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Regaining Control
Ernest H. Rosenbaum, MD and Isadora R. Rosenbaum, MA
Reprinted with Permission from Coping with Cancer-Published Jan/Feb 1999

Nobody wants to feel out of control. But if you have recently received a cancer diagnosis or are undergoing treatment for cancer, you know that your cherished feeling of autonomy was the first thing to go. In a single moment, you were overwhelmed by the negative feelings associated with the word cancer and are now preoccupied with therapeutic alternatives, six-syllable drug names, and treatment schedules. At worst, you may feel that coping dehumanizes you. At best, you yearn for a semblance of life as it was before your diagnosis. However, you needn't play victim to cancer. You can regain control of your life by following some simple guidelines. In the process, you will not only strengthen your will to live, but increase your chances for improvement, remission, or cure.

1. Choose a knowledgeable physician who projects confidence, someone you can talk to.
Establish a partnership with your physician and the rest of the medical support team, stressing your need for honesty and open communication. Then, find out everything you can about the nature of your cancer, therapeutic options, and the rehabilitation process by asking questions of your physician and performing your own research on the internet, in medical libraries, and at hospital resource centers. Bring a list of questions to each appointment to make sure you don't forget anything. If you have doubts about any medical decisions, don't be afraid to tell your physician that you want a second opinion.

2. Seek psychological support from a group or an individual.
A support group with a skilled leader can usually provide a safe atmosphere in which to express your concerns as well as learn from the experiences of others. The best way to judge whether a support group is right for you is to attend a meeting. If you don't like it, don't go back. You may have to visit several groups before you find one that meets your needs. Alternatively, you may decide you prefer a one-on-one support relationship with a medical social worker, psychologist, or a person who has recently undergone therapy for a similar cancer. Such a person can be invaluable in allaying your fears and giving you the confidence that you can endure treatment.

3. Learn how to reduce stress.
Experiment with one of the stress reduction techniques such as meditation, visualization, yoga, biofeedback, tai chi, or acupressure. Relaxing may temporarily enhance your immune system and even have a beneficial effect on the course of your illness.

4. Find ways to bring joy back into your life.
Pleasurable pursuits such as walking, painting or other artistic endeavors, reading and writing poetry or stories, watching funny movies, getting a massage, gardening, helping others, or other activities that you enjoy can stimulate the production of endorphins, natural morphine-like chemicals in your brain that decrease depression.

5. Avoid isolation.
Solitude breeds serenity and creativity, but too much solitude can lead to feelings of isolation and depression. Anything you can do to maintain your friendships or create new ones by sharing your feelings and being a good listener will help ward off a sense of isolation.

6. Put your family, friends, and colleagues at ease
by being open about your cancer.

You have everything to do with how others perceive you and treat you. If you can discuss your disease and medical therapy in a matter-of-fact manner, people will respond in kind, without fear or awkwardness. Remember- You are in charge!

7. Make plans for the future.
You won't plan for a future if you don't believe there will be one. Therefore, you may find it helpful to come up with a list of short- and long-term goals. Making plans can be a pleasant and positive experience!

In summary, anger, depression, loss of self-esteem, and feelings of isolation and loneliness are natural reactions to a cancer diagnosis, Allowed to fester, however, they can destroy hope and lead to a wish to die. Knowledge of treatment options, a carefully planned nutritional and exercise program, and proper social and psychological support can help you to overcome these debilitating emotions.

Inevitably, you will need to make some changes in your daily routine as you undergo treatment and regain your health. Your ability to make these compromises is key to regaining control. Whatever changes you make, you will find that your intellectual and emotional potential remain intact and need not be diminished. You may even find that this experience presents an opportunity to redirect your life in new and productive ways.

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