I am a long-term cancer survivor-32 years cancer-free after being diagnosed with a confirmed case of malignant bone and lymph cancer in 1978. Fortunately, I am not unique, but neither do I represent the average-far from it.
The conventional yardstick for declaring a cancer cure is 5-year survival after initial diagnosis, but even by this meager benchmark, progress and success using traditional methods are not overly inspiring. In fact, earlier diagnosis alone, without improvements in treatment or life span, will result in improved cancer “cure” statistics. No…my goals were long-term recovery, vibrant health and a cancer-free future…not 5-year survival.
So, what sets me, and others like me, apart from the majority? It would be dishonest and simplistic to distill success down to any single factor, but I believe a central principle to my survival was the determination to survive and a willingness to take active responsibility for my recovery.
Nearly all the long-term survivors I know share this trait. I consider it a precursor to the attitudes, actions and habits that lead to the restoration of health. Let me clarify and expand on this theme.
I was determined to locate, connect with, and learn from long-term cancer survivors, preferably those who had overcome long odds and had remained cancer-free for 10 years or longer. I read constantly, conversed with nearly anybody about my situation, and conducted interviews with those who had prevailed and reestablished excellent health, (not just the absence of cancer). Recovered cancer patients were my most valuable resource. I studied the methods of their practitioners, seeking to identify common threads in the most successful approaches. I obtained 2nd and 3rd opinions from within and without traditional medicine. I asked my traditional doctors for their success rates. I did my best to remain objective and purposeful.
My studies expanded my knowledge, opened new doors, gave me hope and prepared me for action. But equally important, my efforts gave me a sense of having some power and control over my destiny, rather than feeling like a helpless victim. Researching solutions kept me engaged in productive activities and buoyed my attitude and spirits, which I am convinced had beneficial effects within my body. A positive goal energizes both mind and body.
I admit luck played a role, (though it is amazing how “lucky” one gets when focused steadfastly on a goal). Through my many interviews and searches, I discovered FACT (The Foundation for the Advancement in Cancer Therapy, www.rethinkingcancer.org), headquartered in New York City. In FACT, I hit the mother lode, and gained access to knowledgeable professionals, case studies, long-term recovered cancer patients, sound research, practitioners and resources that I found logical and compelling. I consider it a reliable source of time-tested information. (Beware of quick fixes, the silver bullet of the day, and approaches without long-term track records).
After spending a few months reading, learning and interviewing doctors, patients and practitioners, I began carefully weighing my options. I was leaning toward non-traditional approaches, but being an engineer, grounded in technology and the scientific method, I wanted to compare data as objectively as possible-this was too important a decision for rash, thoughtless action. I interviewed my oncologist for nearly 90 minutes and plied him with pages of prepared questions. Without my prior education, he would likely have dictated my method of treatment unilaterally, but I had already resolved to make all final decisions related to my recovery. Frankly, that was the only thing I was sure of at that point. (It should go without saying that good stewardship implies one remain open to truth, objectively weighing risks and benefits as dispassionately as possible.)
No great endeavor is without risk-this is certainly true of cancer. While there are no guarantees, I believe the prudent choice is to retain governance over ones treatment, every step of the way, regardless of the path chosen. (Given my long-term success, and that of others like me, I continue to favor a time-tested, metabolic approach, also referred to as bio-repair.) Many people, in the face of fear or indecision, cede decision-making authority, actively or passively, to their doctor, a family member or a trusted advisor. This choice carries potentially devastating consequences. Retaining the power to decide does not mean acting blindly, foolishly or without the benefit of your doctor”s experience and training-it does mean questioning, listening, understanding, collaborating, weighing risks and benefits, and making final decisions responsibly. And please understand, not deciding is a decision.
By action, I mean purposefully and knowledgeably directing and/or approving your course of treatment and retaining veto power over the recommendations or dictates of others. You”re the captain. What I advocate will not appeal to everyone, nor is it possible in some situations. Action involves effort, judgment, decision and risk, but recovering from cancer is not a risk-free proposition even if you blindly follow the recommendations of your doctor. Recent cases, such as Ted Kennedy, Farrah Fawcett and Patrick Swayze, where money was no object, should make that abundantly clear. Sooner or later, you must act. It is unwise to procrastinate unnecessarily, but I believe it is equally unwise to rush blindly and uninformed into treatment out of panic-your cancer treatment deserves thoughtful consideration. In most cases, cancer takes months or years to develop, and with surprisingly few exceptions, there is time to investigate and make better-informed decisions. Taking command of your destiny unleashes positive healing forces within your body, as study after study confirm. I can say without doubt, my research and the many interviews I conducted with long-term recovered cancer patients gave me the confidence and courage to take my first, shaky steps on the road to recovery. I still found it a bit daunting, but I had sound principles, history and the successes of others on my side.
What Type of Person Are You?
Personalities vary widely. I am naturally self-directed and insist on making my own decisions. Frightening as it was, a life-and-death decision was certainly not one I was willing to relinquish without some serious thought; nobody had a bigger stake in my survival than me. Some people are not as comfortable in a leadership role. If you are a follower by nature, or find it difficult or impossible to make weighty decisions, you may need to find a stronger willed, highly trusted advocate to assist you on your journey, but choose carefully and wisely. By that action alone, you are already taking some responsibility for the direction of your treatment, aren’t you? In my opinion, it is impossible not to be responsible for ones life decisions-it”s only a matter of whether we do so actively or passively. Continue to learn and develop your decision-making muscles, continue to accept more responsibility, and never surrender your veto power. It”s your body and your life. Nobody cares more about your survival than you.
As you move forward, consider these sensible guidelines: 1) First, do no harm, 2) Physician, heal thyself. Ultimately, life is ours to live, and our choices, whether active or passive, shape our future.