Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Cancer: As much a Mental Fight as Physical

Posted On : February 04,2015

Kamal Narayan Omer


“I cannot just resume my place at the table, pick up the cards and continue as before. My poker face has melted away. As well as my zest for the game,” wrote Lisa Ray on life after being diagnosed with multiple myeloma.

A cancer diagnosis can change life, and how! Not just perspectives, but horizons change.

Issues that were of immense concern to you till yesterday will now appear trivial; work will be just another pursuit of life; passion will become just another expression! Life itself would appear mundane to some, yet more precious than you ever thought.

Ask any cancer survivor and she will tell you it is an experience that drastically alters your vision and definition of life. When you see death eye to eye, life becomes more tangible, more beautiful. But, much like war or a game, cancer is as much a mental struggle as a physical one.

While we talk a lot about the figures, the numbers, the survival rates and the impact cancer treatment has on the body, we hardly focus on the deadly disease’s impact on the mind. Mind is the body’s front in the fight against the disease. It is in many ways the cavalry that does the front fighting as your body recovers from the impact. Mental strength and will power are keys to survival.

“Cancer is a disease that gives you very few options. The only choice that you have is to continuously fight it. It is a test of your patience, will power and commitment. Your family, your relationships, your finances and you all get tested and affected by the same. The entire experience is like a test. Cancer Survivors are winners because they have been able to overcome the worst in life and get another shot at life,” Dr Indu Bansal, Consultant Oncologist, Paras Hospitals, Gurgaon.

The doctor emphasizes that going through the physical turmoil, and bearing the effects of chemotherapy and radiation requires a lot of mental toughness. People who are mentally stronger are likely to deal better with the disease. A positive approach and a hopeful outlook can do wonders for your fight against the disease.

Cancer is a disease in which cells in the affected part of the body go berserk and start multiplying uncontrollably. If left untreated, these cancerous cells threaten to spread to other hitherto healthy areas of the body. The treatment modality for the disease involves killing the cancerous cells and preventing their growth. However, chemotherapy drugs and radiation to kill the crazy cells also damage the healthy body cells in the process, causing a series of negative reactions on health. A persistent sickening feeling, nausea, upset digestion, hair loss, extreme weakness are all side effects of cancer treatment. This is why even cancers that are treatable need the patient to be strong.

Cancer survivors invariably talk about their mental strength and the support their family and friends gave to them that helped cope with the traumatic experience.

In his book, The Test of My Life, flamboyant cricketer turned cancer crusader writes how chemotherapy made him lose "his energy, his appetite and his hair - and his will to survive".

"Cancer turns you upside down. In body, in mind, in spirit," the cricketer writes. This is when he read the now disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong's autobiography detailing his fight and survival against cancer. The book turned out to be a "friend, a guide, an ally"…. for Yuvraj, giving him immense mental strength and will to fight back.

Psychologists says only a steely resolve and an iron willed mind can help a patient overcome the brutality of chemotherapy and other cancer treatment procedures. It is hence important to condition the mind of the patient before setting him/her on the path of treatment. In fact, at every step the patient needs a positive push of the mind and a resolve to never give up.

How to Fight it out Mentally:
 Stay in the Present: Take a day at a time and how best to overcome its travails. Do not let your thinking wander into untested waters. Tell Yourself, ‘right now, I am doing my best to fight’.

 Read the Tales of Survivors: As it helped Yuvraj, it will help you. When you read the story of a person who went through a similar phase and emerged out victorious, defeating all the demons, you are bound to feel positive.

 Open yourself to Others: Go ahead and embrace the love and good will people are showering on you. It will make you feel happy and strengthen you from the inside.

 Reflect on Life: Death is an inevitable outcome of every life. Tell Yourself that while everybody’s will eventually die, you will not give up without a fight.

“There is a big psychological pressure when you have cancer. There is always this fear of the disease coming back. Fear exists every day of my life, but that has never stopped me from facing my demons. I want the cancer survivors, especially the women to stare back and ‘own up’ rather than ‘give up’. Let us not make cancer a life and death situation,” says the bold and beautiful survivor Manisha Koirala.