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Taking Control of Life With Cancer

You may have cancer, but you’re still in the driver’s seat

(The first in a two-post series)

Within days of her breast cancer diagnosis, Elizabeth, 42, said she found herself on a speeding train, carrying her through treatment. “I felt like I didn’t have control over anything,” she recalled. “Once you’re diagnosed, it’s full steam ahead. I hardly had time to process the diagnosis and I was booked immediately for multiple tests, doctors’ appointments, then surgery. I couldn’t control my cancer, but I also felt like I had lost control of my life.”

Elizabeth’s experience of powerlessness is common among those living with cancer. She’s right. There is little you can control about cancer. You can’t regulate its progression, side effects or after effects of treatment, or other peoples’ reactions to your illness and situation.

You’ll probably cycle through a range of emotions during your cancer experience—anger, fear, sadness and believe it or not, joy at times. You may also feel restless because of the many changes you face on this journey. Although you can’t control your cancer, you can take charge of your health.

Begin by working with the present moment. What can you do to care for your mind and body as they are right now? Why not simply take a breather?

For example, if you are feeling stressed, can you take a moment to stop whatever you are doing? Bring your attention to your breath. Take two, slow, deep breaths from the belly. Hold that breath for two counts, then breathe out. Repeat this exercise twice. The practice of deep breathing has been scientifically proven to enhance well-being and change your emotional state.


Chodron, P. (2002). Comfortable with uncertainty: 108 teachings on cultivating fearlessness and compassion. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications.

Friedman, D. S. (2014). Zen cancer wisdom: Tips for making each day better. Wisdom Publications, Boston, MA.

National Cancer Institute. (2014). Taking time: Support for people with cancer. (NIH Publication No. 14-2059). Retrieved from, October 9, 2017.

Singh, R., Wilczynska-Kwiatek, A., Fedacko J., Pella, D., DeMeester, F. (2009). Pranayama: The power of breath. International Journal on Disability and Human Development, 8(2), 141-153. doi: 10.1515/IJDHD.2009.8.2.141

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