Below is the first of several guest posts to Survivorship Partners’ blog.
Jessica is a walking definition of advocacy and really illustrates how vital being proactive is in survivorship. What can we learn from her in advocating for yourself or your loved one?
What does it mean to advocate for yourself?
It means survival. Unfortunately, in today’s medical maze, there aren’t many successful treatments for my type of cancer. I’m fighting a malignant brain tumor, and the replication of those nasty cells progress faster than current healing science.
According to the traditional system, my treatment plan is supposed to go something like this: brain surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, another brain surgery, maybe another type of chemo, and then an agonizing death while my body and mind degenerate. Sound like fun? No. Nope, the outlook is horrible. Is that acceptable? No!
If your doctor doesn’t have the means to help you survive, it is your duty to look toward other options. You have to fight to survive, which is heartbreaking because those with these death sentences are exhausted and beat down already.
At first, I believed my doctor’s words and thought that there was nothing I could do. My very prestigious neurosurgeon and accomplished radiation oncologists both said that I could eat whatever I want. They said I should live my life however it makes me happy. It sounded nice. I was set to sustain on red licorice, peanut M&M’s, sourdough bread and glorious full bodied red wines. Yum! But, something didn’t sit right. It just didn’t make sense that my food choices didn’t matter. I mean, wait a minute, I had heard that you are what you eat? If food is fueling my body then it doesn’t make sense to load up on junk.
I realized that there was so much that I didn’t know, and I decided to figure out more about what causes cancer and what feeds it. Then, here and there, I kept hearing stories of survivors of brain cancer. There are only few, but I realized that those few have valuable keys to survival. That became my new goal, copying survivors.
There is so much that you can do, including supplements, diet, exercise, meditation, clinical trials, etc. When I came out of my brain surgeries (there were two consecutive) my doctors told my family and me that I have a 1% chance of surviving this cancer. Scary! At least it sounded scary, but once I started researching alternative treatments I realized that I can increase my survival by several or tens of percentages.
You can not be afraid to do hard work. You can not give up (except for once in awhile when you really need some ice cream). Each cancer is different. Become an expert on your diagnosis, on the treatments, on the survivors, on the diet, on the mechanisms of cancer cell division, of how the cancer feeds itself, and what the cancer cells are comprised of. I know it’s a lot and it takes an incredible amount of energy, but that’s what friends and family are for. Don’t be afraid to delegate. People want to help you, they want to see you survive. Everyone loves the underdog! Yes, you are going to be exhausted, and sometimes you won’t want to go on, but you have to. You need to. You must. You can do it!
You must be your own advocate. If a treatment doesn’t feel right, or if the risks outweigh the benefits, you don’t have to do it. For example, my radiation oncologist has been trying to force me into doing radiation, even though he admits that it will not extend my life and that there are very serious short and long term effects. You are a customer in the medical system. Your surgeon, your oncologist, your radiation oncologist, each nurse, they all work for you. I’m not recommending that you give off an attitude because that’s just unnecessary and rude. But keep that in mind while you are in appointments. You deserve to be treated with kindness and respect. This is your body, your life, and your survival.
If you want to survive, and I believe that we all have the ability to do so, advocate for yourself. It’s the biggest challenge you will ever face. Contrary to common belief, you’re not fighting the medical world, you’re fighting yourself. Once you stop fighting against your sadness, or disappointment of your illness, you can dust yourself off and decide that you are your best treatment.