Cancer is all over the news lately, thanks to early detection, celebrity patients, and those ubiquitous "Hey Cancer" ads. Though medical breakthroughs may be in the offing, the Big C still packs a psycho/spiritual wallop for the newly initiated, no matter what effective tax rate you pay. Here are 10 ways to beat back the cancer blues and be your own best friend:
1) Blame Canada -- Or Philip Morris. Or your stress-Nazi boss. Just don't blame yourself. Because even if it is your fault, right now it's not your fault. Nothing about cancer is your fault. Give yourself the Robin-Williams-in-Good-Will-Hunting Hug because it's not your fault. Once you're all better you can get down on yourself for smoking, or eating poorly, or internalizing your parent's guilt trips. For now, stay focused on getting better.
2) Divide and Conquer -- Learn survivor math. Say the median survival rate of your cancer is five years. Does that mean you will be dead in five years? No, math-slackers, it does not. The median is not the same as the average. A median rate (which is how survival rates are measured) means half the people with your condition will die before the median, most likely people WAY older and WAY more decrepit than you. Are you old and decrepit? Because if you're not then you can live another 10 or 20 or 50 years, depending on your age, even if the median is only five years. I used to hate math too, till I got cancer. Now it's kind of awesome.
3) Take Your Google and Stick it Up Your iPad -- Don't be a masochist and try to "learn" about your cancer on the Internet. Every other post you read will make you feel like you're gonna die any minute. Remember, just because people before you have died of cancer, or even your type of cancer, does NOT mean you will too. So take that, Google founder Larry Page, who once built an inkjet printer out of Lego (it's fine to search for that kind of useless dreck).
4) Trip Out, Dude -- Look yourself in the mirror and say: "I have cancer." It's weird the first time, like saying "I'm tripping on LSD" (not that I would know) -- but it helps to get used to the idea while you're all alone. You have cancer, you can survive, and sooner than you think you'll be looking in the mirror again going, "I don't have cancer anymore." That'll be weird too, but the good kind of weird. The magic mushroom kind of weird (not that I would know).
5) Get Into the Closet -- Keep the lights off. You are now a medical imaging device trying to see inside the total darkness of a human body. Sometimes you see things that aren't really there, like the CAT scan that "saw" potentially fatal tumors on my liver, till a sonogram "saw" they were only harmless cysts on my kidney. Whoops... glad I didn't jump off a bridge that week. So remember: trust but verify.
6) Think About Sex -- I'm a man, so I can't even get through a top 10 list without thinking about sex at least once. If sex is on your mind during these trying times, remember it's perfectly ethical to sidle up to a good-looking girl or guy and say: "You know, I wouldn't ordinarily be so bold, but I have cancer, so I was wondering if we could get naked together." At least you're not lying. Lying is unethical.
7) Channel Judge Judy -- Will your doctor keep probing and testing you because she thinks you have something else, or God forbid, something worse? Probably. Is he also making sure he doesn't get sued for misdiagnosis? Hmm... never thought of that. Doctors work in the real world, my friend. Their job is to be thorough, for many reasons, so keep a running list of each horror they look for but don't find. Not so you can sue anyone. Just to remind you not to be afraid of anything until you're absolutely sure you have it. And even then, just repeat step 3.
8) Tell it to the Hand -- No one knows what the hell to say to someone waylaid by cancer (my best friend asked if I owed him money -- at least it made me laugh). Informing loved ones is a HUGE burden, and you've got enough on your plate as is. Email is a solid way to keep your peeps up to date, and tell them what you need -- namely, their well-timed support. Trust me, you don't want all your loved ones calling for news every time you go to the doctor. With a group email, they can feel connected to you and also give you some much-needed space.
9) Turn On Your High Beams -- E.L. Doctorow once said this about writing, but it's true for surviving cancer as well: "It's like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." So each day, just focus on getting to tomorrow. That's the only "long-term" goal you need to be concerned with till you hit remission.
10) Count to 28 Million, Babe -- That's how many cancer survivors there are worldwide. And with a little luck, you'll be next. Number 28 million and one. Just like Lance Armstrong and Sheryl Crow over there at the bar. Wait, they broke up, didn't they? "You know, I wouldn't ordinarily be so bold but..."
Michael Solomon is an award-winning filmmaker and the author of "Now It's Funny... How I Survived Cancer, Divorce and Other Looming Disasters."
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