In January I was told I have breast cancer. The overwhelming news brought tears and the urge to crawl up in a ball and stay there forever. I didn’t want to face what lay ahead – more doctors, more tests, and many life-changing decisions to be made.
How could this happen to me? You can’t help but ask yourself this question over and over. These past ten years in the desert have been the healthiest of my life, so what did I do wrong? I soon learned that breast cancer takes 8-10 years to develop to a detectable size, thus blaming it on my previous not-so-healthy life brought a little solace. But the truth is we will never know the true cause and fretting about it is not the best use of precious time and brain power when handed a life-altering diagnosis. There is a lot to learn and do to move forward in a positive manner for your most positive outcome.
So I pulled myself together and quickly transitioned into “project mode,” because from a logistical standpoint that’s just what a diagnosis is – a big timely project you have to navigate and manage. In these few short months I have learned a lot and wanted to share some tips that may help you or a loved one when facing a similar health issue.
It’s All About You
Whether you are the head of a family or living alone, a loving spouse, parent or friend, now is the time to put yourself first. Whether those around you like it or not, your health is now top on the list and creating a stress-free and healing environment is the best thing you can do for yourself.
I came to this realization after a week of unsuccessfully trying to juggle life with this new element of stress swirling around in my head. So, I called a psychic friend to get his insight, and our conversation was one of the most impactful I have ever had. He said that this experience looked like more of a spiritual journey for me than a physical one; an opportunity to look inside and identify any unresolved issues I wasn’t facing. Directing me to specific emotions, he asked that I be aware of any signs from the universe which could open my eyes to positive change. Within two days those signs fell in my lap and I figured it out. Without hesitation, I made significant changes in my life to release undue stress and bring a deep peace to my overall being both inside and out. It was an “ah-ha” moment I will never forget and may never have had the strength to realize if it weren’t for this diagnosis. For the first time, I felt gratitude and a sense of inner peace.
It’s a shame that it often takes a traumatic experience for us to finally let go of things that may not be serving us well. However, a medical diagnosis can be very motivating, so now is the time. As author and oncology nurse Judy Kneece so eloquently said, “At no other time in life will people give you as much permission to make changes.”
Master Your Mindset
It’s easy to see how one could spiral into deep despair when receiving a serious diagnosis. The unknown is scary and the whys can make you crazy, but neither serves you well. Your mindset can greatly affect your outcome, so no matter how hard it may be, you need to create a plan of action that will keep you centered and positive.
Science supports the power of positive energy and there are a multitude of practices to help you embrace it. Meditation, Tai Chi, yoga, therapeutic body work, music therapy, etc., are all effective in releasing stress, calming the mind and enlivening your spirit. While they may be foreign to you now, these practices have been used for thousands of years to heal the body, mind, and spirit; this is the time to try them all, find what works for you, and implement a regular practice.
And don’t forget to be true to yourself as expressed above. Go deep and get rid of negative emotions, habits, and things that don’t serve you well. You need more than a happy face right now; you need true happiness.
Create Your Binder
All the doctor appointments, tests and therapies add up to a lot of paperwork which can be overwhelming and stressful if not managed well. Creating a tabbed binder to store everything will also help your doctors, family, friends and advocates. My binder has tabs for contacts, schedule, notes, history/supplements/meds (with copies of each list ready to hand over), test results, insurance coverage, paid invoices, pending invoices, nutrition plan and research (yes, it’s a big binder). I take it to every appointment and resource it at most consultations. Having the answers at your fingertips not only impresses your doctors, but saves a lot of time and stress. I also keep CDs of imaging in the back pocket and recommend that you request copies with each appointment. This is very helpful for second opinions and in case of failed technology.
You can also create an online folder in Dropbox or another file-sharing app to store all test results, which can easily be shared with family and your team of health care practitioners.
Figure Out a Financial Plan
With a medical diagnosis comes the out-of-control cost of health care. The insanity of it all is a topic for another time, but it helps to have an idea of your out-of-pocket expenses and how you are going to pay for them. It also helps to keep those expenditures in one place for easy management. Basing my minimum expenditures on my maximum out-of-pocket for insurance, I cleared one credit card to use exclusively for medical expenses so all charges are in one place. A friend had a great idea to use a card that gives you travel points to build towards a nice vacation once you get through the hardest part.
Appoint an Advocate (or Two)
YOU will be your biggest advocate and the simple steps above can help you also be your greatest champion; however, it often helps to have someone by your side for emotional support and to assess the plethora of information that comes your way. I appointed two advocates – an analytically-minded friend for information-heavy appointments with whom I can compare notes afterwards, and a loving family member for treatments when the most I need is a hug.
Assemble Your Team
A diagnosis often starts in your primary care physician’s office and moves to the specialist they recommend. It’s easy to keep on this track of referrals, but know that you have options. You are the captain of your ship and are paying your crew good money to look after you. So make sure they are a solid team in whom you have confidence. Your insurance plan will dictate many of those choices; however, there are a variety of options in our valley – from specialists to imaging to therapies – which can save you time, money, and stress. Second opinions are standard protocol, and I certainly hope you consider comprehensive care to include natural practitioners and medical doctors working together for your best outcomes.
For natural treatment, my team includes naturopathic doctors for nutrition and supplementation guidance; an acupuncturist for stress relief and hormone balancing; energy work to help clear the negativity; yoga instructors; and online meditation with Deepak Chopra. My medical team includes a gynecologist, an integrative oncologist, and a surgeon with more to come in each category I am sure. At each doctor appointment, ask about free resources as many are offered in our valley
This is only the beginning for me and I am lucky. My cancer (invasive ductal carcinoma) is one of the most common types of breast cancers and very treatable. I am still in the discovery stage with upcoming appointments to review test results and discuss treatment options. I am facing my diagnosis on all fronts and feel confident on my path, but I am new at this. There are certainly many of you who can also give positive and productive insight and we encourage you to share your helpful tips in the comments section below.
For those of you starting a similar journey, think positively and be strong. Remember, YOU GOT THIS.
Lauren Del Sarto is the founder and publisher of Desert Health and can be reached at Lauren@DesertHealthNews.com.
For updates on Lauren’s cancer journey, see these articles:
Choosing to Chill: Cryoablation (Protocol selected May/June 2019)
Today, I am Cancer-free (One year update Jan/Feb 2020)