Coping With Cancer – guest post

One of the reasons we like to read other blogs is to share in the experience of fellow survivors, looking for similarities and differences, new insights and catharsis.  But another sort of opportunity sometimes pops up – actual practical advice on how to make your cancer experience better.  I discovered this little gem of a blog when Amanda, a stage 3b melanoma survivor, wrote, asking to have her blog, Marry Mint,  added to our blog lists.  Amanda is 24 years old and her youth shines through her writing with a sense of fun and optimism.  I commend your attention.

On the housekeeping side, I opened up the blog again to registration and was immediately flooded with 30-50 new “readers” each day.  Much as I would like to believe all these are genuine, I greatly suspect that they are not.  I have yet to discover the motivation of these scammers since they never attempt to leave comments.  Maybe it is just the dubious thrill of causing mischief.  But for the time being I have taken down registration permission while I investigate.  If you wish to make a comment, please write directly to  Also let me know if you have registered and are a legitimate reader.  Otherwise I will be deleting most of the 6,000 names.

Welcome back! If you missed Part 1 of this series you can find it here. The skills you learned in Part 1 are still applicable throughout part 2 🙂
Now that you have made through the diagnosis phase and you are beginning your treatments; lets see if we can come up with some ways to help things suck just a little less.
Nobody’s cancer treatment will look the same. Medically. Emotionally. Psychologically. You won’t find two people who shared an identical experience. Fertility.  Employment. School. Social. Finances. Family.  Everyone’s shit is different. Make sure you keep this in mind.
What you may find is that this is the point in the game in which you start figuring out what works for you. Maybe you’re starting to create your own tips, tricks and coping skills. Yay! I’m sure you always wanted to add to your resume “can deal with life-threatening illnesses,” right?
Something else to note is that what works at the beginning may not work later on; that’s completely fine and completely normal. At the beginning you may find humor is you most effective coping skill, but as you move through your treatment exercise works better. I don’t know. Just remember: if your “go-to” isn’t working have back up efforts on standby.
How’s that for rambling? Lets get to the list. List are better for everyone, am I right?
1. control : I talked about control in part one, but it’s important, so it’s back. I found it so important to take control of the things I could.  I know you’re probably thinking “this whole thing is out of my control!” You’re kinda right. BUT, you can control some things. Take your medications when and how you’re supposed to. Follow the diet you’re supposed to. Maintain the fitness regimen you can/should. Be the best damn patient your oncologist has ever seen! This way you aren’t a bystander in you health care.
2. wear your own clothes : [at the hospital anyway. if you like to wear other people’s clothes at home, that’s your own business ;)] There is a lot of psychology behind wearing those fabulous hospital gowns. You instantly become a patient once you put those suckers on. Bring sweats! In my experience the reason you wear the gowns for scans is to not interfere with imaging (i.e.. metal, strong dyes, etc.) So, bring pants without elastic or metal, a plain t-shirt, and wear your own shit! Be your own advocate about this. You’ll feel better if your running around in your own clothes. Promise. If you are in the hospital to receive chemo or do other fun stuff…wear a button up shirt so they have easy access to the goods. Figure out loopholes to be able to wear your own clothes!
Note: This is not possible all the time. I get that. (Skin cancer patient here! More people have seen me naked than a Las Vegas stripper.) If you have to be in hospital clothes, stand up as much as you can or sit in a chair instead of on the exam table or bed. I swear you just feel better.
3. learn the 5 stages of grief : Here you can find a quick summary of the different stages. I was told people with cancer frequently cycle through these same stages even though they may not describe cancer as “grief.” You may not experience each of them and you may not experience them in order, but just read them. Better to prepare yourself for whatever tricks your mind may start pulling on you.
4. communicate : I certainly hope you have people close to you helping you through this time in your life. Make sure you communicate your wants and needs to them. CLEARLY. I talk a bit about this here, but people only want to help you. Let them! Plus you kinda need it, whether you’re ready to admit that or not…
Example: I was only 19 when I was diagnosed so I was walking that fine line of being a child/adult. My parents were thoroughly pissing me off during appointments. They would ask their questions and talk with the doctor BEFORE I had a chance to. (Of course they only had the best intentions and were doing what they knew how to do–take care of me.) Errrr. It took me having a little sit down with Mom and Dad and telling them what I wanted for things to change. I didn’t mind them asking questions; but I needed to go first.  (In hindsight I should have had that conversation much sooner and with much more grace…sorry guys!) Things were so much better after that!
5. bring someone with you : Somebody should come with you to doctor’s appointments. Not for support, although that is nice, but to hear the things you WILL miss. A person can only listen to so much talk about the things that are wrong with their body or medications or surgeries  before they just can’t hear anymore. Once you start stressing, your listening skills go out the window! Have someone there taking notes so you can know what the doctor actually said to you.
6. be you : Make time to continue doingthe things you enjoy. This is not only important to just have fun but it’s also a good way to monitor your mental health. If you are struggling to come up with things that you enjoy; you need to mention this to your doctor or the person I told you to talk to in part 1.
[I want to talk about mental health in a separate post. This has been my greatest struggle surrounding my cancer diagnosis. For now, I just want to make sure you are communicating honestly and clearly with your doctor and have an emotionally neutral person to talk to.]
7. reach out : Here is the part where I get to tell you that you have been given a blessing. You can help somebody who is being diagnosed with cancer. Find this person and know you are valuable to them.
*You yourself can also find joy in others who have cancer. They understand your experiences unlike anyone else. They don’t feel sorry for you. They won’t give “the look.”  Have fun with them 🙂
8. use and abuse : Cancer Card and Pity Purchase!
MD Anderson has a great site on dealing with cancer here and on survivorship here.
Cancer people–what would you like to add?


~ Marry Mint


About Dennis Pyritz

Dennis W. Pyritz, RN, BA, BSN, has been a cancer nurse since 1987 and a cancer and bone marrow transplant survivor since 2004. In December 2001 he was diagnosed with t-cell prolymphocytic leukemia (T-PLL), a rare aggressive form of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Dennis was treated with the then new monoclonal antibody, alemtuzumab (Campath) as this disease has a median survival of 7.5 months. He achieved a 26 month remission but relapsed in February 2004. He was retreated with Campath and went into a second remission. In August 2004 he underwent an allogeneic peripheral blood stem cell transplant with his brother, Mark, as donor. Dennis has remained in remission since - a near miracle. Throughout his career as cancer nurse and patient, Dennis has had the opportunity to speal to both lay and professional groups. Dennis has spoken on cancer topics and survival issues across the country as well as in the United Kingdom, Norway, Austria, Portugal, Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, Trinidad, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Cyrpus, Israel, and India.

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