Being diagnosed with blood cancer comes with a lot of difficult treatment choices.

Making & Living With Cancer's Tough Choices

This is a life and death decision.” How many times have people around you thrown around that phrase? Probably a lot when it comes time to ponder things like, “Do we get cheeseburgers or chicken sandwiches?” or, “Do we get the extended warranty or not?” or even, “Do we get the chocolate cheesecake or the strawberry brandy shortcake?” You know – life’s real burning questions. The thing is, when you have cancer that phrase takes on a completely different meaning – the most dreadfully literal definition possible.

Almost every decision you make when you have cancer can be a “life and death” decision. From what medicine to take and when, to simply choosing whether to stay as an inpatient or go home. It seems like every single choice you are presented with from diagnosis to remission is one of the most weighty choices you’ll make in your life, so how do you know that you are choosing correctly?

Getting cancer is overwhelming

First, let me assure you that you are not alone in your confusion. Getting cancer is overwhelming and one of the worst parts is people who are throwing so much information at you from minute one and then asking you to make snap decisions with little to no information other than what the doctor says. It’s like, “umm, OK, can I get a second opinion?  Google it? Visit the local library? No?” It’s always, “choosechoosechoose NOWNOWNOWNOWNOWNOW!” Or, at least, that’s what it felt like. No one really talks like that, obviously, but as I picture my cancer experience that’s what the speech bubble above the doc’s head is filled with. Sufficed to say I was confused, overwhelmed, and since there was no public library in a 5-mile radius, I agreed with the doctors. Turned out they were wrong four times before they were right.

So how do you make an informed decision when you aren’t being given time to get informed? Well, there’s always Google on your phone. I know, I know. You get more reliable information from the guy in plaid pants who hangs out at the dog track (“this one’s a sure winner, kid”), but still, it’s better than nothing. You can also ask the doctor if there’s another patient who might be willing to speak with you. In my experience cancer patients are more eager than most to help others who have been recently diagnosed, and hearing about their experiences can be invaluable. I wish I had known about this very website before I began my cancer journey, it would have saved me a ton of time. And mouth sores. Finally, you can talk to some of the nurses in the chemo area. Nurses have seen everything, and they are the ones that are there where the rubber really meets the road, so to speak. They may not be able to dispense medical information, but they can certainly help you understand some of the things you may be in store for and give you some suggestions on how to prepare.

Living with the choices

Another aspect of cancer’s choices is living with whatever decision you make. This is easier if things turn out well, but if things don’t, then you will be questioning your decisions, and naturally so. It’s only human to go back and say, “If I only did this...” when things don’t turn out for the best but, to borrow a phrase from the bard, that way lies madness. Time for some tough love – you can’t go back and change the past without a DeLorean and a flux capacitor and since those things aren’t real, you just have to live with the choices you made and do the best you can. Rehashing and wishing upon a star you decided differently is only going to make you unhappy and stress you out, using up valuable emotional fuel that you need to fight cancer.

The fight against cancer is the fight of your life, literally, and you need to pour every ounce of energy you have into surviving. Sure, things may have turned out differently if you walked a different path, but then again, they might have turned out exactly the same – or worse! Maybe you would have ended up right where you are now but also someone made Brussel sprouts for dinner! You just don’t know, no one does, so there’s no point in crying over spilled milk. You pick a path and you stick with it, walking it the best you can. Sorry for the tough love but occasionally, it’s warranted.

We aren't going through this alone

Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t search out others in your situation and commiserate. I mean, that’s like half of what the posts on our website are for – talking to others in the same crap situation you are in and making yourself feel a little bit better that you’re not going through it alone. In fact, I encourage you to find someone to vent with, it will make you feel better. I had someone on this very website who helped me towards the end. They, sadly, lost their battle with cancer but I still think about the conversations every day and I never even met them in person. Never underestimate the power of connecting.

Making, living with, and moving on from the choices you make when you have cancer is a separate mental battle all its own, and you shouldn’t expect yourself to just know how to do it automatically. It takes practice, like anything else, but if you listen to some of us who have done it already, we can certainly help to ease the blow. Talk soon.

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