5 ways to distract yourself during cancer treatment
James Coulson Jr.
One of the things that I learned as a testicular cancer patient at MD Anderson is that distraction is the name of the game. Our brains are not good at doing two things at once, so anything that requires a fair amount of analytical thinking or concentration can help keep your mind off your problems.
Throw a party. What do you do when you don’t know what to do? I threw a big party. We called it a prayer party, but it was also a head-shaving party. I knew I was going to lose my hair from chemotherapy at some point, so we made a thing out of it. All of my friends came. And they took turns shaving my head. Then they tied knots in a blanket while praying to create a prayer quilt. I took the quilt with me when I went to the hospital, so I had all of these people’s prayers over me. It was really beautiful.
Listen to uplifting music. My dad purchased a new laptop for me so I could watch movies in the hospital, but I also used it to listen to music: mostly hymns and folk songs that I heard while visiting Taiwan. I chose that type of music because it was very profound. And I learned a long time ago that if I listened to songs that had angry undertones, they would make me angry. The reciprocal is also true. If I listen to music that is calm and peaceful or joyful and hopeful, it’ll make me feel that way as well. So I consciously chose uplifting music. And despite feeling terrible from the chemotherapy, I would sing along every day. It really made a difference.
Set the tone. My dad brought me an ocarina (a type of flute) back from Asia. He didn’t think I would learn how to play it. But I practiced for an hour each morning before work. It set the tone for remainder of my day. I found that if I began my day with something happy, I had a greater chance of being happy throughout the day. And music can bring peace and calmness.
Be patient. Lately, I’ve been meditating on a word we don’t use much anymore: long-suffering. It means patience in the midst of affliction. Goodness will come, and even if it doesn’t, being patient yields dividends of its own. You don’t have to wait until the end of a race to enjoy running it.
Learn something new. When my chemotherapy ended in late August 2013, I had not yet applied to return to college. So, my sister went and talked to one of her professors, and he agreed to let me audit her intro to Chinese language class. I just wanted to do something new and be distracted. But it turned out to be such a blessing. I was treated just like any other student in the class. And my sister and I stayed up late at night and studied really hard. As a result, I learned the foundations of Chinese — to the point where I can now talk with other young adult cancer survivors from China and let them know they’re not alone.