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Living With Cancer

Web MD - Cindy, a longtime friend and family neighbor, is the kind of friend you want and need in times of trouble. She stands up to unfairness or disrespect and is always available for a good laugh or joke when you may be taking yourself too seriously.

In Cindy's late fifties her husband Max was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a malignant brain tumor. After a sustained period of time actively participating in treatment, Max died at home in Cindy's arms — an experience she continues to have difficulty speaking about eleven years later. Little more than a year after losing her best friend, soulmate, and husband and surviving as the caregiver, she herself was diagnosed with a cranio-facial malignancy, including her right maxillary and orbital bones (top jaw and eye bones). Surgery to remove the tumor along with plastic surgery for reconstruction and associated radiation treatments to her face came with two major risks: deformity with cure or death. She prepared herself, but survived with neither option.

Cindy has since recovered well from surgery and radiation, though she lives with lifelong body alterations in addition to some remaining cancer cells. In the post-treatment period, she initially suffered from a numb, swollen face, covered in stitches, which she did not initially recognize; lingering facial numbness; eventual loss of left eye vision from dry eye causing damage to her retina; and a deep pocket above her front teeth that chronically fills with food, requiring some work to clean out…all reminders of her cancer diagnosis. Over the years, those few residual cancer cells have slowly invaded her lungs. She has survived minimally invasive lung surgery, but she and doctors have decided not to treat her any further for the time being, due to the rate of growth and potential for more harmful side effects.

Cindy, the pillar of strength I clearly remember from childhood, now lives life with cancer as a chronic illness. "How do I live with cancer?" she asks. Cindy, like many of you, is searching for the answer to that question. Learning to live with a potentially deadly disease without being ‘sick' or destroying your state of mind can be difficult and emotionally taxing. It's essential for you to remember that stress (of body and mind) affects health; for example, causing normally low blood sugars to be suddenly unstable and rise.

Regardless of your diagnosis or expectations, there are some things you can do to maintain both physical well being and mental health. Here are a few recommendations:

1. Make day-to-day health a priority, including taking regularly scheduled medications and some form of daily exercise approved by your physician.

2. Consult with a Dietician. The food you eat is as important as the medications you take, providing fuel for your body's function.

3. Attend all scheduled follow-up appointments with your oncologist and associated physicians, and tests including blood work, CT scans, MRIs, etc.

4. Listen to your body and report symptoms, including both short- and long-term side effects of your disease and treatment, to your physician.

5. Join a support group for an opportunity to meet those who are surviving similar life experiences

6. Speak with a Social Worker or leader of your church, synagogue, or mosque if you're feeling that more emotional support is needed than a support group, friends, or family can provide.

7. Schedule activities that you enjoy including hobbies, work, and spending time with loved ones.

Living in fear of disease progression will not stop its growth — that energy is more useful if spent living life today as fully as possible!

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