The Financial Burdens of Cancer – Part 1

If you were recently diagnosed with cancer, the feelings are absolutely overwhelming.  The ongoing thoughts that go through your mind after whether you will live or die, are finances.  Will I lose my job, will my insurance cover my medical expenses, who will take care of my family, will I have to file bankruptcy, will I have to go on welfare, will I lose my house, my car, will I ever be able to work again and the playlist continues over and over in your head.  It is beyond terrifying.

financial_burden_need_moneyWhen I was diagnosed, I felt all of those feelings as I was single and self-employed without any sick time or short and/or long term disability benefits.  Looking back with the old, “If I knew then what I know now”, I give this wisdom and advice:

1)  INSURANCE:  Most of us have absolutely no idea of what insurance coverage we have for a catastrophic illness like cancer.  Who knows if your insurance will cover all chemotherapy drugs (some are $20,000 or more per infusion!), blood transfusions, port placement, for example, the drug Herceptin for one year ($60,000), or a compression sleeve?  Most of us never even heard  these words before diagnosis.   Ask your hospital to check with your insurance company to make sure they are “in network” before you start treatment.

I made the decision to go out-of-town to the University of Michigan Cancer Center because I felt my life depended upon it.  When I called my insurance company, they said University of Michigan was out of network, and I would have to pay 40% of my medical bills, which would have resulted in over $100,000 or more of additional medical expenses. YIKES!  I called the insurance office at the University of Michigan Cancer Center for their help.  Within days, with their help in convincing my insurance company I needed their care, my insurance company agreed to pay my medical bills 100% except for deductibles and considered that hospital “in network”.  LET SOMEONE ELSE FIGHT THIS BATTLE.  If you go to a large hospital, they have staff that deal with the insurance companies so you don’t have to do so!

Also, because I did not have prescription drug coverage, the Neulasta shot was not covered.  Neulasta helps increase your blood counts after chemotherapy and costs on average $4,000 to $9,000 PER SHOT!!  A cancer patient may need as few as 4 or many, many more shots!   However, my hospital said if they administered the shot the next day with me as an out-patient, it would be covered.  It entailed my driving another 120 miles round trip on the day after treatment, but it saved me $36,000 for the four shots I needed!!

There are also very expensive anti-nausea meds, Emend, which costs $100.00 per pill.  If you do not have prescription drug coverage, the hospital can give it to you intravenously which has a much longer effect, and then most insurances will cover it.

There is a program for cancer patients who have high co-pays for drugs such as Neulasta or Neupegon – if you have high copays, check this out for help in paying those co-pays:  https://amgenfirststep.com/

2)  HELP: Ask your most detail-oriented and computer savvy friend to help you find what services are available to cancer patients in your area. Upon diagnosis, friends and family ask how they can help you.  PLEASE take them up on their offers as you need to practice this new and difficult skill of accepting help.    Many don’t qualify for state welfare benefits, but other help is available no matter how small.  It all helps!  For example, I just learned that in my city there is a new program for cancer patients and their families called Nightingale Harvest. The only requirement is that you are in active treatment.  You need a note from your Oncologist–then they provide food, cleaning supples and toiletries to the cancer patient and family throughout treatment free of charge.  What a marvelous charity!

While I was undergoing chemotherapy,  my hospital put me in touch with an organization that gave me $300.00 in gas cards based on miles driven to and from treatment.  Their only qualification – undergoing cancer treatment.  I will never forget their kindness.  It still brings tears to my eyes when I think about it.

Here is a compilation of numerous organizations that provide help to cancer patients:

http://www.1uponcancer.com/freebies-and-discounts-for-cancer-patients/

3)  BEYOND HELP – If you are in a situation such as you have no insurance coverage, have no savings, lost your job, or any other dire situation, let friends and family help by either setting up a fundraiser or an online fundraiser such as http://www.gofundme.com   or  www.youcaring.com   to raise money for you and your family.   Please don’t be too proud, as people do want to help you!

4)  CLEANING – Most cancer patients have very little energy and especially no energy to clean your house.  Cleaning for a Reason is a service in the USA and Canada providing cleaning services to cancer patients while in treatment. http://www.cleaningforareason.org/

5)  MEALS – The best thing friends and family can provide are meals with food a cancer patient can eat.  This varies from person to person.  This website offers a free calendar where friends and family can sign up to bring meals to the cancer patient, and then sends email reminders to the patient and the food preparer!   www.mylifeline.org

6)  PERSONAL CARE – Many organizations offer things such as massages, reflexology, relaxation, emotional health, and other classes for cancer patients and their families.  The hospital where I received radiation treatment, provided me with a weekly massage at no charge.  It was a great comfort to me.

7) FAMILY TIME – One amazing organization, Little Pink Houses of Hope, provide vacations to breast cancer patients and their families.  For more information, go to:   https://www.littlepink.org

8) AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY –  http://www.cancer.org  The American Cancer Society will put you in touch with help.  They also offer a free program for female cancer patients…Look Good, Feel Better.   http://www.lookgoodfeelbetter.org    I attended and it helped so much!  They provided makeup and skills to help you cope during treatment, like how to draw in eyebrows.  I HIGHLY recommend attendance at this free class.

You will make it through and things will get better.  But in the meantime, ask for help and accept help to relieve some of the financial burdens of cancer.

______________________________________________

I offer chemo hats for every budget and keep my profit margin low to help others – please check them out at http://www.hellocourage.com     CH-h4flappergrayred1

Who Will You Be/Who Are You After Cancer Treatment Ends?

One thing I find all of us have in common after a cancer diagnosis and a year or more of treatment,  is we know who we were, and we realize we are no longer that pre-cancer person.  We feel lost for a very long time, often many, many years, because nothing, especially our former selves, is the same.  And we are extremely unfamiliar with who we have become.  It is easy to remain stuck in grieving our former self and not move on to accept our Post-Cancer Self.

Early on a recent Sunday morning, I unearthed a great discovery while cleaning. That’s always the risk of cleaning, isn’t it?  I found an old journal from 2009, several years before my cancer diagnosis.  In the journal, I had written a list of 100 things that I wanted to do before I die or aka the infamous Bucket List.  Vaguely I remember reading a book by some self-help author who appeared on Oprah who said to make that bucket list, and I did. BucketList As I read through the list, my first reaction was:  “Who is this shallow person?”  The list consisted of mostly fun things I wanted to accomplish.  Reading through it actually made me shiver as I thought to myself, “Is that all I used to think about?”  It really horrified me to read what now seemed to me like very meaningless goals.  For example, one of my former goals was to “buy a luxury car.”  Certainly, there is nothing wrong with owning a luxury car, but it would no longer be on my Top 100 things to do before I die.  Now I am so grateful and fortunate to own a non-luxury mid-size car that runs.  The list upset me so much that I ripped the papers out of the journal, crumpled the pages into a ball, and threw them into my garbage can.

Later in the day, I was sitting in Church quietly reflecting on that list.   It hit me that the discovery of that list was no accident.  Lately, I had been praying about accepting Post-Cancer Denise.  In order to do so, it was necessary for me to let go of my mental images of pre-cancer Denise.   So I came home and retrieved the crumpled papers from the trash.  Studying the list, I realized that pre-cancer Denise now felt like an old acquaintance that I had nothing in common with since at least 75% of those goals no longer held any meaning.  And ironically enough, the only three “friends” that I had included in my list, had all abandoned me during cancer.  That’s because they were the “fun kind of friends” and not the “no matter what kind of friends.”

I’ve said it before and it is worth repeating.  Many of you have written these same sentiments to me:  Cancer taught me more than all my previous life experiences combined.  Am I ready to say cancer was a blessing?  ABSOLUTELY NOT.   But I am ready to say that cancer matured my thinking times 100 and taught me what really matters in life.

If you are clinging on to your pre-cancer self, holding your old self in higher esteem, and yearning to go back to who you were before cancer diagnosis, ask yourself these questions:

1)  Besides your health, what do you miss the most about your pre-cancer self?

2)  If your pre-cancer self and your Post-Cancer Self sat down to have a conversation, what would be the content of that conversation?

3)  Are your goals different now than they were before cancer?

4)  How are the depths of your relationships different today than they were before cancer?

5)  What is the single most important lesson cancer taught you/is teaching you?

Spend some time to ponder the answer to these questions.  It will help move you along to accept your Post-Cancer Self and allow you to move forward.

Please check out my store, http://www.hellocourage.com, if you haven’t in a while.  Chemo hats are on sale, and I am getting rave reviews about the Wicking Sleepwear line that helps you sleep through the hot flashes!  It is of the highest quality, Made in USA by a company that just built an amazing new factory in Alabama to bring jobs to the USA.CH-crochettealblack1CH-h4activitydenimred1CH-h4clochegraywool1

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Selecting Your Cancer Medical Team – Priceless

Quite often I get emails asking my opinion about Oncologists or Surgeons.  Even though the patient has a gut feeling the doctor “isn’t the match for me” or “there’s just something I can’t put my finger on” or “I want someone who gives me more hope,” the patient still feels hesitant to look elsewhere or get a second opinion.   After cancer diagnosis, your head is reeling, your life is turned upside down, but remember, your doctor works for you!!  You, or your insurance carrier, are paying him or her for their services!

The  advice I give is this:  Go to the best doctors now or at the very least, get a second opinion from the best.  Your treatment should be the latest and the best.  Your life depends upon it whether you are Stage 0 or Stage 4. If you do not, you may end up there anyway but in much more dire circumstances. There are fabulous Oncologists and Surgeons in small towns and small hospitals as well as in the largest and best cancer hospitals.  The important part is to FIND THEM!

For example, it is in your best interest to find a BREAST surgeon if you have Breast Cancer, not a General Surgeon to do a Mastectomy or Lumpectomy.  Survival rates are higher when a Breast Surgeon does your surgery.   Johns Hopkins Cancer Center explains the reason for this far better than I can:

http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/avon_foundation_breast_center/treatments_services/breast_surgical_oncology/

The benefit of some of the large top cancer hospitals is that most of them use a team approach.  At the cancer center where I received treatment, University of Michigan,  and at most large cancer centers, there is a Multidisciplinary Tumor Board that meets and discusses every single patient that walks through the door diagnosed with cancer.  Not just ONE CANCER EXPERT  makes the decision, but at least TWENTY-FOUR CANCER EXPERTS collectively decide a patient’s course of treatment.  When I knew that many experts were charting my course of treatment, the burden was off my shoulders!  My trust level increased tremendously.

Perhaps a woman is Stage 1 and is on the fence about whether she should receive Chemotherapy.  Having dozens of cancer experts weigh in is invaluable not only because she will have the right treatment for her, but later she will not have regrets.   My sister’s close friend, Cheryl, was a woman like this.  She initially  she was Stage 1, but then had a few nodes involved, which moved her to Stage 2.  However, her local hospital said because she was in her 60s no Chemotherapy was necessary.  Cheryl has worked in the medical field her entire life and did not trust that opinion for her.  She flew to Houston to M. D. Anderson, the Number One cancer center in the USA, to get a second opinion.  Two of Cheryl’s three children’s lives were saved at M. D. Anderson as both had rare cancers in their 20s when they were given little to no hope locally.  Her past experience taught Cheryl to get to the best right away!  M. D. Anderson recommended Chemotherapy which Cheryl did.  Cheryl has no regrets as she knows she got the best care for her.

Not all of us can travel to M. D. Anderson.  But certainly it could not hurt to travel a few hours or a day’s drive to get a second opinion that could save your life.  Often cancer patients give more time to researching for a new car than they do for an Oncologist and Surgeon.  Please do not be that patient!

At larger cancer centers,  Oncologists only deal with their particular expertise of cancer.  A Breast Oncologist only deals with cancers of the breast and their next patient is not a prostate cancer patient.  Also, Clinical Trials are also more readily available at many of the larger cancer centers.  This is especially important because once again, it may save your life.

We all know cancer is expensive, even if you have the best insurance.  Often people hesitate to go to major hospitals because they question whether their insurance is accepted.  The benefit of large cancer hospitals is they have a lot of clout and will fight for your insurance carrier to cover you at their facility.  Initially, I was rejected by my insurance company and was told my major cancer center was Out of Network.  But with the weight of a big cancer hospital behind me, they were the ones who talked with my insurance company.  Next thing I knew my insurance company  changed their mind to In Network and covered all of my treatment.

Here is a list of the 2012-13 Top Oncology Hospitals in the USA by U.S .News and World Report which is well-respected.  If you live outside of the USA, do your research in your country!  It is so important!

http://health.usnews.com/best-hospitals/rankings/cancer

A woman recently wrote this sad plea on a Breast Cancer Discussion Board one month before her death.

“I am looking for a treatment center that someone can give me personal recommendations for that facility. I am in (her location) and do not have the confidence in my oncologist after a couple of  incidences. My recurrence to stage IV was within the past month. I have had one treatment of Doxil. We are having trouble getting my platelets up so I can have treatments but my gut feeling is to go somewhere else or I will die.”

I had communicated with this woman in the past.  An awful thing had happened to her when she was GIVEN THE TOTALLY WRONG CHEMO DRUG at one of her infusions.  Obviously, that should not happen.  Within a year after treatment, she progressed to Stage IV.  This woman’s instincts were correct.  She did die and quickly.  When the wrong chemo drug was administered to her in her Oncologist’s office, she gave the Oncologist the benefit of the doubt.  Perhaps this story could have  a different outcome.

Please follow your instincts when it comes to your Medical Team.  And it never hurts to have that second or third opinion.

Breast Cancer Has Turned Me Into a Bitch

I’ve gotten plenty of emails from breast cancer survivors stating those exact words!    You can blame the steroids all through treatment, but after treatment,  I think the more accurate explanations would be these:

Breast Cancer brought much clarity into my life.

I’m no longer afraid to say what I think.

I do not tolerate or call people friends who only use me for their personal gain.

My anger does not get suppressed any more as I am learning to express it.

I now recognize when others are trying to manipulate me.

My opinions matter, and I’m not afraid to state how I feel.

Add yours:  ___________________________________

When we exhibit these new behaviors, we often think we are a “bitch” because we don’t have a better word to describe it.   For some, these behaviors are totally foreign.

“Who is this person?” you wonder.

You are a new, emotionally healthier version of your former self, that’s who!  Rejoice in it!  Many people never have the opportunity to learn these valuable life lessons!

Lessons of Cancer – Say Goodbye to Holiday Stress

This is the first time in two years that a little bit of normal is back into my life around the holidays.   Two years ago I came home from the hospital after a Mastectomy on Thanksgiving Day and two days after Christmas, I began Chemotherapy.  Last year I was just a few months post treatment and still too tired to worry about it. But this year there is a little more of a temptation to let the Crazy Christmas mentality back into my life.  I REFUSE TO DO SO!  I had to go through too much suffering and learning during Cancer Treatment to go back to any craziness! If you are going through Cancer Treatment as you read this, the holidays can still be nice for you.  They will not be your old holidays, and they will be cut back greatly because you have no choice.  You do not have the energy.  The choices will be made for you because you and treatment come first.  It will not feel like it, but it will give you valuable lessons that you will later appreciate.

If you are a Cancer Survivor, you have probably learned too much to allow a simple thing like a holiday to make you nuts.  It is way down on the totem pole for that kind of behavior!   Getting ready to go through a mammogram or scan allows you to be nuts.  The holidays do not!

Envision Peace – close your eyes right now and picture your ideal holiday scene.  What does it involve – practicing your faith, being with family and friends, drinking a cup of cocoa in front of a fire, watching “The Christmas Story” for the 47th time or relaxing in your pjs nibbling at food prepared ahead of time? I doubt it included over the top stress, temper flaring, yelling at your family, piling guilt on your adult children because they won’t do what you want them to do, and being a mad woman.  But often that is what holidays consist of which is absolute and utter nonsense! Picture your ideal and then make it happen.  You may not have had control over your cancer or treatment, but YOU HAVE HOLIDAY CONTROL!!

Holiday Schedule – put you and your closest family members on the calendar FIRST not last. During cancer treatment, EVERYTHING revolved around your medical appointments so you are definitely able to keep a calendar!  Go to that calendar right now and mark out sufficient days to do things you and your family actually LIKE to do and are important to you.  Weed out the things you DON’T LIKE to do.  I think we lose sight of what we really LIKE to do!

Plan enough days to do things that you need time to do – like shopping, wrapping presents, or other things that you feel are a necessity for you to do.  If it starts to feel all stressful, cut it out.  Make yourself a priority.  If some social invitation comes in and you already have your calendar marked, JUST SAY NO!   YOU ARE BUSY!!

If you have young children, obviously there are more things to consider.  And if you have a demanding spouse or significant other, rethink their role in the holiday season.  If all of the burdens are being placed upon you, why do you accept this behavior?   Remember, YOU create the rules because usually it is the woman who gets the majority of the responsibility during the holiday season.

Almost every cancer survivor I speak to says one thing they miss about cancer treatment is being able to play the “cancer card” to get out of anything social.  You still hold other cards in your hand, like the “My health comes first” card.  You are still allowed and encouraged to play that card!

However, sometimes we say no to a social event that could bring us much joy in favor of doing something that brings us no joy!   Be cautious to truly think about what brings you joy and feeds your soul before you refuse that invitation.  During cancer, we were forced to hibernate.  Sometimes that gets too comfortable post treatment!

Christmas and Holiday Traditions – Most of us stress ourselves out because “we have always baked grandmother’s cookies” or “I’ve  never missed a year of sending Christmas cards” or “I always put 10,000 lights outside.”  Well, guess what?  You do not need to do any of those things if it causes you stress!  It is not a competition with your dead grandmother!   I find that stress happens to me when I am doing things I do not like to do or if I have no control over it.  If you are going through Cancer Treatment, many of those things are not even an option.   Suddenly they become very unimportant.

Change it up – Two years ago our family had Thanksgiving on the Sunday before Thanksgiving because I was going to be in the hospital.   By being forced to change it up, we found out we LIKED having Thanksgiving the Sunday before Thanksgiving.  We are doing it again this year by choice. Do not be afraid to change up your family traditions to times or places that are less stressful for you.  Or really let go and let another family member host Christmas.  If you are going through treatment, this becomes a necessity.

Make New Traditions – One new Thanksgiving tradition for me is to send Thanksgiving cards to my Breast Surgeon, my Oncologist, and my two Nurse Practitioners for their help and contribution to my healing.  By sending them a card and note every year,  I feel that I can give them gratitude so they can continue to give that encouragement to others.  I can never repay them for all of their help and years of schooling and sacrifices they made to help me.   But I can let them know of my great appreciation for them, so sending them a card makes me be able to give a little back to them.

Cancer freed me from the thinking I have to be busy during the holidays, I have to attend social functions so I can be somebody, and I have to go see The Nutcracker at the local theatre every year. I practice my faith as a Roman Catholic so I want my Christmas to reflect my gratitude to God for life and the simplicity of the Christmas message.

What do you want your holidays to reflect?

Fear of Recurrence – Lessons along the way

The biggest fear after discovering you have cancer is then worrying it will return.    The fear of recurrence begins during treatment and never ends.  It takes managing your fears to keep it to a tolerable level.   For the next four blog posts, I am going to focus on dealing with fear of recurrence including ways to prevent recurrence.

My neighbor, Lisa, is a 12 year survivor of Stage IV Lymphoma.  She was not expected to live.  The doctors threw every treatment at her because she was only in her 30s with three school-age children.  It worked and all three kids are now in college!  However, 12 years later she told me never more than a few hours go by that the fear of recurrence doesn’t enter her thoughts.  The advice she gave me is “Do the best you can to control them.”

Here are things that help me.  And remember, it is like playing that arcade game, Whack-a-Mole.  There is always a new fear that will arise.  Keep beating them!

whack-a-mole

1)  It is unbelievable how many aches and pains we have just because of aging, medications like Tamoxifen or Aromatase Inhibitors and life circumstances.  When my first fears of recurrence began, I would call it “organ of the week” because each and every week something new was hurting.  Good advice was given to me at the beginning of my Survivor journey from another Survivor:  wait 6 weeks before you do anything.  NOW I SAY THIS WITH CAUTION…  the 6 week plan does not work for everyone.  Obviously, if I was having some serious symptom, I would call my Oncologist or physician immediately.

I am talking about mostly muscular pains from aging and the drugs!  Some days I have severe pain from the Arimidex that it is difficult to get out of bed.  Some days I do not.   For me, the 6 week plan has been invaluable advice to me because it calms me down.  BUT THAT MIGHT NOW WORK FOR YOU!   I am not giving medical advice, simply suggestng that you have a plan that you put in place and speak openly to your Oncologist about it.

All of my symptoms have gone away, usually within a week or two.  I kept having pain in the rib area under the breast that was removed.  Rib pain can be common from radiation.  But this was more intense.  I was terrified. Finally it dawned on me that I had started getting out of bed in a new way, throwing my arm over my head and pushing off the headboard, because of my Lymphedema arm.  Well, as soon as I readjusted and found a better way to get out of bed, the pain went away and has stayed gone.

Before you panic about some new ailment, really think about what you have done, what it could be from or what you may have done to cause the pain.   Things that would never have bothered you in the past, are now huge deals!!   And DEFINITELY call your Oncologist or physician immediately if you have some serious symptom.

2)  Learn to try to discipline the thoughts that come into your brain many times a day.  When fear grips me, I try to step back and say, “Oh hello fear of recurrence thought.  There you are again.  But you know what?  You are not going to ruin my day.”    Learning to talk to the fear like a spoiled child gives me more control.

3)  Ask your God to give you encouragement.  This has helped me so many times.  Last week I prayed the prayer that I needed encouragement.  Later that day,  I was sitting in my living room and the thought came to me that I should run over to my local beauty school and get a pedicure.   I called and was told to come right over.

After I sat in the pedicure chair, the student asked me about my arm because I wear a Lymphedema sleeve.  I told her I was a breast cancer survivor.  Another student was walking by the chair and heard those words.  She immediately stopped.   This gal was in her 40s.  She proceeded to tell me she was a 10 year breast cancer survivor –  Stage 3, Triple Positive – MY EXACT DIAGNOSIS!  She was on a clinical trial back 10 years ago and had the same drugs I had taken for treatment.   She said that she always wanted to go to beauty school, but breast cancer got in the way.  Delaying it because she thought she would die or have a recurrence, finally at the 10 year survival point, she decided it was now or never!   What words of encouragement our spontaneous meeting brought to me!

4)  Do things that make you think you can keep cancer recurrence from happening.   In my future posts, I will tell you about things that I do – like supplements and nutrition.  I told my Oncologist even if these things do nothing, the placebo effect for me is huge.  He agreed.

If you have hints or advice for others about things you do to manage recurrence fears, please post and let us know!   And do look for my next posts to help give you more tools!    Be sure to visit my Online Breast Cancer Store at www.hellocourage.com     Thanks!     Denise

Cancer Survivorship – What Does It Mean?

It was time for our annual 4th of July family gathering to celebrate the 17th birthday of my nephew, Tyler.  His father, my former brother-in-law, is a 35 year survivor of Stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I’ve written about Trent before as his life is inspiring.  He was not expected to live, and when he did live, he was told he would never have any children because of the strong chemo drugs he went through in the late 1970s.  The drugs Trent had to endure are no longer used.  These drugs were used for torture during World War I.  Plus, Trent had no anti-nausea drugs like we are so fortunate enough to receive now.

As Trent and I stood talking, my nephew who resembles his dad in so many ways, walks up and immediately with a smile says, “cancer talk” as he could tell  by our demeanor what Trent and I were discussing.   It is a secret language when cancer survivors get together.  Last time Trent and I had a deep discussion, I was still in patient status.  Now I graduated to his level and better understand his cancer survivorship talk.  If you are a cancer patient, be encouraged about the lessons you are learning through the great suffering.  If you are a cancer survivor, you will understand.  If, thankfully, you have not had to endure cancer, life can teach you these lessons in a myriad of ways.  But try to go the easy route and learn them on your own so some severe disease doesn’t have to be the teacher.

Trent says that quite frequently people ask him why he is always so happy.  He then shares with them that he has won the lottery twice in his life – being a cancer survivor and having the son he was told he would never have.   Immediately, Trent launches into how you hear some people saying things like “the worst day on the golf course is better than the best day at work” and complaining about every little thing in their lives.  Trent and I then discussed how we try not to judge others, but feel like we have discovered the secret to living knowing that we were so close to death.  “It is all about your attitude,” Trent shares, “and don’t get caught up in the little things that don’t matter.”

I had this Subway Solid Wood Sign designed with important words that I believe it takes to go from Cancer Patient to thriving Cancer Survivor.  Free Shipping to Continental USA – take a look at my store www.hellocourage.com   or click on the Sign Picture for more information!

Survivor Sign Black

I recently read this article by Dr. Lissa Rankin entitled “10 things I learned from people who survived cancer.”    There are many truths to her writings.  However, we all know cancer patients who really wanted to live, but didn’t –my own father being one of them.  My dad died only 3 months after being diagnosed with Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer.  God only knows the answer to that much bigger mystery.   But I share Dr. Rankin’s article, because Trent and I determined there is so much truth in all of the things she writes in this article

As a physician who interviewed women who had survived breast cancer. . . and who studied patients who experienced spontaneous remissions from cancer as part of the research for my book. . .I discovered that those who had overcome cancer shared one remarkable thing in common. They had all faced death and made a conscious decision to live every day like it might be their last.

The more interviews I did, the more I noticed that these people were living differently than most of the people I knew who had not been diagnosed with cancer. Curious what I learned?

Here’s what these courageous people taught me about how to live.

1. Be unapologetically YOU.

People who survive cancer tend to get feisty. They walk around bald in shopping malls and roll their eyes if people look at them funny. They say what they think. They laugh often. They don’t make excuses. They wear purple muumuus when they want to.

2. Don’t take crap from people. 

People who survive cancer stop trying to please everybody. They give up caring what everybody else thinks. If you might die in a year anyway (and every single one of us could), who gives a flip if your Great Aunt Gertrude is going to cut you out of her will unless you sell out your authenticity to stay in her good graces?

3. Learn to say no.

People with cancer say no when they don’t feel like going to the gala. They avoid gatherings when they’d prefer to be alone. They don’t let themselves get pressured into doing things they really don’t want to do.

4. Get angry. Then get over it.

People who survive cancer get in your face. They question you. They feel their anger. They refuse to be doormats.  They demand respect. They feel it. Then they forgive. They let go. They surrender. They don’t stay upset. They release resentment. But they don’t stuff their feelings.

5. Don’t obsess about beauty.

People who survive cancer no longer worry about whether they have perfect hair, whether their makeup looks spotless, or whether their boobs are perky enough. They’re happy just to have boobs (if they still do). They’re happy to be alive in their skin, even if it’s wrinkled.

6. Do it now. 

Stop deferring happiness. People who survive cancer realize that you can’t wait until you kick the bucket to do what you’re dying to do. Quit that soul-sucking job now. . . Prioritize joy. Live like you mean it—NOW.

7. Say “I love you” often. 

People who survive cancer leave no words left unspoken. You never know when your time is up. Don’t risk having someone you love not know it.

8. Take care of your body.

People who survive cancer have a whole new appreciation for health. Those who haven’t been there may take it for granted. So stop smoking. Eat healthy. Drink in moderation. Maintain a healthy weight. Avoid toxic poisons. Get enough sleep. Above all else, prioritize self care.

9. Prioritize freedom and live like you mean it.

People who survive cancer know that being a workaholic isn’t the answer. Money can’t buy health. Security doesn’t matter if you’re six feet under. Sixteen hours a day of being a stress monster is only going to make you sick. . .

10.  Take risks.

People who survive cancer have faced their fears and gotten to the other side.  They know life is for living because they almost lost it. True aliveness and in taking risks. So go sky diving if you want. Bungee jump. Hang glide. Spend your savings.  Live like you might die tomorrow.

Are you doing these things? Or are you waiting for a life threatening diagnosis to test out how much you want to live?