Centuries ago when I was in high school I remember one of my favorite teachers saying to me, “A sad saint is a sorry saint.” To be honest, I had no idea what she was talking about and it confused me because I was certainly not a saint, nor was I aspiring to be. At the time I was an angst-ridden teenager who was caught up in high school drama and feeling very sorry for myself and my pitiful life. What my teacher was trying to tell me at the time was that if I chose to be miserable, I would be miserable. Once I grasped her concept, I took it to heart and deliberately worked at being more upbeat, involved, and happy. Did that mean I was no longer a tormented teenager? Not entirely – but I was more aware of my demeanor and consciously took steps to avoid falling back into the “feeling sorry for myself” trap in which I’d been languishing.
As I’ve been dealing with my cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment these past many months, my teacher’s words have been very much in my mind. Anyone who has experienced this knows that it is very easy to feel sorry for oneself and to find yourself asking the Powers that Be, “Why me?” Not only is a diagnosis very scary, but chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation can be grueling, make us feel horrible, weaken our bodies, and destroy our spirit. Quite frankly – the whole thing stinks. Not only are you dealing with the physical and emotional effects of diagnosis and treatment – but on top of that you are handing over control of your life to your illness and to the clinicians who are treating you. It’s frustrating, exhausting, and defeating.
This is where that piece of wisdom I received so many years ago took on a whole new meaning for me. With so much now out of my control, I considered the things that I could control. Obviously diet and exercise are two very worthy biggies. In addition to those however I realized that I could control my attitude and my outlook. It wasn’t always easy and I definitely wasn’t able to maintain it around-the-clock, but by trying to be cheerful and to focus on the positives in my life I felt empowered. Trust me, I’m no Pollyanna. I still cry myself to sleep occasionally, I still curse my weakened body as I struggle to climb the stairs at night, and I’m still annoyed that I have little feeling in my fingertips. But more often than not, I try to keep a smile on my face, laugh at things that are funny (and maybe not so funny), breathe deeply, and appreciate what’s good in my life.
It’s so easy to focus on the negative when you feel like crap, but that’s giving in. It’s letting the disease control you. Instead, think back to what my teacher told me, oh so many moons ago, “A sad saint is a sorry saint.” Don’t be a sad saint. Resolve to be happy – even if it’s just to smile at another anxious patient while waiting to see your oncologist. Watch a funny show on TV and laugh out loud. Look at silly cat videos on YouTube. Do something every day that makes you smile – or even better LAUGH OUT LOUD. I promise that if you do, you will regain some of the control you have relinquished, but more importantly, you’ll feel better – both physically and emotionally.