The 4 Rules of Surviving Cancer (and Life)

We hear very often basic advice like stay calm or don't stress or be safe but no clear direction on how to do that. For myself, when I am stressed and someone tells me to stay calm I want to politely tell them to fuck themselves. I have the opposite reaction of what their intention is because it gives clarity to how far I am from where I should be with no clear steps on how to get there.

I am asked often how it is I am able to stay calm and clear headed, even in very stressful or unsure situations. I could write out a thousand different scenarios I have been in and the decisions I chose to make to get out of them safely. Many of my reactions and coping mechanisms have been cultivated by making many poor and harmful decisions and learning from them. When I sat and consciously thought about my mindset and how I am able to keep this internal peace I came up with 4 basic rules that I utilize every day to help decide what I should do, what I can do, and how to release what is out of my control.

There are so many decisions that have to be made during cancer that can be overwhelming and have very drastic and powerful consequences. What works for me may not work for you. How do you decide what is the best for you? How do you know when something that has worked is no longer working? How do you keep a clear mind when it feels the world is resting on your shoulders? I hope these steps can help bring awareness and peace to your situation and allow you to decide what is best for you. The 4 rules are..

• Go With the Flow

• Be Able to Walk Away

• Think Positively

• Ask if it Makes You Happy

Go With the Flow means to not get worked up over things out of your control. To be mentally prepared for things to not go smoothly. To not hold on to a specific plan but hold on to an idea that you will survive over anything. Know that resistance to things out of your control will just cause unnecessary pain and stress. It will also delay you making the difficult decisions of what to do now. Maybe it’s not perfect, but you can still make it OK. Ask yourself what steps it takes to fix something. Is it something you can take care of right then? If so, take care of it. If not, ask yourself when you could take care of it and break it down into steps. Set a date to complete each step and set alerts on your phone’s calendar. Then let it go. If you are still upset about something, not going the way you wanted when it’s out of your control, then you are making the decision to struggle and be in pain.

Being Able to Walk Away means you will leave anything that does not support you in getting healthier, stronger, and happier. That means walking away from negative friends, jobs, removing unhealthy comfort food, and walking away from your own harmful opinions of yourself and negative self-talk. Don’t hold onto anything because it is safe or familiar. If it does not move you forward, it is moving you backward, and it needs to go. This can be extremely difficult. You have to take care of yourself over anything else. Look at it like being on a plane, and the oxygen masks drop. You must first put the mask on yourself before you are able to help anyone else. If you aren’t putting your health and wellness first, you will slow your ability to get through this illness and get back to a healthier way of life. The only way you will get to that point is to leave anything that is holding you back.

Think Positively is something you have probably heard over and over again, and it’s for a good reason….it’s absolutely fucking important. Your thoughts dictate what you focus on and what you naturally gravitate towards. If you have negative beliefs about yourself or about something happening in your life, you will latch on to the first thing validating that opinion. Then, voila! It becomes your reality. Have you ever noticed when you get a new car you start seeing that car all the time? It’s not supernatural. We focus on things that we think about. If you are thinking negatively, you will focus on all the negative things around, and your world becomes negative. If you focus on positive things, then you will see all the positive things in your life. Gratitude makes what you have into enough. You will naturally gravitate towards whatever it is that you are thinking about. Thinking positively does not mean that you are ignoring the bad things. It doesn’t mean that you agree with the bad things. It doesn’t mean you are happy about the bad things. It merely means you are aware of the negative, but you choose to focus on the good. Things that at first seem bad can end up being the most positive. Nothing is black and white, and we have to be able to get something positive out of even the most painful experiences. This means finding something good out of a breakup, getting cancer, death or loss, losing your job, etc. The real problem would be if we allow ourselves to be put in the same negative situation or environment that we could have avoided. That when something painful happens, we don’t learn a better way of dealing with that pain. That we don’t learn how to prevent it from happening again and if it still does that we don’t allow it to hurt as bad as the first time. That we give up responsibility and blame others for our situation.

Ask if it makes you happy is the most important of all of these. You can try to fix every little thing in your life and feel overwhelmed, or you can focus on being happy and make it much more straightforward. Ask questions before you do anything. If you are about to eat something, ask if it will make you happy. Is it healthy? Is it in your budget? Will it be something you enjoy? After you eat, ask yourself how you feel. Do you feel healthier and energized, or do you feel sluggish? Does it make your stomach upset? Before you meet with friends, check in to see how you feel. Are you going to this function just because everyone else is? Because you feel pressure to go? Ask if you are genuinely excited to go there and if you will be around other positive people. Ask if you can afford to go. Ask if you have given yourself the time and space you need to take care of yourself or if you are rushing there just to show face so people won't be upset with you. When you leave, ask if you feel happy. If you feel inspired by the people you are around. Ask if you did it out of habit. If you hate your job and your boss and your coworkers and you feel you need to drink, buy things, or partake in any other thing to blow off steam to make it feel better going to that job, it's time to get a new job. We often worry about not being able to afford the luxuries we give ourselves if we quit our job. "I'd have to take a pay cut, no way!" But if you are happy you are less likely to overeat, to buy useless items, to go out drinking. You will be happy and content and won't feel the need to make yourself whole by filling it with material things.

With cancer, asking if it makes you happy applies to so much. If the doctor gives you a plan, does it make you happy? If he or she answers a question, do you feel happy about the answer you got? If not, you need to change something. My first oncologist told me my diet did not matter at all. It didn't matter if I drank alcohol, ate sugar, ate beef….just show up and take the chemo, and I would be fine. When I asked him about exercise, acupuncture, or any holistic treatments, he said: "if you do that, you will die!". This response did not make me happy, so I decided to ignore his advice and continue searching until I found the advice that made me happy. I ended up receiving treatment from 3 different oncologists and sought out a 4th for advice. If you have a question that hasn't been answered and it's keeping you up at night, you call or show up at their office until you get the answers you need. I was ignored and pushed aside so many times, and if I didn't stand up for myself, I wouldn't have received the treatment I needed. You go as far as you need to go to get the help you need, the help you deserve. When I followed what the oncologist told me I lost 30 lbs, I had no energy, I became more depressed, and my mental clarity got so bad that I would start crying because I couldn't figure out how to make oatmeal. Because I was not happy with this, I decided to search for alternative ways to make myself healthier and happier. I made serious changes to my diet and lifestyle. When I did the exact opposite of what he said I not only stopped losing weight but I began to gain weight. I also had more energy, I was outside every day exercising, and my cognitive abilities got stronger. I didn't have to be a doctor or a nutritionist to understand that not having the right diet and lifestyle was hurting my chances of survival and hurting my happiness. If you apply these 4 things to everything in your life, you will see massive changes. You will be able to feel confident in your decisions. You will be more present and aware of how your thoughts and decisions dictate everything in your life. You will gain control of the things that are within your control. You will be ready for any inevitable changes and challenges. You will make the best out of what you have available to you. You will keep your stress down and make healthy decisions.

Below are some common questions and examples to assist in making a conscious, rational decision-

• Be alert and aware if what you have been doing isn’t working • Be OK with leaving anything that does not serve you • Distance yourself from emotions and desires and be honest with what you find • Be aware if it feels good because it’s familiar or if it’s beneficial • Be mindful if it feels bad because it’s new and change is difficult • Even positive things can be wrong for you. What works can change • Does it give you energy • Is it within your budget • Are you doing too much or too little • Are you doing it because you feel obligated • Can you change something you don’t like or do you need to accept it • What can you do right now? • What is out of your control? • Accept what is and keep moving. Go with the flow • Is your emotional response helping or hurting you • Are your thoughts making you healthier or are they making you bitter and weak • Has it worked recently • Be aware of what your motivation is to do it • Will you receive a benefit that is equal to or greater than the effort you put into it • Remove your wants and desires and listen to what your body is telling you • Don’t focus on the end goal. One step at a time. • If you are always looking at the end goal, you will trip up and stumble onto the wrong path. Focus on each step and you will get to your destination • Is this food processed, fatty, loaded with sugar, disproportionate? • Does it have real food, a mix of colors, fresh, how did it make you feel last time? • Did it digest well, are you sluggish after, do you feel bloated, does it give you heartburn • Do you feel energized, stronger, settled, alert • Instead of trying to fix everything around you, fix you, and watch how everything around you fixes itself • Be consistent • Don’t beat yourself up when you stumble, fail. • Understand being cruel to yourself can cause more pain than what you are upset about

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