Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis

A Cancer Survivor's Perspective

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma survivor, Scott, opens up about coping with a cancer diagnosis.

On October 15, 1992, I was diagnosed with stage IV non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Upon hearing that news, I went completely numb and silent as we drove over to my parents to break the news. I could not bring myself to look or speak to them, as I was in complete shock.

Coping With My Diagnosis

My only thought when diagnosed was about the possibility of dying. I just got married! I was sad, depressed, anxious and scared. I was grieving for myself, and the uncertainty was extremely overwhelming.

I had to experience several rough times and disappointments before I could accept that I had cancer and that my life, as I knew it, was about to change forever. I tried not to get “stuck” on the negatives (i.e. why me or the what if’s). The sooner I accepted my non-Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis, the sooner I realized my choices would play a key role in my ability to move forward. Easier said than done for sure. Some personal coping behaviors that I’ve taken on:

  • Taking a walk or sitting outside: With the amount of information, conversations, and instructions that I was receiving all at once and early on, I needed a break. I needed to step away to absorb, process, straighten it out and clear my head. Clearing my head became a standard practice of mine. Being outdoors and in the fresh air became my therapy.
  • Taking it one day at a time: I became keenly aware that no two days would be alike. So I adjusted to approaching each day like a new day. If I was not feeling well, I laid low to reenergize myself. On good days, I took full advantage and made the best out of them by doing something for me and rewarding myself.
  • Setting boundaries and not being afraid to say no to stressful encounters or situations: Life in general is stressful. However, adding the diagnosis of cancer into the mix was an overwhelming balancing act. I needed to pick my battles. My cancer diagnosis was my first and foremost priority. I now had to prioritize and understand that those situations that were not in my control were not worth my energy. I adjusted as to how and where that energy was best utilized.
  • Fly fishing and enjoying the outdoors: It’s my escape and therapy. I found the tranquility of being on a stream or river and listening to all the surrounding outdoor sounds (running water, sounds of birds, breeze in the trees, smell of fresh air) as my treatment to heal and reenergize myself and prepare for what lies ahead.
  • Try to have a sense of humor and a good cry: Upon my diagnosis and early on in treatments, there were many emotions. Besides the physical stress, I needed an emotional release in terms of a feel good story and a good cry. I like to play loud music when driving and watching mindless reruns of Seinfeld and King of Queens. My dog – Henny makes everything OK. Her unconditional love and personality allows me to release the many tied-up feelings that comes along with a cancer diagnosis.
  • Reaching out to others for support: I was so sick so quickly, that I did not get a chance to reach out in the beginning of my diagnoses. My treatments started just before my youngest sister’s wedding. She wanted to cancel the wedding but I assured her that I would be there. The timing of her wedding served as my forum to connect with many of our friends and family. Everyone in attendance took turns visiting with me, allowing me the opportunity to share the news and gain their support.

My Approach and Attitude Today

The more I experienced setbacks, the more I realize the impact of attitude and positive thinking. For every setback, there was a comeback. It’s a remarkable thing to have a choice everyday regarding our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it. So, I’ve taken the approach that I am in charge of my day-to-day attitude, and that drives positive thinking.

Now that I am finally feeling good, I want to help others. I never want to forget where I’ve been or lose sight of those who have helped and supported me. I want to pay-it-forward by volunteering and striving to do the right thing by others each and every day.

Stay tuned for more stories about Scott’s battle with stage IV non-Hodgkin lymphoma.