Determined to beat the odds, some people chose to face terminal cancer with a survivor mindset.
They know survival odds are not in their favor, but they have hope regardless. And they should, because people can live a long time with incurable cancers thanks to current anti-cancer treatments.
Today, people with an aggressive, incurable cancer called mesothelioma are outliving their prognosis because of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and immunotherapy.
Mesothelioma is a cancer caused by asbestos exposure. It can develop several decades after ongoing, heavy asbestos exposure. It takes many years, between 20 and 50, for asbestos to damage DNA in ways that lead to cancer.
The cancer most commonly develops in the lining of the lungs and is called pleural mesothelioma. Sometimes it develops in the lining of the abdomen. That condition is known as peritoneal mesothelioma.
Chemotherapy is the primary treatment for mesothelioma, and some people receive radiation therapy, too. A select few patients are diagnosed early enough to qualify for surgery, which can significantly extend survival.
Clinical trials are currently testing immunotherapy drugs on mesothelioma. Several immunotherapy drugs have helped certain patients to live years beyond the average one-year mesothelioma survival rate.
Cases of people living with mesothelioma beyond three, five and 10 years are becoming more common thanks to treatment advancements. These long-term survivors are sources of hope and inspiration to people newly diagnosed with mesothelioma.
Some of these survivors believed they could outlive their mesothelioma prognosis from the get-go. Others eventually develop a survivor mindset as they continue to live, shocking themselves and their oncology team.
What Is Survivor Mentality?
People with survivor mentality often possess a can-do attitude. They focus on solutions when problems arise. They muster hope despite the odds.
Some people with a survivor mindset operate on blind faith, while others are natural optimists or have realistic trust in modern medicine.
Those with survivor mentality are often resilient, meaning they bounce back relatively quickly after adversity.
However, being resilient and having a good attitude doesn’t mean that survivors force themselves to think positively all of the time.
What if Fear Takes Hold?
It’s easier to remain positive when the cancer is in control or shrinking. If the cancer grows, doubts about survival can creep into the mind. These are normal, realistic thoughts that even the most positive people with cancer will experience.
Thinking like a survivor doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Some cancer patients feel guilty about their dark emotions, worrying their fear and sadness will impact their survival.
Research shows this isn’t true. Feeling depressed, angry or anxious doesn’t make cancer grow. Having a positive outlook doesn’t improve survival, but it does affect quality of life.
Based on the evidence available to date, there’s no reason to believe that emotions can cause cancer or make it grow. When cancer patients are having a tough time, there’s no need to worry that attitude will shorten survival.
Tough days will challenge the survivor mindset. That’s to be expected with cancer. The goal is to maintain hope and garner motivation to keep surviving in the face of hardship.
Ways to Cultivate a Survivor Mindset
Start by making a list of available resources.
Research shows that psychological health in cancer survivors is the result of two factors: The stress of the cancer experience and the resources available for coping with cancer.
Cancer-related stress increases when people don’t have access to resources such as cancer treatment centers, clinical trials, medication, support groups or support from family and friends.
In other words, the more resources cancer patients have access to, the less stress they experience.
It’s hard to maintain a hopeful attitude when under distress. Making a list of cancer-related resources allows patients to recognize all the resources available to help them get through cancer.
Consider these other tips to cultivate a survivor mentality and healthy state of mind.
Try mental health therapy. Adjusting to life with cancer isn’t a walk in the park. Speaking with a counselor or social worker who specializes in oncology can help. Therapists work with patients and their families to develop healthy coping strategies and stress management skills.
Join a support group. Participating in a cancer support group is a great way to connect with other people who truly understand what it’s like to face cancer. It’s a healthy way to seek social support and process stress.
Learn relaxation techniques. Finding different ways to relax can improve mood and motivation amid tough times. Examples include breathing techniques, meditation, prayer, yoga and tai chi.
Get gentle exercise. Light exercise releases feel-good endorphins and improves stamina. Go for walks, take a bike ride or swim to boost mood and promote recovery from cancer treatment.
Enjoy a hobby. Getting lost in the enjoyment of a hobby is therapeutic and stress-relieving. Indulging in a hobby brings immense joy or a sense of inner calm, depending upon the activity. Whether it’s playing golf or a round of pool, reading books or taking dance lessons, taking up a hobby offers numerous benefits to people with cancer.
Don’t fret if you struggle with maintaining a positive outlook. Reach out to a therapist if you need help, and rely on family and friends for comfort and support to get through tough days.
With hope and determination, people facing cancer can cultivate a survivor mentality that will help them cope with the cancer experience.
Author bio: Michelle Whitmer has been a medical writer and editor for The Mesothelioma Center since 2008. Focused on the benefits of natural and integrative medicine for cancer patients, Michelle is a certified yoga instructor and graduated from Rollins College in Florida.
American Cancer Society. (2014, March 31). Attitudes and cancer. Retrieved from http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/emotionalsideeffects/attitudes-and-cancer
Andrykowski, M.A., Lykins, E., & Floyd, A. (2008). Psychological health in cancer survivors. Semin Oncol Nurs, 24(3): 193-201. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3321244/
MacDonald, A. (2011, March 28). Mental and emotional challenges of surviving cancer. Retrieved from http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/the-mental-and-emotional-challenges-of-surviving-cancer-201103282146
National Cancer Institute. (2012, December 10). Psychological stress and cancer. Retrieved from http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/coping/feelings/stress-fact-sheet
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