Being single with cancer drives you to God

If you're single with cancer, you quickly find out you can't fight that battle on your own.

No matter how independent you've been, you need the help of other people to win this fight. I know. I'm a two-time cancer survivor.

The diagnosis itself is scary. It catches you off guard. Suddenly, your world stands still and everything you thought was important fades into the background. Your mind races from one possibility to another as you struggle with panic.

Not having a spouse for support make the situation even harder, but believe me when I tell you that you can make it through this. Being single with cancer will challenge every strength you have. That's why enlisting God's help in this fight is absolutely essential.

Single with cancer:
A sympathetic ear

In 1976 I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. I was 25 years old. I asked myself, "What did I do to deserve this?" Then I asked God the same question.

Of course, I didn't get an answer, so I was left wondering. Maybe you're going through the same thing. It's easy to fall into the trap of believing that God is punishing you for something, some sin that you can't even remember. I can warn you now that when you're single with cancer, lots of weird thoughts go through your mind.

A sympathetic Catholic nun at the hospital, who was in charge of pastoral care, set me straight. "We have a spiritual nature but a physical nature as well," she told me. "Human beings are animals, too, mammals, and all animals get sick from time to time."

That's the trouble with having a body. Most of the time it works great, but sometimes it doesn't, through no fault of our own. I want to stress to you now that this is NOT God getting revenge on you. He doesn't work that way. I can't explain why some people get sick and others don't, but cancer is no respecter of persons. It can happen to anyone at any age.

It really helps to have someone to talk to about your emotions, someone who won't judge you. If you go to church, your pastor is your best choice. But it could also be your parents, a sibling, or a trusted friend. It does a world of good to express your frustration and anger. You will feel so much lighter when you get that burden off of you.

Single with cancer: A compassionate doctor

In 2010 I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I was 58 years old. In the time that had passed since my first illness, I had matured in my faith in God. I had gone through a lot of hard times and God had stood by me through every one. But it still came as a shock.

I was very fortunate to have a caring, compassionate oncologist. He explained everything in detail to me and assured me of the success rate of the treatment, a radioactive seed implant.

He answered all my questions and calmed many of my fears. Don't be afraid to ask your doctor questions. Write them down so you don't forget them. Don't worry about stupid questions or about wasting his or her time. That's their job.

You may find, as I did, that one of your doctors is more businesslike and somewhat cold while another is easier to talk to. Some doctors who work with cancer patients develop a sort of wall to protect themselves emotionally. Don't hold that against them. But by all means talk to a doctor who will listen, and if all of your doctors act cold, it's all right to get angry with them. They're treating a whole person in you, not just your body. Your feelings go along with it, and you do not need to be ashamed of being scared or worried. Maybe they're used to treated married patients, not someone who is single with cancer. There is a difference.

Single with cancer: Coping strategies

When you're single with cancer, you don't have a spouse to support you emotionally. Treatment can be very rough. In my first episode, I had 55 cobalt radiation treatments, which resulted in vomiting, diarrhea and shortness of breath. Every day for four months. My current oncologist was amazed I even survived those treatments in 1976. Here are some strategies I used to cope:

Live in "day-tight compartments." As soon as I started the treatments and had bad reactions, I found a way to get through it. I lived in "day-tight compartments." Here's how it works: Make it your goal for the day to make it until bedtime. No thoughts about yesterday, no worries about tomorrow. Live one day at a time. As Jesus said, each day has enough trouble of its own. Your treatment schedule may seem overwhelming, but you can break it down into doable increments of one day each.

Start a mental project. My mind started to wander at night to places I didn't like. So I built a ship. Well, it wasn't a real ship or a model ship, but an imaginary ship, a three-masted sailing vessel, like one of Columbus' ships. I started from scratch, imagining I was cutting the timbers for its ribs, making planks for its sides. I didn't skip any steps just because it was imaginary. Every night when I went to bed, I worked on my ship. Now that may not appeal to you, but you can find something that does, like designing your dream house, visiting some place you love (and imagining the sights, sounds, smells and textures), or setting up your own business. It has to be your project, something that fascinates you. Like me, you may find you even look forward to "working" on it each night. Every time your thoughts start to drift to Worryville, pull them back to your project.

Let people help you. If a friend or relative wants to clean your house, make you a meal, get your groceries or do your laundry, let them. You need your energy for the Fight, and besides, it's their way of showing love. You need love when you're single with cancer. When you get better, you can return the favor.

Have something to look forward to. This is a smart strategy for life in general, but plan for something when you're finished with your treatments, or some sort of celebration when you reach the halfway mark. And remember, if you look in the mirror and feel sad about what you see, know that you always have been and always will be beautiful to God, whose opinion matters most.

Single with cancer: Lessons learned

Being single with cancer and overcoming it is a life-changing experience. You learn that you are tougher than you thought, much tougher. You learn who your true friends are. But most of all, you become closer than ever to God.

It may take years to learn your lessons. Like me, I think you'll learn that life is precious. Things that used to irritate you no longer do. You appreciate each good day. You become more forgiving of others, because you know they each have their own problems too, and that they're weighing heavily on them.

You will learn that when the bottom falls out and your world collapses, God is there to catch you, pick you up, and put you on your feet again. He is not an imaginary friend, as the atheists say. He is real, he acts on your behalf, and he loves you.

Being single with cancer is something I don't want to experience again. But in a strange way it changed me. For the better. My prayer is that you will fight and survive and come out the other side stronger than ever.

If you have a friend or relative who is single with cancer, please forward the URL to this page to them.

(About Us profiles author Jack Zavada and what he's doing today.)

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