The danger of helplessness

by Hilla Duka

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It’s spread beyond the lymph nodes. We found cancer cells in your bone marrow. And in your skeleton. She didn’t need to say the next sentence out loud, indeed she didn’t, but I still heard it as loud as if she had. You’re going to die from this.

 

There was no real discussion about treatment - she told me I would have a series of ten chemo sessions, I asked about the name of the different drugs  and she told me. And I asked the question I would guess everyone who gets this kind of news asks: What can I do? How can I improve my odds? Her answer was probably more devastating than the news of the cancer: There’s nothing you can do. The helplessness floored me. Desperately, I said: But I smoke! Surely I should quit, right? How about exercise? Should I work out? Go on long walks? And food, should I eat better? Surely there must be something I can do to help my body fight, to win as much time as possible, to become the miracle patient? And again, those kind eyes and harsh words: There’s nothing you can do. Go through the chemo, that’s all. It doesn’t matter if you smoke, eat what you like. And I heard the unspoken words: You’re not going to live long enough to reap the benefits of stopping smoking, enjoy what you can the little time you have left.

 

Once the initial shock of Finding Out abated, I started reading up on how diet and mental outlook affects cancer. I started drinking weird vegetable drinks, and immediately felt stronger and more energised. This spurred me on to continue making changes in my diet, finally quitting smoking, exercising as much as I can. I read up on the effects of refined sugar and white flour, and though I still eat some, I’m much more careful with it, and I can very clearly feel the difference.

 

I was afraid that these changes to my diet would be crippling to everyday life (I was already a vegetarian), but trying harder to eliminate things I believe to be harmful has actually lead to me being more interested in cooking - both for myself and for the kids. I enjoy looking for healthy treats for them for when they get home from school (usually starving), and even though they complain a bit about my obsessiveness, they will try everything I cook. Sometimes it’s a hit (homemade berry soup!), other times a terrible miss (the sugarless chocolate mousse I did for Shabbat this week...), but it’s always fun, I learn stuff, and all of us stay away from strange preservatives, e-numbers and sugar added to absolutely everything. Most of all, I don’t have to feel so very helpless, I feel as if I am at least doing everything I can in order to help my body fight. And as an added bonus, I get to teach my kids better habits when it comes to what to eat and how to take care of yourself.

 

My amazing therapist left work at the oncologist to start training doctors in how to give patients bad news. Here’s my input: stop telling people there’s nothing they can do. It creates this horrible feeling of helplessness, it’s toxic. Tell them to stop smoking, eat right and exercise. Tell them to meditate. It really can’t hurt, but it could potentially do them a world of good. And even if food, tobacco and meditation does nothing in the way of improve your odds, it'll improve your life quality, as you feel less helpless. 


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