woman at top of mountain slipping and starting to fall down the mountain face

Staying Positive is a Goal, Not a Constant

When you come to these forums to read what others have to say about dealing with lung cancer on a day in and day out basis, you mostly find truth, but it is often tinged with lots of cheeriness. I think that’s good and have often touted the importance of maintaining a positive outlook as a primary factor to living one’s best life while faced with cancer.

Through times of weariness

What I, and many of my friends, tend not to write about very often is the fact that we go through periods of weariness dealing with it all. In a way, that seems very wrong, especially considering that, statistically, most of us writing these pieces should have succumbed to our stage four prognoses years ago. Yet, I find myself in this predicament this summer.

It’s not all due to the cancer that remains in my body, or the symptoms that remain constant month after month, like a cough that just refuses to be soothed by standard types of treatment. It’s due to “stuff” going on in my life and at my work that cause me more stress than is surely healthy, especially for someone fighting cancer.

The weight of stress

Stress, while perhaps not an accepted cause of cancer, is known to weaken the immune system and raise one’s risk for depression and other physical ailments. To borrow the words of Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D., professor of General Oncology and Behavioral Science, and director of the Integrative Medicine Program at MD Anderson, “stress makes your body more hospitable to cancer.”1

I don’t need to regale you with all of my private burdens, but suffice it to say that we all must deal with struggles and challenges in our lives. What sometimes makes this harder for me is the feeling that there is little I can do to lessen these situations without creating added stress in other ways. Searching for a new job, for instance, knowing my current employer has treated me very well regarding my medical needs, even if I feel other reasons for contemplating this possibility, raises thoughts of great uncertainty.

Wondering if some of my chronic and/or recurrent symptoms like the cough, ankle swelling and significant heartburn might be related to serious heart concerns weighs on my mind. Here’s where I must live by the words I and so many of my friends often say to others. I must “stand strong and be my own advocate.” I’ve taken myself off to the pulmonologist, only to receive a diagnosis and treatment that has not been helpful, which leads me to question its accuracy. I’ve seen my nurse practitioner about the cough and major ankle swelling following a recent overseas trip. After our conversation and a brief exam, she felt there was no need for concern about heart issues. And she may be absolutely right. But the questions still weigh on me.

Climbing back up the mountain

Perhaps you are like me and try to just take things in stride. I have a tendency to suck it up and tough it out. Instead of insisting on further testing, I too often wait and just deal. This time, I have another scan coming up soon. No matter what it shows, I think I may press to have some further heart testing, just to be sure. When we treat symptoms, without success I might add, and don’t try to find the definite cause, well, it seems we’re setting ourselves up for failure.

So, I’m just keeping it real. Sometimes people like me, who truly believe maintaining an attitude of positivity DOES make a huge difference in battling lung cancer, also slip into our own valleys for a time. You know what that makes us? The same as you and every other person. It makes us human.

Now…I just need a little help climbing back up the mountain. How about it? Anyone? Got a rope?

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