disclose. Some prefer to tell others on a ‘need-to-know basis’ at the initial diagnosis of cancer or during its progression and treatment stages. The only time we learn about some people with cancer is at their death. My only advice here is to at least choose one person you trust to openly confide in; preferably your partner, closest family member or best friend. It is foolish to face such struggles alone when other good people want to help you.
(6) In order to preserve your body as well as possible, enough sleep of good quality is required. We all seem to be able to get by on different amounts of sleep, and the amount can vary between as much as five and eight hours nightly, to prove sufficient to the person concerned. If you sleep soundly, then maintain your daily routines in exercise, food intake and pleasurable pursuits. There will be nights when you cannot sleep. Do not lie in bed alone and worry. Get up and do something that gives you pleasure. It is healthier to avoid comfort eating on such nights. I will never forget a prominent Scottish psychiatrist (R.D. Laing) speak about the time he dealt with a patient who couldn’t sleep at night. She could never get off to sleep until it was time when most people were waking up. His immediate response to his patient of being told about her problem was, ’How wonderful to be awake and alert when the rest of the world is asleep, and to be able to do what you want without human interference or interruption such as house visitors, pestering others or phone calls.’ The psychiatrist was teaching his patient how to ‘reframe their problem’ by turning it into an advantage. I have even known people change their working terms from day shift to night shift to get around this problem. Going to sleep should be the most naturally thing in the world for a tired body to do, but it is the hardest thing to do for an active mind. Never worry in bed; get up and do something pleasurable. Don’t forget that resting the body (night or day) is just as beneficial to health as being fast asleep. Learning to relax is also very helpful and is something I have done for the past 60 years.
I would always acknowledge the right for our parents, siblings and relatives to influence us in how we live our lives, but I would never concede that they have the right or the power to control it. Similarly; whereas I acknowledge that my cancer/cancers will undoubtedly influence me in how I live my life, I will never concede that Cancer has the right or the power to control it, and in the process, define my personality and body response or shape my destiny!
This Post has been specifically written for those who are living and dying with cancer, and especially, children with cancer; along with the partners, relatives and friends of those with cancer.
Love and peace Bill xxx