As a pediatrician, I’m not sure if my familiarity with disease has made my fight against colorectal cancer easier or harder. What I can tell you is that I’ve learned more about health and well-being from being on the other side of the stethoscope than I ever could’ve by just going to medical school.
Here are the four biggest lessons I’ve learned.
Don’t ignore your body’s warning signs.
Fortunately, I’ve never had to diagnose colorectal cancer in one of my own patients. However, I did learn the warning signs in medical school. Bloody stools, bowel changes and abdominal pains are all symptoms of colon cancer. And I experienced all three for months before I finally sought treatment. But I was only 37 at the time. So I explained away my symptoms or minimized them. I realize now that I was in denial.
Use every tool you have to fight back.
After being diagnosed with colorectal cancer, I studied the connections between diet and disease extensively. I learned that while conventional cancer treatments do save lives, diet, exercise and mindfulness are also powerful medicines. I started preparing and enjoying more whole-food, plant-based dishes. I exercised when I could, and I took up meditation. The benefits were immediate. When I ate properly, my energy returned much more quickly after chemotherapy. I also felt better and my complexion improved.
Find a friend or family member who can advocate for you.
This is someone who can help you remember information at appointments, and make sure your needs are being met when you’re really sick or just not thinking clearly. My strongest advocate is my wife of 17 years, Stephanie. When I experienced unusually severe side effects during treatment, her pushing led to a blood test that revealed a rare enzyme deficiency.
Take advantage of support systems.
When I felt hopeless and ready to give up after suffering a relapse, Stephanie insisted I see a counselor. That turned out to be one of the best things I ever could’ve done. My counselor was also a cancer survivor, so she’d gone through many of the same roller coaster emotions I had. And when I told her how powerless I felt, she shared some resources that had helped her get through similar battles, some of which helped me, too.
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