New Year's Resolutions are better late than never, so let's just get going!
1. Live Life. Make It Happen.
If cancer is the wake-up call that lets us know in no uncertain terms just how fragile life is, and that we might not be around for as long as we thought we might be, then cancer survivorship is the time to start living and enjoying life to the max. Make it a priority to do things that you enjoy or will put a smile on your face everyday. Spend time with people and friends that you enjoy spending time with. Plan weekend outings and trips, and live a rich and full life both in terms of the people you share it with, and your experiences. If not now, then when? Live Life. Make It Happen.
2. Start Giving Blood
I owe back a staggering 11 units of blood. Somewhere out there today are nearly a dozen nameless and faceless people to me, whose simple acts of blood donations helped me live through my cancer fight when my body just couldn’t keep up. Giving blood is one of the first resolutions I made for 2014, but also one of the first I failed at. Post-traumatic stress jitters stopped me in my tracks every time, but I know full well how to control and overcome that now. It’s time to start repaying this debt in 2015. I can do this now.
3. Start Seeing Your Other Doctors Again
I completely burned out of seeing doctors and just stopped going for awhile, with the sole exception of my oncologist for regular surveillance checkups. I was more than happy to be fired by my MSKCC oncologist, all three of my urologists, and fired my nephrologist on my own. I was so damned sick and tired of being poked and prodded and just needed to be left alone for awhile, but know full well that I of all people really do need to be heading in to my primary care for a physical once per year, along with any needed follow-ups. There are so many extra things to watch out for as a cancer survivor, and your primary care physician is your first line of defense for anything that might come up. It’s time for me to make that call to setup the appointment for my annual physical.
4. Keep Exercising and Doing Whatever You Can Do
I walked or ran a total of 317 miles in 2014, which is certainly not bad for someone that continually deals with peripheral neuropathy and chronic muscle fatigue! That's greater than the length of the state of Pennsylvania where I grew up! Exercise is so important, and something that I clearly need to continue with. Not only does it help to keep me healthy, but it keeps my energy levels up and helps me to feel so much better as well. I’m borderline T-level deficient at times, and regular exercise is one of the things that helps to keep that in line. It’s a bit counter-intuitive, but even for people that deal with fatigue issues, exercise can help to extend your envelope of operation and give you more energy, not less. Exercise is an amazing thing! Anything is better than zero. Just get out there, and be proud of whatever you can do!
5. Make Sure You Have Enough Time for You
Life is all about maintaining a balance, and especially as cancer survivors we have so many extra things on our minds and points of stress. You can't sort out your sources of pain if every single moment you have can be claimed by something or someone else. Make sure you have enough time set aside just for you, that nobody else can touch. An hour per day to exercise or meditate, or to just sort through whatever is on your mind can make a world of difference. When I was hurting the most with my mind in a million pieces, an hour per day just for me is what helped me sort through all of my issues one by one, and get me moving forward again. It's now become a permanent part of my life, and something that's essential that I continue with.
6. Learn to Embrace Your Instincts
I think we sometimes underestimate the power of our own instincts. Time and time again, my own instincts about people and things have proven themselves to not just myself, but to others as well. They’re what led me to my wife and many of the very best people in my life, but I haven’t always wanted to listen to these instincts when they’ve sensed trouble. I’ve failed to be pro-active with family or friends, and I’ve failed to steer myself clear of people that I just knew were going to be poisonous or trouble for me, and have been hurt as a result. I haven’t always wanted to believe, but it’s time to not just believe, but to fully embrace these inner instincts that God has blessed me with. They’ve served me so well.
7. Forgive Those That Have Hurt You
When you have cancer hurting you and pushing you past your limits, it's easier to be hurt by others as well, and I still can't believe the incredibly selfish and malevolent ways in which some had behaved towards me in these past few years as a cancer survivor. Just because you had cancer doesn't meant that life, and its associated drama and messiness, stops happening. On one hand, God has blessed me with a very loving soul that’s capable of such a deep love and appreciation for many in my life. But on the other hand, this gift also comes with a flip side, an equal and opposite ability to really despise those who have hurt me or wronged me or my family, along with a barely sub-conscious instinct to want to rip their throats out when thoughts of them cross my mind. I don’t like this side of me, but acknowledge that it’s there. Forgiveness is a tough thing for me when I have such high standards for not only myself, but for others as well. I’d rather just be able to forgive and love. Life is far too short to waste it holding onto resentment and anger. Call this one a stretch goal, but I’m going to work on this.
8. Pray More
I've literally worried myself to death from a mental health perspective, to the point that I was no longer a fully functional human being. I was suffering from a lack of perceived knowledge and control over things that we’ve never had much if any control over to begin with, and learned instead to turn to faith and prayer. I pray for my health and for that of my family's, so that we can all be around for each other, and so that we can keep living, loving, and enjoying life together. I pray for people that I care about, and for those that I know are suffering, struggling, or in pain. Every single one of these same prayers for me helped lift me up and carry me along when I was hurting, and it’s time to pay these same gifts of prayer forward to others in need. Sometimes all we can do is pray. Pray more. Pray often.
9. Keep Paying It Forward
For awhile I just wanted to forget all about cancer, and I would even succeed for weeks if not a month at a time. But inevitably I’d be faced with reminders of the hell I'd been through, sometimes just standing in line at Starbucks overhearing conversations, and the sudden surges of anxiety would hit me like a load of bricks. I've been through that. I know what it's like. I needed to develop outlets for the unexpected stress of cancer survivorship, and volunteering my time for a cancer non-profit has been one of those ways. Do whatever you can do. Run, walk, or ride to help support a cancer-related charity, volunteer your time, or help others in their own fights by paying forward with the gift of mentoring. Even blood donations help those of us that are fighting cancer or diseases, when our bodies are compromised and can no longer keep up and support life on their own. Giving back and paying forward into the cancer community to others in need is one of the very best things you can do as a survivor, and it's what makes the cancer community so great.
10. Choose to Be Happy
In the midst of my years of active surveillance after cancer, I was angry, upset, afraid, sad, and resentful, among other things. My cancer experience tormented me inside. I just wanted to be happy, but how? My wife needed her husband back, my children needed their father back, and I couldn’t do a very good job at either if I was in such a bad place. As it turns out, aside from other factors such as depression, happiness can very much be a conscious choice, dependent on your ability to gain control over your emotions. I learned with time to release myself from all of my fears and worries, turning instead to faith and prayer in earnest for the first time in my life. And as time went on, I slowly did gain control over my emotions. Rather than being so upset about what I didn't or no longer had, I forced myself to change my attitude and become appreciative and thankful for all that I did. As it turned out, it was a pretty extensive list of things I had to be thankful for, which then made being happy quite an easy choice. It was the obvious choice!
There's certainly no shortage of misery in the world, and it needs not even be said for those of us fighting or dealing with cancer in our lives. But to the extent that you can control and retrain your mind and your emotions in order to find some happiness even in the most difficult of times, it's certainly worth the effort. Learn to let go of that which you have no control over, and try your best to find and appreciate the positive in areas that you can. It took me years to do this, but I finally found my path and my happiness. Choose to be happy, and find that path for you.
Blessings to all of you reading, and here's to a healthy, happy, and prosperous 2015 to all!
Live Life. Make It Happen!