I have been treated with chemotherapy for more than six years and am now on my fifty-fifth course.
I have been treated with chemotherapy for more than six years and am now on my fifty-fifth course. My current treatment is an experimental infusion that lasts fifteen days each month. Almost immediately, I experience a nearly imperceptible ebbing away of my physical stamina and soon I prefer to walk rather than run, take an escalator instead of the stairs, and sit down rather than stand. My life moves into slow motion. I gradually witness a change in my personality and the way I react to people and situations. What makes this experience so difficult and frightening is the loss of control that takes place—a transformation from a fully active and vital person into someone who can barely sit up and function effectively, which is overwhelming and disheartening. Somewhere inside the deepest part of me, my truest self hides out under cover, and tells me that all of this is temporary and that I must just wait out these drug-induced episodes. This kind voice, along with my unwavering faith in God, enables me to conquer and think that somehow I will be able to see my way into the clearing. And so I go on. These are the ten coping mechanisms that work for me:
- I try to live day to day. I focus my thoughts in the present tense and try to deal with matters close at hand.
- I make myself “stupid,” and I try not to think too much about the implications of what it means to have advanced cancer. Instead, I concentrate on concrete and practical things.
- I try as best I can to compartmentalize the illness and not give it free rein over my existence. I perceive it as unwelcome and boring.
- I live in a constant state of denial and keep my mind off the disease as much as possible.
- I surround myself mostly with people and situations that bear no relationship to the illness.
- I avoid reading or listening to too much about cancer or involving myself with people who are also fighting the disease. Although I am aware they can be beneficial and therapeutic, I avoid support groups in order to prevent myself from allowing any new fears and anxieties about the illness to enter my consciousness.
- I internalize a belief system that everything I am going through is temporary and will come to an end. I say to myself that in spite of everything, everything will be all right.
- I stand up to death with a courage I myself do not comprehend, and I do not permit myself to give in to a fear of dying.
- I acknowledge that it is impossible for anyone to feel like a “normal person” after living with this illness for so many years, and accept the fact that it’s okay to feel crazy and alienated some of the time—or even much of the time.
- I remind myself that no one knows when her last day will be and that, so far, I have lived longer than many people predicted. I then think that maybe I’m doing something right after all and decide to continue to follow my prescription for coping.
Diane Behar is a patient who shares her coping story during her fifty-fifth course of chemotherapy. A longer story of hers can be found here from Inner Fire.