November 11, 2015
How staying optimistic helped my cancer recovery
BY Eric Kleiman
From the moment my wife and I were told I had liver cancer, our lives were turned upside down.
I had no pain, discomfort or symptoms that suggested I had liver cancer. In fact, the tumor was discovered during a CT scan for my kidney stones. All I could really say was, "Thank goodness."
This might seem like a strange response, but I'm a very optimistic person. Had it not been for the kidney stones, I have no idea when the cancer would have been found. I knew a lot of things would change because of my diagnosis, but I decided my positive attitude wouldn't be one of them.
Telling family about my liver cancer diagnosis
The first thing my wife and I thought about was how to tell our children. Brett, our 18-year-old son, was overseas at the time. Our daughter, Jacklyn, was only 12.
To make matters worse, my mother had passed away from cancer only a year earlier. Knowing this was our children's only experience with cancer and given my commitment to having a positive attitude, my wife and I thought a lot about our approach. When we broke the news, we were honest about the diagnosis, clear about our plan of attack and continually reiterated how confident we were that I would beat this.
As we told other family members and close friends, we took a similar approach, but with a little more humor. I have never been a drinker, even in college, so people were in disbelief when I told them I had liver cancer. My comeback was usually: "Well, I never did drink, but maybe I should start!" We all laughed as I reminded the group that I wasn't sick; I just had cancer.
Our attitudes influence others
When most people think of cancer, they think of someone who is weak and frail. Don't get me wrong: cancer takes its toll. In fact, it feels like a roller coaster at times - there are lots of ups and downs. Despite the challenges, I remained optimistic, not only for myself, but also for my family and friends.
Our attitudes often influence those around us. I've had friends with cancer tell me that my optimism has helped them handle their diagnoses better.
Giving back to others through myCancerConnection
While I was undergoing chemotherapy, I signed up to volunteer with myCancerConnection, MD Anderson's one-on-one support program. This allows me to give back and help others going through cancer. Whenever I listen to other patients' stories, I try to maintain my positive attitude.
I know I'm very lucky. There are a lot of people worse off than I am. It's like the old story of the guy who felt sorry for himself because he didn't have shoes -- until he met the man without feet. If feeling sorry for myself would have helped get rid of my cancer, I would have done it. But it didn't, and it won't for others.
Attacking cancer with a positive attitude
I'm now cancer-free, but return to MD Anderson for scans every three months. Always optimistic, I look at my exams as yet another test of my positive attitude. Staying optimistic helps during the difficult 24-hour waiting period for results.
If you're reading this, you have already taken a step towards attacking your cancer. You are reaching out for information and inspiration, which hopefully means you have decided to stay positive and control the only thing you can -- your attitude.
Cheers (with a non-alcoholic drink) to that.
To connect with other cancer patients and caregivers through myCancerConnection, please call 800-345-6324 or visit myCancerConnection online.
Control the only thing you can -- your attitude.