Things That Can Help
- It’s never easy to hear you have cancer, but it’s how you handle it that will make the difference.
- Understanding the symptoms and warning signs of different kinds of cancer can help you identify when something is wrong.
- My doctor often said, “we have tools in the toolbox, but you must speak up!” Your doctor won’t know if you suffer in silence, so be upfront and honest about how you are feeling at all times.
Tough words to hear at any age, but particularly hard when you’re young—and a seemingly invincible college student about to embark on a semester abroad for the time of your life.Read More
Throughout my journey, I have learned several things about cancer, overall health, and myself. While the experiences of cancer patients differ and of course, depend on each individual diagnosis, there are a few things that many survivors share in common. These are some of the things I wish I had known before I had cancer:
1. Anyone Can Get Cancer
This is a lesson that took me a long time to process and is critical for young people to know: cancer does not care if you are 18 or 81! Before I was diagnosed, I had a clean bill of health and rarely missed school or any other important obligations in my life due to illness. Cancer can happen to anyone at any time and it is important not to mistake youth for any protection against the deadly disease.
2. Warning Signs
Great efforts are made to spread awareness about cancer, but it is critical to be mindful of your own body and any changes you may notice. Some symptoms of testicular cancer include a small mass on the testes, that is oftentimes painless, or even back and chest pain. If you think you have testicular cancer, you can screen yourself for it. As Dr. Edwin Posadas advises, “rub testicles through your fingers – looking for any sore areas. Rub the top of the testicle, particularly the delicate epididymis” (located at the back of the testicles). “Look for a smoother feel; if you feel a hard nodule on there, you may require blood work from a urologist.”
When it comes to cancer, you need to be your own best advocate. Never feel embarrassed or shy to ask questions and if something hurts or just does not feel right, talk to someone and see a doctor. It could very well save your life!
3. Choose a Doctor With Whom You Can Communicate Well
While oncologists are the experts on cancer treatment, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek a second opinion. If you are unsure, visit as many specialists as you want to. If you are planning to go into treatment, make sure you completely trust your doctor and their staff. Communication is key. If you have a hard time talking to a doctor or feel like you aren’t comfortable with their plans, find another doctor. Don’t ever feel like you’re being impolite when weighing the opinions of multiple doctors because seeking the proper treatment is your right and a very personal decision. Doctors are understanding and know that there are several paths to take when it comes to treatment.
4. Managing the Effects of Treatment
Patients preparing for cancer treatment may know that it can be a difficult and demanding process but there are some things you can do to make it a little easier. One piece of advice is to stay hydrated. Many medicines are being pumped into your body and they will dehydrate you, so it is important to drink lots of water and other fluids—seltzers, sports drinks, teas, soups, whatever you like, just keep drinking. It is also important to speak up if you are feeling any kind of discomfort during treatment. Don’t feel like it’s something you just have to deal with, as your doctor may be able to help alleviate pain, nausea, or fatigue. My doctor often said, “we have tools in the toolbox, but you must speak up!” Your doctor won’t know if you suffer in silence, so be upfront and honest about how you are feeling at all times.
5. Patience is Key
Battling cancer is a long-term mission. Patients endure countless tests, months of treatment, and an even longer recovery period. This can be stressful and easily make you irritable, which is why it is important to try to stay calm and be patient. Know that progress is incremental and does not happen overnight. One thing that helped me was to set goals and reward myself for achieving them as a way to break up the process. For example, after finishing a round of treatment, my mom and I would go to a museum or out to eat at a restaurant. By reimagining the fight against cancer as one that involves several steps, it made recovery seem that much closer and kept me in a positive frame of mind.
6. Push Yourself to Be Active
Chemotherapy and treatment are both mentally and physically draining. Most days you will be tired and have little energy. But on other days you may feel strong, and it is on these good days it is great to go outside to get some fresh air and maybe some exercise. Nothing too extreme, like weight lifting, but definitely a walk or a nice bike ride. It will help clear your head and take your mind off things for a few moments.
7. Embrace Support
The last thing a cancer patient wants to be seen as is a victim or in need of help. When you are fighting cancer, you will lose a little independence while under the care of medical staff and possibly some loved ones. While you may not feel like talking to anyone during this tough time, try to make an effort to stay in touch even if you don’t want to. This doesn’t mean that you can’t spend any time by yourself, but it is easy to get lost inside your own head. Friends and family may want to check in on you and while it may seem overbearing, keep in mind that they just want to make sure you’re okay. They care about you and are just trying to support you during this hard time.
8. Keep Up With Hobbies & Interests
If you are healthy enough, a great way to pass the time during treatment and while resting at home is to keep up with any hobbies that you have or to take up a new one. Whether you enjoy cooking, doing puzzles, or playing an instrument, hobbies will help break up the monotony that comes with being a cancer patient. Reading was something that I really enjoyed while I was sick and was helpful in keeping my mind sharp in a period where I was really inactive.
9. Financial Impact
Doctor visits, treatments, and surgeries are not inexpensive. I am very fortunate that I had insurance to cover my medical costs, but many people in our country face financial hardship due to illness every day. Without adequate healthcare coverage, cancer patients and their families may suffer more stress when they need to be putting all their energy towards fighting cancer. I am now much more aware of how healthcare legislation affects us all and that we need to educate ourselves on how our elected officials are representing our needs.
10. Live Your Life
A tired cliché but still true nonetheless. Cancer changes you and it changes your outlook on a lot of things even more. It not only encourages you to appreciate all the little things in life; it serves as a reminder that there is no point in waiting. That trip you want to take, that language you’ve been thinking of learning, the switch in careers you want to make: do it! Treasure every second you spend healthy and strong doing the things you want to do and don’t waste any time doing anything you don’t.