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Cancer Lessons Learned

Submitted by Cynthia MacGregor, cancer survivor supreme and author of 54 books (yes, seriously!), who found that her work and her attitude went a long way toward her healing.

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I think the two lessons I learned from my cancer–which was over 30 years ago (so I really *am* a “survivor”!)–are that you shouldn’t be reluctant to admit you have a problem, but you shouldn’t treat yourself like “poor me”unnecessarily.

Yes, of course, if you’re having a rotten day, if the chemo or the radiation or the cancer itself are giving you a rough time, you can pamper yourself and hope others will do the same.But don’t throw yourself a pity party just because you have cancer, per se: I went for external cobalt teletherapy treatments every morning at 8:00 for five weeks, came home (I had an in-home office) and went right to work. I’d shiver under two sweaters all morning, a side effect of the radiation, then shed layers of clothing as I warmed up through the day. I’d lie down for half an hour if I needed to.(I was fortunate that I was self-employed with an in-home office.) But by and large it was business as usual, and I felt the better for it! Mentally it was a boost to know that I could go on working as always: “See–this cancer thing hasn’t got the best of me–I’m still working like always.” And that got me through.

I had my second intracavitary radium insertion the day before Thanksgiving–and came home from the hospital and cooked a turkey and all the trimmings for a HUGE bunch of people. Again, NOT pampering myself but doing what I always did reinforced my feeling that I was OK–not sick, certainly not dying. I was going to lick this cancer yet!

Immediately after my surgery–the day after–I went to the Patient Advocate’s office in the hospital and begged her, “Give me volunteer work to do. Anything! I can’t just sit in a hospital bed and play sick!” So I spent the remaining seven days of my hospital stay sitting on the floor of Pam Noguerola’s office, processing forms. Boring work but at least I felt I was working–which made me feel more “normal.”

Do what you have to do to get yourself through. For me, that was working and trying to lead as normal a life as I could. What can I tell you–it worked.

And as for the other piece of advice I mentioned–I didn’t hide from anyone the fact that I had cancer. (And this was in 1976, when it wasn’t discussed as openly as now.) I didn’t want pity–but I didn’t want to hide, either. And if I was having an “off” day, they’d understand if they knew what I was up against.

Here I am now, in 2008, well and happy and standing by my advice. I hope it stands you in good stead.

Cynthia MacGregor
Palm Springs FL
October 2008