When you first come to MD Anderson, you
may be so overwhelmed that you have a real sense of urgency when you
get here. Maybe you feel like there’s an alien invader in your body,
so you want to jump straight into chemo.
I understand that desire. I was diagnosed with stomach cancer in July 2005, and I ended up
having both my stomach and my esophagus surgically removed.
But my advice is to slow down. It took about a month to get
everything ready for my stomach surgery. We had to discuss the plan,
explore what life was going to be like for me after the surgery and
make sure that what we were doing made the most sense — not just for
the type of cancer I had, but for my specific cancer.
Here’s some more advice that helped me through my stomach cancer journey.
Slow down to notice ‘soul-buffering’ places
MD Anderson is not just doctors and nurses
and needles and tests. It is an entire community that has little
soul-buffering places, too. If you slow down, you’ll find a bubbling fountain, an herb garden or a coffee
shop around every corner.
The sheer size of the place can be overwhelming, I know. I went from
a hospital in Atlanta — which was just one building with multiple
floors — to a complex of hospital buildings.
Learning to navigate MD Anderson takes a
lot of effort, but once you do, it can become a place of genuine
comfort. So take it one step at a time. You don’t do cancer in one
day. It’s a process.
Find a mentor to hold your hand
Another thing I strongly suggest is to find a mentor, someone who
has been there. There’s no reason you should have to face cancer
alone. There are so many people who are willing, able and anxious to help.
Anderson’s one-on-one support program for cancer patients and
caregivers, has been an amazing tool for me. They do a great job of
pairing you up with someone not just with the same type of cancer you
have, but also from the same demographic. They could very well be
about the same age, from the same background and in the same family situation.
If you stand up in a room and say, “Hey, has anyone else here had
stomach cancer?” chances are, you’re not going to find anyone. But
myCancerConnection gives you someone to hold your hand, and it’s a
great resource. For me, the biggest help was just being able to ask
someone, “Is what I’m experiencing normal?” Your network becomes your
Show your appreciation
The clichés are true: Life is short. Life is precious. So pick up
the phone and say five kind words to someone who has made a difference
to you during your cancer journey. I try to do this on a monthly basis
— just go through a list of people who have changed my life. I pick up
the phone and ask them to lunch or write a card. Not only is this
amazingly good for you and the way you feel, but it changes their day entirely.
I think I would even say thank you to my stomach cancer if I could
talk to it because it has absolutely changed my life for the better.
I’ve had 12 surgeries in the last 10 years, and I have nerve damage
and difficulty eating now, so I could complain until the cows come
home. But I also have clarity and a razor-sharp appreciation for my
life, my children and my wife that I didn’t have before.
Silver linings not are not just there for the picking; you have to
mine them. And much like real silver, you have to dig deep. Sometimes
you have to move mountains to find them, but the rewards are worth the
effort. The chaos of cancer has left me a better person. So, if I were
bowing out today, I would do so with a tip of my hat and a thank you
to my disease.
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