When you or a loved one has cancer, life is throwing so many things at you all at once. Each of these things is vying for your attention and energy and can be overwhelming. Rachel and I wanted to take a moment to share with you how we have prioritized what we believe to be the three most important aspects of life with cancer and why: First Faith, then Health, then Cancer.
Our foundation, and thus the foundation of The Cancer Box, is a fundamental understanding of the areas of our lives where we fall short and need help. We all have them, and often have far more than we may first realize. Out of this need for help, Rachel and I turned many years ago to a good and faithful helper, Jesus Christ. Our whole life has been shaped by this relationship and is our first and foremost concern. This faith became a sure and steady anchor in the first moments after Rachel’s diagnosis. We understood that our lives were meant for something more than just this temporal life and we held to a peace that surpassed even our own understanding. We were sustained by this faith in our Savior and were comforted when times were dark. As we have come through the storm and look back, we believe that Rachel’s remission is a testimony to the God of the Bible’s love, mercy, and power in our lives.
Psalm 54:4 Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life.
In Dr. Kelly Turner’s book “Radical Remission”, she discusses 9 key characteristics of individuals who experience radical remission from their cancer. One of these characteristics she describes as “Deepening your spiritual connection” as a common marker for those who come through a cancer diagnosis. It is not a promise of physical healing, but is a help during whatever storm life brings. As Dr. Hayman puts it: “not everyone will be cured, but all can be healed"
Practically speaking, we live this out in simple ways:
Plugging into a local community of like-minded believers that we can both support and be supported by.
Learning from the Bible and applying it in our daily life.
Praying regularly, focusing on not just the things we would “ask” for but also all the things for which we are grateful.
Once we have addressed the first priority of faith, next comes health. We recognize there are four primary aspects of health that all need attention in different ways: Physical, Mental, Relational, and Emotional.
From exercise, to sleep, to diet, maintaining physical health is SO important, even if you don’t have Cancer! When you do have cancer, your physical condition becomes one of the most important tools you have to support your journey. Often, too much emphasis is put on “Dealing with the cancer” and not enough energy placed on the basics of a healthy life. Here are a few principals we try to adhere to in our daily life:
Exercise regularly. During chemo and after surgeries, this was particularly difficult for Rachel. This doesn’t mean run 10 miles a day or strive to be an Olympic lifter, what it does mean is push yourself to do a little more. Whether that’s walking to get your mail or running that 10 miles, that is what you should do.
Eat whole foods. Eat foods you can pronounce and that come from the earth. Begin to view food as a medicine…it’s not just about what foods to NOT eat, but it’s about what foods best support your goals.
SLEEEEEEEEEEEEEP. This is tough for us as we are naturally night owls, but one thing that Rachel had to learn was the value of good sleep and the affect it had on not only her physical health, but mental and emotional health as well. Particularly the amount of sleep that occurs before 10pm was a key factor in feeling healthy and ready to tackle the day.
The fight against cancer is as much mental as it is physical. The battle of the mind is waging all the time and it’s so important to find victory over our thoughts. Like David in the bible, we must speak truth to ourselves when we are downcast. This might be when the chemo aches are at their worst, reminding ourselves that this too shall pass…or when we are worried about the upcoming scan and our thoughts dive down the deep hole of “Worst case scenario”. These are the times to call a friend, pray, or read a good book.
One of the most tragic things that Cancer does, is it robs us of our relationships with others. It consumes the space where we would normally be enjoying time spent together. It distracts us from our children or spouses. It is critical to reclaim this time for the good of our health. Dig deep into your most important relationships and allow them to support you, process with you, and see you at your worst.
The rollercoaster of emotions is real. Painfully real. Like our thought processes, we need to recognize when the emotions we are feeling are destroying instead of building up. At the same time, we cannot “bottle” the negative emotions for long before we pop. It’s important to acknowledge where we are, while still working in pursuit of positive and joy-giving emotions. Don’t bottle or wallow, find the middle.
Only after all of the above has been addressed do we then turn our attention to Cancer. It’s a relatively new word in our household vocabulary (about 2 years) but has a tendency to try to consume our attention. It can easily steal our focus, our joy, and our energy if we allow it, but at the same time it can not simply be ignored.
For us, this third priority is where we research, learn, pursue treatments, invest in others with Cancer, and give of our remaining emotional, physical, and mental resources. We spend our time on specific health-focused things like doctor's visits, the sauna and hyperbaric chamber, as well as a regimen of supplements that are all focused on Rachel's continued work to continue her cancer-healing journey.
Don’t let Cancer consume you...recognize that it is a part of you but it does not define who you are and what good you can do in life. Give it the attention it deserves, but no more!
If you ever have questions, or are struggling and just need someone to talk to, always know that we and an army of others are here for you.