You May Have Cancer, But You’re Still in the Driver’s Seat
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.
Consider these ways you can take hold of the steering wheel:
Work with the present moment, rather than against it. Care for your mind and body as they are right now. At this moment, what can you do to bring yourself peace? Right now, what can you to help your body heal? Take a nap. Indulge in a hot bath. Grab a beer and sit on the front porch. Kick back to your favorite music. Treat your taste buds to some soul food.
Try to maintain as normal a routine as possible.
Carry a small notebook with you and make lists.
Knowledge is power. Be an active participant in your healthcare. Ask your team to help identify educational materials about your type and stage of cancer. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Take notes at medical visits. If you don’t understand something, ask your doctor to explain it.
Be willing to make changes in your lifestyle before, during and after treatment. You may need to take a close look at your work habits, physical activity, diet, sleep patterns, and how you spend your free time.
Allow yourself to feel fully the emotions you encounter on this journey. All emotions—even the uncomfortable ones—are valid.
Learn to manage stress. Cultivate tools such as meditation or breathing and relaxation exercises. For CanSurround’s Relaxation Exercises click here.
Have hope. You may find hope in nature, or your religious or spiritual practices.
Plan something special for the future. This process will help take your mind off cancer and keep you focused on something fun and rewarding.
How to Access CanSurround
You can access CanSurround through your health care provider (cancer center or physician). To learn whether or not your provider is a CanSurround partner, please complete this form.
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