Cancer can be a debilitating disease to one’s body. But the real battle is most often fought and won or loss in the mind!  Almost every cancer survivor will tell you that before they won the battle physically against cancer, they won the battle mentally and emotionally first.

What we think and how we think definitely determines how our emotions and our physical body will respond to cancer treatments.

Virginia Owsiak, of Lebanon County, PA, is a great example of this. She is 72 years old with several daughters and granddaughters. But it wasn’t until this past year that she had a grandson. She also has a history of battling cancer.

In 1997, she was diagnosed with colon cancer, when they removed 18 inches of her colon. They also took out several lymph nodes. At that time, they gave her only a 30% chance of living five years.

Although the disease takes its toll physically, the mental strain of chemotherapy, oncology appointments and not knowing if the cancer will return can be even more taxing on survivors.  

The moment of diagnosis is a profound moment for every person with cancer.  

This is the moment your life changes forever. You begin to ask questions that you never thought of before.  You begin to feel things and experience emotions that you never had before this moment. The stress and mental anguish is beyond belief. And then there is the dread of “what if?” – what if I don’t survive?  

What will happen to those I leave behind?  What will happen to my body on a daily basis? What happens after death?

But among the most important questions is “How will I handle this?”  “How will I manage this part of my life along with the other aspects of my life?”

One of the stressful parts of having cancer is that even prior to the diagnosis, everybody has such busy lives with a great amount of stress.  Now, cancer is added to what you already were dealing with on a day to day basis.

Kristin Zimmerman (assistant director of the Care Coordination Department for Good Samaritan Healthy System in Lebanon) has encountered many patients who are wondering how their diagnosis will work into their daily routine.

There are the doctor’s appointments, the blood tests and the information to digest initially.  Then there is the issue of mood changing medications, being forced to give up social events or work for treatments or recovering from surgery.

In addition, the cancer diagnosis doesn’t just affect the person with cancer, but family and close friends as well.  For Virginia Owsiak, the real stress began after her surgery and chemotherapy protocal.

She says, “I made it through the six months of chemo, and, to me, after I was done, it was more nerve - wracking than it had been before.  Up until then, I was doing something about it.  I was being proactive.  Now it was just wait and see.”

While there is usually relief after getting through your cancer treatment regimen, it is often not a joyful time. Much still hangs over a person’s head at this point, including routine doctor visits, blood tests, scans and the ultimate scare – “what if the cancer comes back?”

Owsiak, upon completing her treatments, found it difficult to adjust to the stress. She said, “I had friends who wanted to get tickets to see a show, but we’d have to get them six months out. I wouldn’t do it, because I didn’t know where I was going to be in six months. I didn’t know if I’d be deathly ill or dead – I had no expectations.”

Owsiak says that being proactive during one’s treatment is important. She did research about her cancer on the internet. She also looked into vitamins and worked with her oncologist to develop a program.  She further worked at staying connected with other people, rather than living in isolation, which many cancer survivors are prone to do.

Owsiak reminds us that at some point in the process of battling cancer and its affects, you have to decide it is time to get on with your life and not allow cancer to define you.  She says this takes time and it is so gradual that you almost don’t realize it has happened. Today she has her life back and continues to give back.

Source: Noreen Livoti, Penn Live(October 13, 2013)