The Elephant in the Room is Cancer. Tea is the Relief Conversation Provides.

Coping Rhythms

by Amy DrenthSurvivor, Stage IV Nodular Sclerosis Hodgkin's LymphomaOctober 4, 2023View more posts from Amy Drenth

Cancer wrecks careers, family goals, travel plans, marriages, relationships, dreams, and, most importantly, our health. You might think that grace would be extended to a person battling cancer and carrying their family through the trenches, but it often doesn’t happen. Meanwhile, cancer screams to team up against these awful cells, but your significant other wants to bail. Just when it’s time for that hard-earned promotion, the cancer comes back. Instead of saying hello to new responsibilities, it’s time to say hi to FMLA.

Cancer is the enemy, but it doesn’t just destroy one’s body. Wouldn’t that be convenient? Nope. It kills all the things around us. Our fertility plans, see ya. Our family goals, watching our children get married, finding the person of our dreams, and keeping our loved ones close can all go out the window, bringing a version of cancer life no one could have ever predicted.

Somehow, the catastrophe of a cancer diagnosis, relapse, death of a loved one, or a stubborn cancer that won’t go away mandates a means to cope. In some way, shape, or form, we have to move on and focus on our well-being versus the hardship and suffering that get us so easily tangled up.

Medications and treatment are the complete opposite of staying vigilant, being passionate about fighting cancer and maintaining energy and focus. Deep down, our soul craves this bountiful avenue of coping. Between naps, low energy, appointments, and restrictions, there is much room for self-care with very little capacity.

Here are three strategies for coping that I continue to practice today post-treatment. These are the things I prioritized during my chemotherapy sessions that lasted seven months. They also carried me through my eighteen-day hospitalization for my autologous stem cell transplant.

Surround yourself with your “why.” This was a regular practice for me. My undivided attention and time on my “good days” was devoted to being with my children and husband. We had pockets of time to go to the library for date night, the local amusement park, bike trails, and baseball games. On my “bad days,” I spent time taking pictures of my loved ones.

If my house were burning down, the only thing I’d attempt to save, besides my husband and my kids, would be the photos on my computer. If I was lounging around or resting in bed, I’d spend time organizing my photos and creating digital photo books. Looking at all the memories we were building in the toughest season of our lives was comforting. Plus, I could cope with facing death by leaving behind photos of some pretty awesome memories and experiences. Heck, my three-year-old would only have recollections of me through the images of our days together. Capturing our life together made me feel less ill.

Prioritize your mental health. Cancer doesn’t just last a season. It’s always lurking both figuratively and literally. I found when I interacted with my counselor, I only got out of it what I put in. It’s hard talking about all the things cancer impacts with loved ones and especially our caregivers. A counselor who works specifically with cancer patients and families impacted by cancer can bring so much value to our struggles, side effects, treatment plans, and state of mind. You can even find counsel in the comfort of your home over Zoom. Your counselor can filter your heartache better than your caregiver—who is just trying to keep their head above water—can.

Allow your village to carry you. I’ve already established that people can treat you poorly, have unrealistic expectations, and neglect you during your treatment. But let’s face it: we still need people in our corner. This looks different for everyone. For me, it looked like a few ladies cleaning my house at the same time once a week, consistent childcare, carpools, and the same routine on treatment day. Having a village was necessary because we had no family nearby. We lived a couple hundred miles away from our relatives. Loved ones carried us through prayer when we didn’t know how to take the next steps. Find a village of people who you can trust to fill the gaps of the things you can’t do.

Processing our reality through all stages of cancer is vital to our outlook on life. We might not be able to control our outcomes, but we can live our best life, better regulated and intentional.

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