07/02/2013 01:11 pm ET Updated Sep 01, 2013

Coping Mechanisms as a Springboard to Purpose


I had an interesting discussion with a friend the other day. We were talking about coping mechanisms. I volunteered that I personally felt better about having chronic cancer when I decided to use it as a springboard to a purpose. I don't know that I ever would have written a book or continued to blog about health care if I wasn't forced to live with this condition and learn how to acknowledge it as a part of my life.

My friend mentioned that for the young adult cancer population specifically, that seems to be a common way of learning to get through. Organizations like Stupid Cancer, Sy's Fund, and Athletes for Cancer, all stemmed from a personal journey. If not for these personal journeys, certain missing helpful elements may never have been addressed. These groups help to fill a void, and genuinely benefit future survivors.

Last night I had the privilege of attending the first annual "Chemo-Con!" I will admit part of the draw was in the name. Many of my friends are avid Comic-Con attendees. Chemo-Con was presented in partnership with a local hospital and Thrive Through Cancer. I hadn't heard about Thrive until this event, but I have to say after learning about them last night, I love their activities. When a young adult is newly diagnosed they put together a care package of items the person may find helpful through treatment: socks, movies, a journal, lotion, ginger for an upset stomach. The idea came about because the founder Rose Egge is a young go-getter, and while going through her own treatment she realized she could help with the often-missing comfort piece of care. At Chemo-Con I talked to many young adults who benefited from Thrive's care packages, or as they call them "Hope Totes." It's a small organization right now, but I'm looking forward to see where it grows from here.

Referencing back to my conversation from the other night, I feel it's important to point out that creating a public purpose is not everyone's way of getting through an illness. Sometimes the outside world doesn't understand that. I can imagine how frustrating it must be for many survivors to be asked how they are going to use this experience. It's a personal journey, and sometimes the lessons learned are not meant to be publicized; they are specifically for the person who went through it and the group of people around them. So, let's take off the added pressure. Not every cancer survivor is going to start an organization, or write a book, or go on speaking tours about their experience, and that's more than okay. There needs to be all types of people in this world, creators and supporters.

We are not as different as the people who lived thousands of years ago. We all want an explanation of why things happen to us. Creating our own folklore ("I was given cancer so I could use it to...") gives many of us peace. There is not a correct path for emotionally working through an illness. Some turn to spirituality, others to a project, and still others to internal or external processing. Coping mechanisms are what they are, and as long as we are patient and loving with ourselves and others through difficulty, I think they serve an important purpose.