I am a Control Freak. But, along with a cancer diagnosis comes a loss of control. For example, about a month ago, I lost one of the few things I felt like I still had control over – driving. Since I am on a high dose of pain killers, I cannot drive for the time being. For me, driving represents independence – I can run errands, take Sadie to the park, meet friends in the city for dinner, or drive home from Massachusetts to Maine. Without the ability to drive I feel trapped. I have to rely on others. I have to change my lifestyle and routines. I no longer have the control of doing what I want to do when I want to do it.
I am not simply losing control over my body; I also feel like my grasp on things such as work, relationships and finances is quickly slipping away. Cancer is unpredictable and I am learning to be flexible to accommodate this fact. I’ve had to cancel plans and adapt my goals to fit some of my limitations. Instead of looking toward the future, I live moment-to-moment.
MD Anderson Cancer Center, one of the leading cancer centers in the country, recently published an article about “How to Cope with Loss of Control as a Cancer Patient”. I think some of their suggestions may help me as I let go of the things I can’t control.
- Set short-term, achievable goals. This reminds me of the movie “What About Bob?” I need to take “baby steps” when it comes to goal setting. I may not be able to read a book in a week, but I can hold myself to reading for 10 minutes a day for the next week.
- Avoid thinking in terms of ‘should.’ There are just sometimes when I have to let myself off the hook, not be so hard on myself. I am learning to say “no.”
- Seek out happiness and enjoyment. I have the luxury of time to do the things I love – reading, writing, cooking, spending time with friends – and learn new things – how to make cold-brew coffee, training tricks with Sadie.
- Find ways to express your emotions, both positive and negative. Getting out of my bubble and writing this blog helps me manage my feelings. I don’t feel trapped when I share my experiences, both good and bad.
- Be proud of your strength and courage. People will say to me that I am strong and my response is alway, “I have no choice.” The truth is that I do have choices, and I choose to bet on my strengths and I don’t quit.
- Consider how this experience helps you grow. I had a teacher who once said, “A problem is an opportunity in work clothes.” Over the years, my experiences with cancer have helped me build stronger relationships with friends and family and take risks in my career. I look forward to seeing how my current fight will impact my growth.