Reactions to Diagnosis
of Cancer

 Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

A universally acclaimed peak performer, who had excelled in his field, was being interviewed by Charles Garfield, a keen researcher in peak performance and human potential. Garfield asked him what was his greatest achievement in life. His answer surprised Garfield

"Surviving cancer." He said this was the greatest challenge he had ever faced from any other competitor and it took all his peak performance skills and even more that he didn't know he had before he began to struggle with cancer. 

I have all the sympathy and respect for cancer survivors. I have thought each one of them as a "triumphant patient. " But I have never looked at a cancer survivor in this way. Each cancer survivor is a peak performer! 

It takes a set of unique abilities and powerful survival skills to handle the emotional and physical aspects of cancer and to go through the rigors of chemotherapy and radiation.

As I conduct a cancer support group, I have had the opportunity to personally get to know a few cancer survivors and I have really come to be impressed with the extraordinary qualities each one of them possesses. Bear in mind that these are regular attendants of a support group, itself a sign of persistence and active involvement in recovery and healthy behaviors. 

They have a tremendous sense of humor, particularly, the ability to find something funny in their own predicament. They can laugh at themselves. 

They are very "active" patients and they take charge of their treatment. They are knowledgeable about their illness and have read all they have access to about the course of illness, their chances for reoccurrence of cancer and permanent recovery, and the benefits and side effects of treatments being offered. They ask questions and keep trying various sources until they can get a satisfactory answer. 

They are on the courageous side of the spectrum. They are calculated risk takers, that is after finding out about the plusses and minuses of a particular technique, they don't waste time, and they take
prompt decisions. They have accepted that their cancer really demanded major changes in their attitudes, emotions, and their lifestyle. They are actively working on them trying to make those changes. 

They believe there was a purpose for their illness and the purpose was to become a better human being. They place a high value on the spiritual dimension of their life.

I don't have to educate them about the relationship between positive emotions and health. They are already convinced of it. They can relate from their personal experiences when anxiety, stress, and other conflicts affected their health and when in a positive frame of mind, they witnessed positive health outcomes. They try not to be overtaken by emotions of anger, grudges, and resentment. They are openly receptive to the use and learning of relaxation techniques and a regular practice of it in their daily life. 

Cancer survivors are also nutrition conscious. They are extremely supportive of their fellow beings who are going through the same process and are very generous with their time. They feed on hope rather than despair. They believe that the outcome of the intervention they are going to receive will be positive.

All observant people now and then wonder why, given the identical cancer growth and medical procedures for cancer treatment, one person dies and another one recovers completely. 

One person, when he hears the news about cancer immediately resigns from life. This first person, after receiving the diagnosis, has an internal dialogue to the effect, "Why put my family through more?" "What do I have to live for?" or "My life is over." He or she gets increasingly depressed, anxious, and isolated from self and others. 

The second person, after recovering from the initial confusion and shock, takes the time to review the priorities of life. He or she makes far reaching emotional changes, becomes a mellower person, changes the whole fabric of relationships with people, takes the time to "smell the roses" and engages in activities that are enjoyable. 

The second person is a survivor. With all the brilliant surgical procedures, radiation machines and impressive advances in chemotherapy, the real hero is the person who turns the whole ordeal in to a triumphant journey, truly a peak performer. So, if you are that cancer survivor, congratulate yourself, and if you are a friend or relative of that cancer survivor, offer your salutations to such a person!

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 


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