THE BLOG
07/01/2014 02:44 pm ET Updated Aug 31, 2014

Thriving Through Cancer

For anyone coping with a chronic, incurable cancer diagnosis, have you ever asked why? Not so much "why me," but just plain "why"? This is a very common question, especially for those who consider themselves very health-conscious, living a healthy lifestyle. One minute life is good and all is well, the next minute, not so much! In the blink of an eye, your life changes forever when told you have cancer. And not just any cancer, but an incurable, chronic cancer!

I know because I was given such a diagnosis. In October 2011 I was diagnosed with late stage ovarian cancer. I didn't know much about ovarian cancer other than it was cancer of the ovaries. I had no clue that the statistics associated with it were so dismal. I thought I would just get chemotherapy and then be okay. I was convinced it wasn't that serious. So, when I returned to my surgeon's office after surgery for a check up, I asked him what I thought was a rhetorical question. I asked if I'd be okay once I finished chemo, totally expecting him to say yes. Imagine my shock when he said probably not, that I had a 75 percent chance of recurrence. He went on to advise that I had what is regarded as a chronic disease. My cancer was detected in its late stages and the cells were very aggressive. Most cancers of this type recur within two to five years, sometimes before. Therefore, I should expect it to revisit me at some point in the not too distant future.

When I left his office, I was in an abysmal state! Eventually, I came out of my comatose-like mindset to face the reality of what he said. I lived a very short period of being fearfully frozen, and then I snapped back into reality. My inner voice told me I had to deal with this and become proactive. Recurrence of this stage cancer ranges from 70 to 80 percent and survival beyond five years can range from 35 to 55 percent. Not good! So, facing these odds I needed to know what I could do to beat them. Facing your own mortality and/or an alternate way of life from what you're used to can be daunting. However, once I faced these issues head on my mindset opened into areas of my psyche and spirituality I never explored before. I also came face to face with the survival part of me I never even knew existed. There's nothing like facing the possibility of death to make you deeply appreciate life!

I decided I needed to become proactive in my spiritual, nutritional, and physical life so I could endure the challenges this disease posed. In essence, I wanted to not just survive but to thrive. One of the first lessons learned was how to best handle stress. Fortunately, my life-long interest in self-awareness, raising consciousness and self-improvement gave me a jump start to putting this into practice. It's one thing to learn things on an intellectual level; it's quite another to practice them. This is not to say I have complete control over managing stress. It's an ongoing process. The first step in this process is the awareness that stress is a factor and it needs to be managed. Putting that awareness into practice does become easier over time.

Managing stress can seem like a massive undertaking initially. It requires you to examine how you view your world, yourself, others, and your interactions with others. Do you blame everyone else for your fate? Are you the victim or are you angry at the world? Do you take responsibility for your actions? Perhaps you like to come to the aid of others, even at the expense of your own well-being. Your response to these and other questions determines your attitude, which directly impacts your energy level and the amount of stress imposed on your body. Too much poorly-managed stress can lead to serious health issues, including cancer! No, it's not the only factor, but it's definitely a contributing factor.

It is important to understand this is an ongoing process but one that is definitely doable. It's also important to understand there will be some situations in life you will have no control over. The only thing you can control is your reaction to them. To remind yourself of this it helps to remember the famous serenity prayer:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

It has been 2.5 years since I finished chemotherapy. My exceptional blood test results, energy level, physical stamina and happiness factor all have my doctors asking what I'm doing. I must say, in addition to handling stress very differently than before, I have changed my eating habits drastically. For that, I give thanks to my exceptional nutritionist. She is magnificent in helping me take care of the physical (body) part of this holistic equation. However, that's another topic for another time. For now, the focus is on managing stress as a game changer in a cancer diagnosis and in life!

So, if you have a chronic, incurable cancer, or would like to avoid getting it or other diseases, consider the challenge of indulging in self-analysis, examining your attitude and learning to manage stress. If you understand that healing must take place holistically to include your body, mind and spirit, you'll understand the importance of healing your mind, your view of your world. It has a direct impact on the health of your body. Addressing issues of the mind can make all the difference to you, the difference between health and illness, life and death. In doing so, you begin to move beyond surviving. You begin to thrive!