CHRONIC HOPE #2: Learning to be healthy and have cancer

By Georgia Coats


“Wow!  You look great. Did you lose weight?”

In my late 20s and newly married, I enjoyed the positive feedback on an otherwise bleak situation.  I joked to myself, Yeah, it’s this great new plan… the CANCER DIET.  But in real life, I awkwardly responded, “Thanks,” with no explanation of the dark secret to my weight loss success.

Then there were the people who knew I had recently been diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML).  They said things differently.

“Awww, you look really good,” which was accompanied by a sympathetic head tilt and a hint of relief.  They were glad I wasn’t bald, pale, and gaunt like the poster child for the leukemia society.

I felt overwhelmed by these new life circumstances out of my control.  I needed to manage something.  This was stirring in me a passion for healthy living.

But, what is healthy?

Before my diagnosis, healthy meant the opposite of being sick.  After my diagnosis, healthy meant giving my body it’s best chance to thrive in the given circumstances.

Healthy meant being a wise manager of things I COULD control.

Healthy also meant not over-worrying about the things I couldn’t control.

I couldn’t control leukemia.  And I didn’t know how to manage the overwhelming feelings of fear, loss, and dying dreams.

If chronic leukemia was my new normal, I needed effective survival skills.  I needed to nurture hope and figure out healthy ways to interact with chronically present negative emotions.

With cancer come toxicities.

Toxicities that wear on the body accompany even the best cancer treatments.  Also in the shadows of effective cancer treatments looms the real threat of financial toxicity.

Healthy meant identifying and eliminating unnecessary toxicities while learning to live with the necessary ones.

I couldn’t control the toxicities of my treatments, but I could help my body be strong enough to handle them as best it could.  I rested more.  I ate less sugar.  I tried to stay active even when I felt fatigued or depressed.

I learned to sort my worries.

Author Amber Rae, in her book, Choose Wonder Over Worry: Move Beyond Fear and Doubt to Unlock your Full Potential, says that not all worry is bad.  We need to get rid of toxic worries so we can more clearly address healthy worries.

Devastating life challenges can be toxic on a marriage.  Or, they can make a marriage stronger.  The guilt of being a burden to my new husband was toxic.  But I couldn’t eliminate it on my own.

My husband chose to share my burden and join in my sorrow.  He waded through bills, unsolicited advice, and on hold with the doctor’s office.  He always referred to our diagnosis.  He took seriously his role of tenderly caring for his wife.

Together we learned to weed out toxic worry and trust God with each specific life challenge out of our control.

Rae describes healthy worry as a complement to wonder,  “If worry is the fear of what could go wrong, wonder is the curiosity of the unknown.”

I was far from nurturing curiosity.  But I could take baby steps towards healthy.  I felt empowered by healthy eating habits and an exercise routine.

For my husband and I, healthy meant being in the best spiritual, physical, and state of mind we could be to thrive through the toxicities we couldn’t control.  Healthy meant taking on our new life challenges… together.