During my recurrent cervical cancer treatment, I knew that mental strength was as important as my physical strength. But it was something I had to work on each day, especially on days when I felt weak.
After lying in bed for several days after my chemotherapy, I forced myself to get up and walk around the block. I rarely wanted to walk, but I knew if I got up and got moving outside in the fresh air, I would feel stronger. Those were days when it took considerable mental strength to power through and regain my physical strength.
Through my experience, I've learned that there are several things that can help cancer patients stay mentally and physically strong.
1. Don't feel sorry for yourself. As a cancer patient, it is natural to want to feel sorry for yourself. What good does that do?
When I first received my cervical cancer diagnosis, a friend noticed I didn't sound down or upset. I told her that feeling sorry for myself would let cancer win. As I've learned from reading blog posts by other cancer survivors, many people are grateful for their cancer or that goodness came out of it. I agree. The people I have met and the friendships that have been strengthened are the top my list of good things that have resulted from my cancer.
2. Don't try to please others. There may be times where we have to be honest at the risk of hurting someone's feeling. If it's done respectfully, shouldn't that be OK? You might have to say you're thankful for all of the meals that are delivered but that you can't bear to eat lasagna again. You need to take care of yourself first, even if you're used to being the caregiver.
3. Stop dwelling on the past. Strong people invest the majority of their energy in creating an optimal present and future. They don't focus on the past. Look back to see how you would do things differently in the future and put those lessons to use. Over the past several months, I have not been running as much as I want to be. Instead of beating myself up about it, I am working on a plan to motivate myself to run more, and now I plan to run another marathon in 2014.
4. Don't repeat mistakes. A strong-minded person accepts full responsibility for past behavior and is willing to learn from his or her mistakes. As a cancer patient, you may know things in your environment aren't healthy. If you continue to do those things that put you at higher risk, you aren't making your mind stronger than your body.
5. Don't resent others' successes and health. When I was going through treatment, I didn't know how many rounds of chemotherapy I would need. But I knew there here wasn't any value in envying those who knew how many treatments they faced. It's easy to judge others' cancer battles and determine that yours is more difficult than theirs. But it's important to celebrate others' victories over the dreaded disease. Doing so gives us all hope and mental strength necessary to deal with cancer and the challenges it presents.
6. Welcome alone time. We cancer patients spend plenty of time alone. I recently started going to my follow-up appointments alone. This forces me to practice my mental strength each time. The quiet times are when my brain is calm. In the past, there were so many times after my treatment when my mind would race as I lie in bed. Now I welcome the calm.
7. Don't expect immediate results. Cancer is something we deal with for the rest of our lives. That's why it's important to celebrate all the milestones -- even the tiniest ones. It may be as simple as a stable blood count or as grand as being told there is no evidence of disease. Either way, there are joys along the way that should be celebrated.
We exercise for physical strength and fitness. Shouldn't we exercise our mental strength just as often? I've found that one fuels the other.
Linda Ryan thought she had checked cancer off her list. Having just run her first marathon, it was hard to imagine that her cervical cancer had returned after seven years. Cancer chose the wrong woman. She was ready to battle cancer for the third time with health, laughter and friendship. Follow Linda Ryan at MeStrong.net.