Cancer is a Call to Action
Cancer is a life threatening illness much like a heart attack is a life threatening occurrence. Yet somehow the perception of the two is very different. Each equally shocking and life changing, yet cancer doesn't seem to carry the same optimistic quality of life connotations associated with heart attack survivors. I believe this is partially due to the gruesome and aggressive approach taken treating cancer.
The reality is we don't cure cancer in the way we cure other illnesses. We kill it before it kills us and the side effects of the treatments can be as bad as the illness itself. Those of us diagnosed find careful ways to interpret statistics. Although the study of oncology has grown tremendously, the aggressive nature still remains.
In layman's terms, chemotherapy is a medicine that can be delivered in various ways. Radiation is elusive in the way it enters your body but it does make its presence known. The problem lies in the laundry list of symptoms that go along with receiving this medicine. In many cases you feel more is being destroyed than what survives and is healthy.
Let us not forget the dreaded hair loss. The nurturing side of medicine has spawned many treatments and support programs to weather this long and daunting storm. I often felt guilty for those that suffered other life threatening illnesses who didn't get as much fanfare. All joking aside, cancer recovery does take years. That is a FACT.
The depth at which this experience changes a human being cannot be ignored. It goes much deeper than the physical manifestations of the cancer. If one can begin to understand this, the opportunity to thrive presents itself. In an age when we finally understand that treating our employees like dispensable/replaceable assets hurts the balance sheet at the end of the day, it is critical to understand that disease, including mental illness, affects at least 1 in 3 people.
Simply put, if you haven't had cancer yourself you probably are close to someone who has. You may even have lost someone you love. I believe one of the reasons I had such a positive experience and outcome was that my cancer was detected early. Time of detection can be a game changer for any individual. More often than not, it dramatically changes your survival chances.
Hearing 15-20% chance of re-occurrence with aggressive therapy is very different than hearing 15-20% survival rate with aggressive therapy. The fact of the matter is more and more people are surviving because of strong and 'effective' prevention campaigns. Sadly I still see funding and efforts directed towards programs that are no longer effective.
It is important to understand that what worked 5 years ago may not be as relevant today. The face of the cancer patient care is changing. Surviving Cancer is no longer acceptable. Thriving and Quality of Life is and must be the focus. It is about positioning the newly diagnosed individual for the most optimal outcome. People are often moved by my story with cancer, however, what I must remind them of is that I didn't do it alone.
More often than not the diagnosis is so overwhelming that patients can't bring themselves to tell their loved ones. On hearing a cancer diagnosis, the immune system and mental strength is instantly compromised by the burden of carrying such stress alone. In most cases, once a patient enters medical and social/psych type of care, their ability to cope dramatically improves. Connecting newly diagnosed patients to proactive support resources is vital.
As the concept of company wellness evolves, specialized programs that deliver support from diagnosis to return-to-work are emerging. The support will evolve into restoring and 'reorienting' programs preparing individuals for their new reality and thriving in their own new world. Sadly, today, these types of practical support programs are not widespread with the focus still on getting people past the diagnosis, through treatment and returning home.
Many prevention programs are moving in a direction that are targeting a deeper issue; our reactive lifestyles. We are a culture that waits for the train wreck to occur and then sources out the path of least resistance to put the pieces back together. As complimentary therapies are rapidly being integrated into treatment plans, we are also seeing the benefits of incorporating these proven preventative actions into the workplace.
Investment is moving into interactive educational and physical programs. Traditional 'talking head' lunch and learns need add-ons. Great strides have been made with awareness campaigns - everyone is quite aware of cancer. Our focus now should be to provide convenient outlets to ensure people are aware of the most relevant and innovative resources and programs out there to help them. For example, some programs are beginning to include the following strategies:
- allowing windows for restorative activity at work in order to maintain, or decrease stress levels;
- utilizing programs that go beyond medicine and facilitate healing the entire individual. We believe that a strong mental state allows for optimum interaction with doctors and caregivers and facilitates healthy interactions generally, including at the workplace;
- integrating remote work days into the company model. This trend is prevalent in most industries and lends itself extremely well to someone who requires flexibility due to appointments and fluctuating energy levels; and
- recognizing and funding organizations that are breaking barriers such as Urban Zen, Canadian Breast Cancer Network, Wellspring.
Living with Cancer means exactly that - living not just existing. There are other important Big C's to consider, Communication, Compassion and Collaboration. Supporting your loved one, coworker or yourself in finishing the story that was so abruptly halted due to a cancer diagnosis requires a collective effort to move beyond something that is so dreadfully feared. An open respectful dialogue allows a person dealing with cancer treatment to enjoy a quality of life that we are all entitled to despite what our circumstances are at any given moment.
Let this month of cancer awareness bring about a new look to cancer survival. I am not just referring to improving survival statistics. Let's raise the bar and work collaboratively through many disciplines and commerce to facilitate richness and fulfillment all people can feel after overcoming something so traumatic. Surviving cancer is no longer acceptable.
Thriving with a new and sometimes different quality of life, MUST, be the new standard. Survivors, healthcare providers, employers etc. must all pull together to make this happen. As our digital age proves daily, we can be faster with less effort, let's apply this and forge ahead with this initiative but instead aim for a life changing outcome!
About the Author
Jackie Savi-Cannon, B. Ed, CYT, is the Director of Programming for JSC Lifestyle Management Inc., a wellness production house; creator of the RNR Program. This Program is an online portal website which gives users instant 24/7 on-demand access to High Definition Video and Audio modules which deal with stress reduction, healthy work & lifestyle practices such as time management, communication and conflict resolution.