"The good news is that your
condition is pre-cancerous. The bad news is that it is untreatable and I strongly
recommend that you have a mastectomy."
"I'm sorry, what did you
say was the good news?" The doctor's mouth continued to flap open and closed;
I know he made sounds, but the words disappeared into a vortex.
Over the last couple of
years I have been in and out of crowded doctors' waiting rooms, been pinched
by mammogram machines, had needles shot into my body to remove tissue samples
while I was held in a vice, had a large piece surgically taken out of me and
my whole breast removed.
Luckily, my mother often
came with me on doctor visits. Luckily my friend who works at the cancer information
centre showed up with a large pile of information. Luckily my brother accompanied
me through the procedures to hold my hand and get answers when my brain shut
"Gee, you sound really mellow
after your operation."
"I don't do mellow. I'm
still drugged." But even in my groggy state, I realized that there must be a
better way to go through this. So I thought up 10 tips for surviving the health
1. Always assume that you
have fallen through the cracks, unless you get proof to the contrary. No news
is not good news. It may mean that someone forgot to do something. Medical care
can be complicated and need a lot of co-ordination among large numbers of people.
2. Never blame anyone. Recognize
that everyone working in the system is very busy and probably stressed-out.
While you are only concerned with yourself, they are juggling dozens of people,
3. Create positive relationships
with everyone who can help you. Introduce yourself to every nurse, receptionist,
technician and doctor that you will need to see again. Ask them for their first
name. Remember it or record it for quick reference. Next time you see them establish
rapport by using their first name and engaging them in personal chat before
you get down to business. It only takes a few seconds. This will help ensure
that you become more than just a file, and will give you some insight into what
each person does. It also makes it easier to request things when you need to.
4. Apologise before you
make a request. "I'm sorry to bother you when you are so busy, but since I hadn't
heard from you, I thought I'd better check whether you were able to make the
appointment." Canadians naturally apologize for anything, even when we are not
responsible. It's time we learned to use the power of apology. If you say you're
sorry, you can ask for just about anything - and still be perceived as nice.
5. Take someone with you
and give them a job to do. For any important meeting or procedure, take a friend
or family member with you. Their job is to remain sane, create rapport and ask
good questions. This way, if you lose your grip, someone else still has it.
6. Use all your contacts.
Surely someone you know, knows someone who knows someone who can find out what
you need. At times this may be the only way to obtain information, a second
opinion or to get in to see someone quickly. If you are hesitant to use your
contacts, apologize for bothering them.
7. Be prepared to do a lot
of waiting. Make appointments early in the day before the doctor has a chance
to get behind schedule. This way you'll see the doctor before she/he gets tired
and cranky. Just after lunch is okay too. Remember to take something you like
to do in case you have to wait anyway.
8. Take everything your
doctors say as information instead of gospel. Allow yourself time to think about
it. Remember that medical professionals are trained to think about and discuss
the worst possible scenarios. Ask them what each treatment is supposed to accomplish
and repeat that message over and over to yourself to create a goal-oriented
mindset within yourself. Write down your questions prior to the appointment
and write down the answers - or ask your companion to do the writing.
9. Do what you need to do
to stay upbeat and positive. It's perfectly normal to feel depressed and demoralized
upon hearing bad news. I've been through shock, numbness, denying that this
could be happening, panic, anger and feeling depressed. You can let yourself
feel all those things, knowing that this is how you are feeling at this moment
in time, and that you will move on. Continually remind yourself that you are
good at healing, that you get better quickly. Notice what has improved each
day and comment on it to yourself and others. While some may think this weird;
you can even speak to your physical self; cheer for your immune system and thank
it for sticking up for you.
10. Hang out with cheerful,
upbeat and helpful people. I found it wearing having to cheer up other people
when I told them I had cancer. I was also subjected to everyone's personal dogma
regarding what I should do. It ran the gamut; from slavishly following every
instruction from the doctor to never believing anything the doctor says.
There is only so much sympathy
you can take before you begin to believe that you ought to feel sorry for yourself.
Only see people who make you feel good - who make you laugh, who get you out,
who bring over lovely things to eat. If someone asks you how can they help -
get them to make morale-raising food, take you to a funny movie, bring over
a good video. If depressing people want to come over, apologize and tell them
you're not up to it.
At the beginning of last
year I went through several major reconstructive surgeries, some of which were
quite difficult. A few months ago my 11-year-old son was diagnosed with cancer.
So far, so good - the tips have helped a lot. Although, I have to admit that
it's been much harder dealing with my feelings about my son's illness than my
own. While I'm able to be positive about his healing with him, his brother and
the care givers, the challenge has been keeping myself positive when I'm alone.
I've been getting extra
support to help me. I go to a therapist to get frustrations off my chest and
insight. I shrug my shoulders and forgive myself when I forget where I'm going.
I play solitaire on the computer. And I've discovered a great excuse to have
a lot of little rewards. Where did I leave my pack of Werthers?