by Paige Davis
There is really nothing that can prepare you for a cancer diagnosis. It is a shocking and momentary devastation that is overwhelming on so many different levels — physically, emotionally, and spiritually. But perhaps the greatest challenge is identifying the immediate logistical next steps of what a diagnosis means while you are trying to process these levels.
Below is a best of the best advice list, that I both learned through experience and received from others during those first few weeks of my cancer diagnosis. I have found these to be helpful to my personal journey (realizing that it is different for everyone).
1. It’s okay to freak out. Yes, this is a big deal. You could die.
2. You probably won’t die. Or at least you don’t have enough information to know yet. Many cancers are very treatable, so honor the initial freak out and start arming yourself with some information to empower your journey.
3. Find a team you trust. The number one recommendation that I wish someone had told me was to meet with an oncologist first (versus a surgeon). An oncologist will talk you through the type of cancer you have and provide a recommendation of a treatment plan and ideally a recommendation of a surgeon he or she trusts. An oncologist is likely to provide more of a holistic and emotional understanding of the disease, whereas some surgeons (although not all) tend to be more straightforward and direct in their approach.
For my family and me, this direct approach from a surgeon as our first consultation was too shocking and harsh. In hindsight, perhaps it was simply because it was our first meeting and denial was met head on with reality. I ultimately ended up at MD Anderson with the same treatment plan as was prescribed by the first surgeon we met, but the approach was so much different.
If you choose to go an alternative path, I still recommend hearing both sides of Western and Eastern approaches. I always thought that if I were to ever get cancer, I would go the alternative route. But as soon as I heard how treatable my breast cancer was and the science to support it, I chose the Western path but had a very comprehensive complementary approach alongside it (meditation, acupuncture, diet, exercise, etc.).
4. Get a second opinion. This was the last thing I wanted to do, but my family really encouraged it. I just wanted to find my medical team and get the tumor out of me. It really is a good idea to get a second opinion — ideally from a cancer center of excellence. It’s likely they will validate the initial recommendation you heard, but they could have an approach, insight, or other information that could be helpful. Ultimately, it is your decision.
5. This really is the worst time. Or at least the most overwhelming time, with all the appointments, understanding insurance coverage, sharing with friends and family. Everyone told me that I would feel so much better when I had a plan in place. And they were right. I wasn’t prepared for the plan taking up to three to six weeks to have in place. Assuming you don’t need immediate surgery or treatment, have patience and know that you will feel some peace soon.
6. Suck it up and let people help. Whether you choose to be very public in sharing your diagnosis, as I was, or private, people are going to want to help, and you are going to need it. For most of my life, I was convinced I could do everything on my own, so I saw this as my opportunity to let go and embrace the support surrounding me. As family and friends can attest, I got very good at asking for help and articulating my needs very quickly. (We are now working on boundaries). Be specific and think about things that would be helpful (grocery runs, play dates for your kids, flowers, meal drop-off, etc.).
7. Stay off the Internet. One of the best pieces of advice I received was to have a friend or family member do the online research for you. At the end of the day, you should be relying on your medical team to advise you, but it is too tempting not to get online. Having said that, there is some really f*#@ed up stuff out there, and this is the last thing you need to be dealing with. My mom became my online- research guru. Granted, at times I had to advise her to step away from the computer, but she really became the go-to source for distilling the information that would be helpful for me.
8. Be prepared. I come from a very strategically-minded family, so we were beyond prepared with key questions for each appointment. Contrary to the above advice to stay off the Internet, this is the time to get online with searches that are very specific (questions to ask my oncologist about breast cancer treatment). There are some great resources out there.
9. Celebrate, or at least go to a silly movie. For me, it was important that I celebrate the milestones. Before my bilateral mastectomy, my friends threw me a “bye-bye boobs brunch.” We had a “chemo kick-off” party the evening before chemo. While they were all important milestones, these events were more distractions that plucked me out of the intensity of the time with some good food, friends, family, and laughter.
10. It’s gonna be a rough year but then it is over. This was perhaps the most important piece of insight I gained from several friends that I am only now just coming to appreciate. When my doctor told me it would be a year of surgeries and treatment, I was devastated. I could not even imagine a year of feeling this uncertain, sick, and scared. And they were all right. It was a really shitty year (the better I start to feel, the more I realize how difficult it was).
But now, as I am re-emerging on the other side with newness all around me (new hair, new perspective, new possibilities), I can see it as the most transformative and healing year of my life. I also realize how fortunate I am that it was just a year, which is not always the case. Sure, I will always be living in a post-cancer world, but for the most part, this phase is over.
And like these tips about handling your diagnosis, I am realizing that the lessons learned over this past year are not so much about cancer as they are about life.
My healing game plan (which I pretty much stuck to)
My game plan for myself, my friends, and family …
Hello family. Hope everyone is doing well. Really appreciate the love and support over the last few days. It still seems surreal, and I know the next couple of weeks will likely be the most overwhelming with the influx of data that will be coming in. Knowing this, I have set up my alternative healing plan at a high level and articulated some initial guidelines I’d like to share with everyone.
I get that this is my way of coping for now, and assure you I have had my breakdown moments and am not naive to what lies ahead. But I also think that this is a crazy ironic gift, and I must be open to receiving whatever lessons I can, and I believe the plan below will help me and all of us to do this. Welcome to Team Woo!
Team Woo alternative plan for Paige but you are welcome to partake
• Meditation — thirty minutes at least once but ideally twice a day
• Visualization — once a day on the actual mass, focusing on shrinking mass
• Energy Work — once a week/every two weeks
• Talk Therapy — once a week (one-on-one, group, etc. all TBD)
• Flowers — fresh flowers, weekly
• Accessories — stones, oils, feng shui house cleaning, edibles, etc. (all TBD, based on need)
Complementary eegime to discuss with doctor, pending treatment plan
Team Woo guidelines (recommended only — at the end of the day — your process)
1. This is a love journey.
While shitty, it is happening. I prefer to stay away from terms about fight, battle, or referring to treatments as poison. It is all healing energy, and this is a love journey that the universe has invited each of us on. Not to say we can’t have some attitude — after all, this cancer chose the wrong fucking body. My goal is to be as present as possible with each step and try not to get too far ahead of myself.
2. Reach out for support.
As we all know, this is often hardest on the caretakers. I hope everyone has embraced this. It is now as much a part of your journey as it is mine — I am just driving the bus. I need to know that everyone is taking care of herself or himself, but realize I need to let go and leave that up to each of you. Whatever feelings of fear, confusion, anger, resentment are coming up, please seek support — ideally outside the family. I will be planning on attending many support groups, as well as a combination of traditional therapists. I’m not saying you should see a therapist, but I am sure there are support groups for families of cancer patients, and I encourage you to explore that (you get to be anonymous). Or, at a minimum, reach out to friends.
3. Game day rituals
It is important to me, on the day of any meetings, treatments, or surgeries, that everyone be as grounded as possible. For you, it can be just taking a few deep breaths. I will be personally visualizing these experiences and sending light to the doctors, nurses, the office staff, etc. At whatever level this resonates, I want to invite them to be part of the Love Journey (whether they feel this or not). Also, it is important that everyone feels the best they can on these days. That can mean dressing super comfy, or it could mean dressing in full-on glamour. Whatever the case, please treat yourself with total self-love, empowerment, and compassion. I will also be carrying pods (a stuff ’n’ go bag from BlueAvocado — the company I co-founded) at all times for those moments when I feel compelled to practice spontaneous gifting, and you should do the same.
4. One day at a time.
I am not naive; this will be a long journey. But I want to celebrate the milestone of each step, once we have an understanding of those steps. I am not sure what that looks like, but I believe this will be helpful in staying present to the process of healing.
I love you all so much and am sure more guidelines will be added, but this is what immediately has come to mind.
Paige Davis received a B.A. in Journalism and Environmental Science from the University of Indiana. She is an entrepreneur and co-founded the sustainable lifestyle product company BlueAvocado, which provides thoughtful designs that reduce waste and inspire small steps so that we can all live a greener, simpler life. BlueAvocado is a certified B Corp, with national distribution.
Paige is also a certified meditation teacher with the McLean Meditation Institute and is passionate about inspiring change from a personal place of awareness. She recently created Soul Sparks as a destination to inspire and empower anyone looking to create a meaningful and accessible approach to living a more mindful life through meditation and mindfulness programs.
The Huffington Post, 2014