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Lisa Marie Wilson Headshot

Got Cancer? Now what?

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When I was diagnosed with cancer I knew what to expect, as I had helped my grandma through her breast cancer and my mom through her melanoma. In fact, I'm the fifth generation of my family to get cancer, but only the second person to survive it. It's a journey through which I've learned about what to do, and what not to do, when dealing with disease. Since I've spent over six years of my life focusing on cancer, I feel that it's my destiny to help others battle it head-on. The following list is what I email to everyone who contacts me when they, or someone they love, has cancer.

1. Get every test, every report, every file from every doctor and take it with you to every appointment thereafter. Get a binder, stay organized, and write down what every doctor tells you so you can go back to it when you have time to think. It might be hard to focus if you are in shock from the diagnosis.

2. Keep calling the insurance company until you become friends with an agent. Having a relationship with the insurance company goes a long way. You can challenge every decision, and you might gain a compassionate ally.

3. On the very first call to an office to schedule an appointment, get a list of everything you need for that appointment. It's a great habit to get into for the onslaught of appointments that will follow.

4. Take the cancer diagnosis as a warning, not a fact. People beat terminal cancer everyday. Change your life and live each day to the fullest. Don't let it be a death sentence but a life sentence and set out to prove the doctors wrong. Your mind is a powerful thing once it's made up.

5. Don't dwell on bad things. You have to let things go immediately before they fester and bring you any more misery or bad health. Being depressed and staying in bed all day only makes you feel worse. Be grateful for the life you have lived.

6. Learn and strive to be happy -- it's your job, no one else's. I find that laughing through the cancer times is better than a Xanax.

7. You are facing very stressful procedures but you will get through it. Put your head down and plow ahead. Later, you can look back and think about what you were going through but for now, your only focus is to get it done. If you are facing terminal cancer, your job is to live as much as possible. Reflect on the positives of your life and spend time with those that you love.

8. Try to find fun things to do on the days that you don't have cancer appointments. It's good to have something to look forward to.

9. Tackle cancer quickly and fiercely. Juice, stay hydrated, take your medication, keep away from sick people, make up your mind that you will live and you will get through it.

10. Cancer is a business. Doctors are a business. People shop longer for a car than they do for their health. Don't just do whatever your primary health doctor tells you to do. Do your research and find the best doctor or surgeon for you.

11. Have your family and friends read this: When a cancer patient is in constant pain, they don't want to talk about cancer or death. Do not feel the need to tell them about someone else who has beat cancer or that didn't make it. Don't tell them that everyone is crying and sad and wishes they could do something to help. Don't make them feel like they are dying, because life is before death and now is the time to really live. Just be there to listen and if they don't talk, then they need to rest, so leave them alone. Supply them with water, healthy food, medicine and love. Appreciate every second and realize what a gift this person is to you. Take that gift, and be a gift to someone else.

Cancer changes people. It made me appreciate life so much more. I'm grateful for even the little things like ice cubes and the big things like love. My mom taught me that it feels good to make people laugh, so I did my best to keep a smile on her face while we sat in the chemo clinic. Now that she has passed away, I have those memories to look back at and smile. I don't focus on the IV cocktail she was getting at the time, I focus on how we made the nurses and each other get through the day with laughter. It's free medicine.

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