Three Things Every Cancer Patient and Caregiver Needs To Do For Their Mind

Photo: Melissa C Myers

Photo: Melissa C Myers

Your mind goes cuckoo when you have cancer or care about someone with cancer. I found it is especially brutal for natural type-A's, like me, because of the games it plays with our minds. We all face with our mortality after a dire health prognosis but type-A's can't get away from the worst case scenarios, guilt for possibly dying, and the need to find answers for why it happened and how to solve it. 

First and foremost, part of the reason we get cancer is that we're type-A. It's called a "cancer personality." We burn the candle at both ends, are steadfast caregivers who put others first and tend to hold stress internally.

So to help keep our sanity and keep our caregivers from falling into the same trap, here are the three most important things I've found to help our minds when dealing with cancer: 


  1. Read Radical Remission by Kelly Turner, PhD.
    Turner found thousands of spontaneous remissions documented in medical journals. A "spontaneous remission" means a cancer patient went outside traditional medicine and subsequently entered remission but doctors don't know why. Turner laboriously researched what were the common factors among of these cases. She discovered nine things that lead to these remissions which she outlines in the book. These nine steps became my road map. If this is what thousands of other people had done to cure themselves, I decided I was going to do them all as quickly as I could. I largely credit Turner with setting me on the path to heal myself. It's not an exaggeration to acknowledge that I owe Turner my life. Transparency: I am training to be a Radical Remission teacher to help provide action to the 9 factors. 
  2. Meditate
    If your natural instinct is "I can't quiet my mind long enough to mediate", than you more than anyone else must start. Meditation like all other things is a practice. We don't grab a tennis racket and expect to beat Serena Williams our first time out. So it is with meditation. We simply need to be patient with ourselves and find the right gateway. Some great ways to begin are:
    • Belleruth Naparstek guided meditations
      Naparstek gently guides us through visualizations and/or affirmations. She covers a range of topics from general health topics like "Relaxation & Wellbeing" to highly-specialized, cancer-focused ones like "Chemotherapy." I buy the whole download, but she can also be found on YouTube. 
    • Meditation Apps: Headspace and 10%Happier
      Put your phone to use for good. The two I hear about the most are Headspace and 10% Happier. Both ease us into meditation with explanations and short intervals. 
  3. Get a Therapist ASAP 
    I was raised in the midwest by a stoic father of german descent. Therapy was for crazy or weak people. It was never overtly said, it was just understood. When I moved to NYC after college, I couldn't believe how many of my friends had therapists. But the prejudice was way too deep for me to overcome. I made a million excuses about not having time, not being able to afford it, about my problems not being major so I didn't really need a therapist, blah blah. Truth is, I should have been seeing a therapist of some sort since my mom died in 1984. I could have avoided a lot of stupid emotional mistakes in my teens, 20s and 30s. The emotional cup flowed over when I got cancer. Friends and family are great, but when you have cancer everyone around you has cancer. They're as freaked out as you are. I needed someone to talk to who wasn't afraid I was going to die. We all need someone impartial. If money is an issue, find a social worker at your hospital. Just find a way to make it happen. If you don't like that person, find a new one. 

We're not going crazy: having cancer sucks! We can't help but feel everything is out of control when we're dealing with doctors, mortality, insurance on top of our regular, over-worked lives. These three technics can help patients and our glorious caregivers regain some control of our minds and sanity. 

In light, love and sanity,