Last Friday I noticed a lump developing under my left arm. I have had a lymph node removed under that arm due to a scorpion sting in the Mohave Desert while in the Army. So I figured I had another lymph node acting up; but when it began to swell about the size of a tennis ball my wife decided it was time to see a doctor. Initially I refused to go, but something about a “double standard” when it comes to our health and a moderate dose of a guilt trip, quickly changed my mind.
With an elevated white blood cell count, a fever that comes and goes, and a general lack of energy, the Doc isn’t ruling anything out until later this week, giving the antibiotics a chance to kill the infection we all hope is the culprit. Please understand, I do not think I have cancer and I am not worried; if you know me and would be inclined to worry for me, please don’t, but I thank you for the thought. However, as you can imagine this episode got me to thinking, “How will I react if I find out that I do in fact have a form of cancer?”, “How do I hope I will react?” For the last year or so, my first thought when faced with a life choice or difficult circumstances is, “Hey, I should write a column about that. Maybe it will help someone in similar circumstances.”
As I began my research, I noticed two things right away: every source I read suggests becoming the best and smartest patient you can be, and second, having a loving support network of family, friends and fellow patients to walk this journey with you. While the research offered suggests men and women deal with their disease in different ways (men tend to crave information to help themselves intellectually but keep their emotions bottled up, and women tend to share emotions and experiences), the commonality for both is make sure you do not try to be “The Lone Ranger.”
At the website www.mayoclinic.com, Doctor Creagan advises that right after you receive your diagnosis you should make sure you bring someone along with you to the doctor’s office because most people are not in the frame of mind to remember many details. Along with that, learn the particulars of your disease, “What kind of cancer is it?”, “Where and what size is it, and has it spread?”, “Is the cancer slow growing or is it more aggressive?” Further, seek a second opinion but if those two opinions are close, don’t waste a lot of time going to six or seven doctors, the opinion is not likely to change.
After you have learned all you can about your disease and have become comfortable with your doctor, then learn all you can about your treatment options. The website www.emedicinehealth.com suggests in general, there are four possible treatment options: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and “watchful waiting.” Make sure you understand the risks and benefits of each of these options; while you and your oncologist are in a partnership, at the end of the day, you are in charge of your body and health.
The last piece of advice my research provided is advice everyone can benefit from: Seize the Day! “Carpe diem” for those of you still familiar with Homer. And no I do not mean Homer Simpson for you jokers in the audience. Live each day for all that day is worth and be “in the moment” as much as you can. When you live one experience but worry about two others at the same time, you are not honoring the life you are in. Cancer or not, you could get hit by a bus tomorrow so live today as it’s your last, it just might be. Oh yeah in case of the bus thing, remember to wear clean underwear.
Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is working on a PhD in Leadership studies at Gonzaga University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.