Tips To Deal With A Cancer Diagnosis

 

2022 was a year of intense highs coupled with the lowest of lows. So I was glad to see it go and geared up for a fresh start in 2023. But God had other plans.

I have feared cancer all my life. Seeing “Love Story” and other movies about cancer, as a child, instilled a lifelong fear of dying from it in me.

On December 8th, a spot was detected on an x-ray that necessitated an MRI. The MRI confirmed a tumor. That tumor was then identified via the MRI, by the world-renowned and amazing doctors and pathologists at Memorial Sloan Kettering, as a very rare cancerous one. I initially couldn’t believe my doctor could identify it on sight without a biopsy. But she did and the surgery just confirmed her initial diagnosis. 

 I am still recovering from the surgery physically— somehow I got Covid again too so it has been a bit longer! But I have been permanently emotionally and spiritually changed in so many ways. Here are just some of the things that I have realized in this fraught couple of months:

1 Nothing really matters — NOTHING!

Until you know what stage it is and if you are going to survive it, receiving a cancer diagnosis — especially when it’s a potentially deadly cancer — feels like you are being hung by your feet over a cliff for weeks and could be dropped at any minute. You relive your whole life and realize that much of it has been spent worrying and upset over nothing. Or wishing and hoping for stuff other than what God has planned for you. That expression “don’t sweat the small stuff” may seem like a cliche. But when you face death you realize how much you wish you had followed it!

I have lived such a passionate and empathic life that I have cared about A LOT. From the age of 12, I have been an Activist fighting against injustices and in my adult life, I’ve had to fight against a lot of racism. I am extremely politically astute. Watching Trump and the GOP make a mockery of our government and our Democracy slowly crumble these past six years weighed heavily on me. I have been pretty joyless and constantly fighting against the myriad of injustices in this country. But when faced with death, I realized that while these things matter, there is only so much I can do in one lifetime.

And what good is fighting against injustices, if my own life sucks because I am so serious all the time? My entire life has been a cause instead of an actual life. I realized that if I had died, it would’ve been with so many personal wishes and dreams unfulfilled because I was so outwardly focused. Thus, now I still care but I see the bigger picture.

Racism, sexism, greed — the same stuff has been going on for hundreds of years in this country and the world. While we can make a dent, we will never completely change things in one lifetime. Change is sloooowww. John Lewis fought for equal voting rights for over 60 years and we still don’t have them. So, we need to do what we can, while still maintaining our Joy and achieving our personal happiness.

Am I still going to stand up for civil rights, the wrongfully incarcerated, ending racism, a ban on assault weapons, reproductive rights, the environment, and more things that need standing up for? Sure. Just now, I will be doing so at a more relaxed pace and with the knowledge that I might not see the positive changes that I water the seeds for in my lifetime.

When I was not sure if I was going to live or die, the realization of all the time I wasted made me a bit sad at first  But now that I am cancer-free, I know that I can never go back to doing that. Because life truly is short and anything can pop up at any time healthwise.

2 Allow yourself to feel how you feel after a cancer diagnosis.

I had a lot of friends and family saying things like, “You are the strongest person I know, so you will be ok.”  While they were well-meaning, nothing could be further from the truth. There was denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Some days I went through all five at once. Allow yourself to do the same. No one is strong enough for a cancer diagnosis. A part of you dies forever after you get this news, which can be a positive or negative thing depending on your outlook. Because even when you are cured or in remission, you have to fear a reoccurrence for the rest of your life. Nothing will ever be the same.

3 People are who they are, let them be.

Don’t expect a cancer diagnosis to bring out better or different behavior in those close to you. Those that were caring and kind people before your cancer will be those that are there for you through your healing from it. There is one family member, who rarely contacts me and I used to find it upsetting. But now, I am fine with it. I realized I had been writing scripts for people with expectations of how they should react. When they didn’t do what I thought they should, it would often upset me. Now, not at all. Again, I realized that they are who they are. I need to love them in a way that lets them be who they are without my expectations of how they should be. This has been an enormous release. In addition, we live in a very childish time full of adults acting like tweens. Thus, your haters will continue to be your haters. Just remember, they know not what they do and are not worthy of a minute of your time.

4 Toxicity, in any form, can cause cancer.

The type of tumor I had can be caused by exposure to toxic chemicals and toxic emotions. I now do not want to deal with anything, big or small, that is negative. While it is hard to do, especially as a Black woman in America, I am letting everything go.

My biggest fight in life has been glaring racism, in first, the film industry and now as an influencer. I have literally fought dozens of battles with racist PR people over the past 15 years since launching this site. Each one took a toll and I have never understood why Black influencers are not just treated like white ones. But I now realize that the very foundation of America is built on racism. America has been racist since my Italian great-great-great slaver grandparents arrived here in the 1630s and enslaved my other ancestors. It will likely still be racist for centuries to come. Thus, why would any American industry, including influencing, be any different? 

I now also understand why so many people of color are dying of the same diseases white people survive. It’s because we have the added daily stress of racist discrimination poisoning us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I will, unfortunately, likely still deal with racism as a citizen, a sister, an auntie, a businesswoman, an activist, and an influencer till the day I do die. Because it is literally in every aspect of American life. However, with my own mortality in mind, I now live without allowing it to stress me. I realize that it is just going to be a fact of this incarnation, as a Black American woman, and not something I should internalize. Because it literally made me sick. 

5 Be your own advocate and do your homework

Since jealhtcare is for-profit in America, hospitals and doctors are often working with greedy insurance companies to cut costs at your expense. So it is of vital importance that you know what tests and treatments exists and insist on having the best. After your diagnosis, find the best oncologist and cancer center that you can. (In NYC, it’s Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center). Ideally, your doctors have done research and also have published works in reputable medical publications. Read all of the information you can find about your condition and ask tons and tons of questions. Your life depends on it.

6 We need more preventative cancer screenings

Fortunately, because the tumor was caught so early, I am now cancer-free and I will have regular screenings to stay that way. But the way that my cancer was found made me realize that there are millions of people walking around with ticking cancer time bombs in them! We need to do better.

If President Biden is at all serious about curing cancer, the first step is PREVENTING IT by catching tumors early. Tumors found early are almost always operable. Had I not had a CT scan for a completely different area, my tumor would not have been found until it had grown and metastasized. This is ridiculous when we pay so much for healthcare. Thus, when people get their colonoscopies and mammograms, they should also have CT scans or thermal imaging of the full abdominal area including the pancreas, stomach, kidneys, and spleen. The scan should also include the lungs. Imagine the thousands of lives that could be saved from early detection. President Biden GET ON IT!

 

That Girl At the Party

I am a proud blogger/influencer of 16 years and founder of the Henley Content Lab for content creators from underserved communities, who are 45 and over. I am also the founder of Chateau Canna and Cannappetit. I am also an aunt to 12 and human to Bodhi and Yoko Rey.