When Treatments Don't Work
This is the fourth in a series of articles
on cancer coping skills
Nothing hits you harder in the pit of the stomach than a doctor telling
you that your treatments are not working or that there's nothing more he can do.
Everything we've learned about modern medicine has led us to believe that
if we get sick doctors can cure us. If a cure isn't immediately available, then at least
it must be just around the corner.
We're ill-prepared to cope with the eventuality that nothing can be done.
It's only natural that we would greet such a prognosis with denial and
fear. It's not unusual to wonder if there's been a mistake in our diagnosis or prognosis.
Of course, a second or even a third opinion is always appropriate.
That's why it's important to re-examine what we really know about our
prognosis. The fact that doctors feel nothing more can be done doesn't necessarily
translate to immediate or imminent death. Many people live, work, and play for years after
such a pronouncement. Certainly lifestyle changes may have to be considered. Among the
most important of these may be the need to focus on perfecting the art of living.
The Art of Living
Yes, even when doctors say there's nothing more they can do, there is living
to be done. Our job is to find out how to live within the constraints of our new
People generally cope with these things in the way they've learned to cope
with life itself.
Some of them are the Pollyannas among us -- showing courage, never-ending
humor, and stoicism. Others among us are pessimists -- looking for and finding despondency
and gloom. And many swing from one of these extremes to the other.
Tragic words from the doctor do not come with automatic coping skills.
There are, however, some things we can do.
Let's take a look at real life for a minute. Real life isn't all
courageous and happy, neither is it all terror-filled and sad. Real life is a
mixture and balance of all of these things and more.
I think the key to understanding what real life is, is the understanding
that it's not perfect. There will always be problems; someone or something will always
annoy us; we will not live forever. None of us knows how many days, months, or years we
have left of this life -- and that's probably a good thing. The important thing is what
we do with the time we have. The important things we do may be characterized by some
as great, world-shaking activities, but that's not what I believe.
I believe that working through whatever barriers we may face is the most
important thing to do.
Here are some I particularly like:
Mending Fences in Difficult Relationships
Now, don't pretend you don't know what I mean! Every one of us has some
relationship that needs to be mended. And, I think each of us knows someone who missed the
opportunity to mend them. We don't need to have one more weight hung around our neck like
a giant albatross. Lighten up - reach out - let go of old resentments.
Have you ever sat in your chair of an evening and thought inside your head
how much you love your spouse, your children, your parents? Get into the habit of speaking
the loving words you're thinking. You may be amazed at the absolute healing power of the
Learning to Laugh in the Face of Adversity
Humor and laughter can be great healers. I've overcome some of my darkest
moments by sharing raucous, irreverent laughter with others. You may be more refined and
choose to giggle, I lean more toward the snort and bellow school myself. Whatever the
path, let yourself go.
Seeing the Bigger Picture
Once we realize that real life is not just about us it all becomes more
clear. Don't waste your precious energy personalizing every word or happening. The world
never did revolve around us and it's not going to start now just because we're in a
certain circumstance or situation.
Learning to Live for Today
Andre Dubus said it best, "It is not hard to live
through a day if you can live through a moment." Resist the urge to wallow in
worry and regret. Don't miss pleasure today because you're lost in the past or the future.
Make the most of every moment and your days will be full.
Learning What You Can Control
Most of us like to think we're in control of our lives. The key, in my
opinion, is knowing what things in our life we can control. We can't
control the illness that we have but we can control how we react to it.
We can't control what may happen in the future but we can control plans
for the future.
Real life is neither all good nor all bad; it's a balance. It's full of
emotions, happenings, people, and time. We can find balance even when doctors have uttered
words we can barely believe. We are not defined by our disease nor by whether our
treatments are working or not. We are much larger than that. Make it a point to balance
your life with things that nourish your soul.
This is more than the daily to-do list. Really think about the things that
you want to do each day. Find out what you really need to make yourself happy and then go
about filling those needs. This make take some soul-searching and the help of a good
therapist but if you can do this you'll be surprised at the peace and sense of fulfillment
you can achieve.
Keeping Hope Alive
Now, why would I say this after having said all the rest? Well, just
because doctors say there's nothing more they can do doesn't mean you must give up hope.
Hope can take many forms; a cure, faith, strength, courage, love, or more time with family
and friends. We may try to ignore the reality of our circumstances because it's human
nature, but so too is it human nature to hope.
I hope your every living moment is full of life.