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Judy Bear

Judy Bear
i
s the founder and webmaster of Cancer Survivors On Line.

Through the site she provides information, resources and support to cancer patients and their families and friends.

She also produces Positive Focus, a column of cancer information and commentary.

She has learned to live with cancer and its treatments oover the last 29+ years. She has survived breast cancer (twice) and uterine cancer. She was the primary care provider for her husband who lived with lung and tongue cancer.

She provides care for her terminally ill mother.

Judy is a member of an American "cancer cluster" family with more than 27 cancer incidents in four generations.

Her mother and daughter are also breast cancer survivors.

E-mail for a listing of other cancer writings by Judy Bear.

How to Cope
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 circumstances.

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.

Real Life

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.

Expressing Love

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 spoken word.

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.

Finding Balance

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.

Setting Priorities

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.

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