Cancer log 149: My dad…

Cancer log 149: My dad always said when we were younger, "Take care of your health first; if you don't have that, you don't have anything." Now, he's a doctor, so it makes sense that he'd prioritize that, but I think it's really true. If your health is poor, it makes *everything* else in your life so much harder to deal with.

Both he and various doctor friends of mine (and my own doctors) have commented on how well I've weathered the year of treatment. (Often sounding quite surprised.) All my side effects have been on the minimal side of the possible range; as the doctors say, my body has tolerated chemo, surgery, and radiation very well. Which raises the question of why -- why have I gotten off easier, as it were, than other cancer patients?

I don't really know, of course. I was relatively healthy to start out with -- in the habit of regular, if not quite daily, exercise, which I kept up as much as I could through the treatments. I was already eating a balanced diet, and I tried to keep on with that through the year, without any excesses in any direction (no binging on sweets, no restricting calories either). One doctor friend suggested that a lot of it might have to do with my attitude about it all -- the body reflects the mind. Because I was relatively cheerful and matter-of-fact about it all, I had fewer difficulties and side effects.

That sounds a little woo-woo to me, but I think she's probably right, at least to some extent. I have a deep trust of the scientific process, and a lot of experience with academic research. It's weird to say that doing a Ph.D. prepared me to fight cancer, but I think it's kind of true. A huge project, one that's going to require many hours and some pain. You make a timeline, break it down into smaller steps, deal with each piece as it comes up, try not to think about the whole thing because if you do, you'll get overwhelmed. (I'm trying to figure out how to apply that to novel-writing now. It's tricky, because sometimes you need to think of the whole thing!) You try not to dwell on the possibilities of failure; you track and measure the small indicators of growing success. And before you know it, a year has passed, and you're on to the next one.

My doctor dad told me that I'd done so well because I'd faced this head-on. Again, I don't really know how true that is. But avoidance rarely helps matters, though it is so, so human to not want to look at bad things we feel lurking. When you hear the noises in the dark, it's tempting to pull the covers over your head. But at least for me, if I try that, I just lie there, suffering, wondering what's going on. Better to swing your legs out of bed, grab a heavy flashlight, suitable for bashing with, if necessary, and go look.

As we head into the new year, it seems a good time for a reminder -- take care of your health first. Physical health, mental health. Make that appointment with a doctor, a psychiatrist. Get yourself evaluated, see what you're facing with clear eyes. Start on the path to getting better. Little things may clear up on their own -- I don't go running to the doctor for every cold. Rest and fluids can do a lot for the small stuff. For the big stuff -- it's better to know exactly what you're facing, to research what tools are available to you, to ask for and get the help you need. It's particularly hard with mental health issues, I think, since your own brain is often actively working against your ability to face the problem. But often, the only way out is through.

What doctor / dentist / psychiatrist appointments have you been avoiding making?

Wishing you all better health in the new year.

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