So you have Cancer? What is it going to do to your life and what can YOU do about it? That is the question! 

Thirty years of caring for cancer patients has taught me that they are fighting a war on two fronts, one conventional and the other unconventional, against two adversaries, one you can see and one that you can’t, one you can feel and measure called a malignancy that attacks your body and another enemy you can only sense in the dark that one of my patients calls the “Dragon”. It attacks your life! 

 While you cannot see the Dragon, you can feel it. It gets inside your head and heart - with confusion, trepidation and angst - almost imaginary yet seductive, entirely invisible to everyone yet destructive to you.

The doctors go after the cancer cells invading your body with weapons you can at least somewhat understand, like surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, but those don’t work against the Dragon; it is assaulting your life and you are on your own to deal with it. It wages a guerrilla-like warfare that is psychological and spiritual aimed at your heart, mind and soul. The Dragon may not be able to kill you with claws of guilt, doubt, fear, and anger, but it can disable you enough that you cannot fight the cancer in your body that can kill you.

This blog is different than most on cancer. It is going to help you beat back not just the biologic malignancy but also to flush out the Dragon, expose its weapons, beat back its onslaught on your life and ultimately defeat it. Life after a cancer diagnosis plays out phase by phase, stage by stage, and season by season physically, psychologically and spiritually over months and years in ways that are hard to grasp at the outset but are essential to anticipate if one wants to love their life and save it. 

Bell Lap

I use a foot race on an oval track as a metaphor for a life with cancer. In a long distance race there is always a last lap which is announced by the ringing of a bell.  Too often in life cancer rings that bell announcing the last lap, but unlike a running race, with cancer you don't know how long it is going to last. In both the bell signals a time for your best and perhaps final effort – at least that is the way it feels.  And because it might be shorter than you hope, you had better make it your best starting now.

A racetrack is divided into 5 segments:  There is the first stretch which leads into the near corner then rounds into the backstretch. That leads to the far corner which breaks on to the home stretch ending gloriously, or not, at the finish line. After a cancer diagnosis rings your bell, life will play out with similar phases, each with its own challenges and opportunities, each deserving special attention and its own unique strategy.

All along the way you will find the Dragon, - or it will find you. It will be like a troll under the track, rising up to challenge you at any moment to whisper words of discouragement, confusion or defeat. With each new phase of life on the cancer track, the Dragon will come at you from a different direction. Now is the time to learn where to look for it so you can be ready to deal with it. 

Cancer strikes boldly at your body, but Dragon sneaks into your life unseen at first. Your attention will all be focused on the destruction of the cancer, but the Dragon can’t be killed; it will never leave your life! PTSD (post traumatic stress) is every bit as big a deal after the cancer battle as it is after the Iraqi/Afghani ones.Deal with it now every time it raises its head or live haunted by it the rest of your life.

You can outrun the Dragon at first if you see it coming but you need to have a plan to outsmart it and you must go after it methodically – like an athlete who prepares a plan for a race and sticks to it. Every competitor knows there will be a final bell lap and they run their whole race reserving their finest effort for it. Cancer will ring that bell for many of us and announce that our bell lap has begun. There is no telling how long the lap will last, but one thing is clear: only a Dragon-defeating strategy will make it a lap worth living and ensure victory.

Come journey through the lives of my patients and see if you can find in their stories some clues for your own bell lap. Perhaps they will speak some of the same truths to you that they have spoken to me. I was surprised how much there was to learn, as neither medical school nor life had prepared me for what they had to teach. Perhaps you will be too.

Although I specifically address cancer patients, most of my words apply to all of my patients and to anyone who will face death one day. Surely, not everyone will have cancer, but everyone will die and will meet the Dragon first - if they haven’t already. Cancer simply brings the Dragon out of hiding and into the light where we can deal with it today - or eventually die with it some tomorrow.

Looking over the whole course, including the far corner and homestretch, both are hopefully far off, will help you run the earlier sections better. Most likely the surprising ring of the bell didn’t give you a chance to accelerate off the starting blocks so do it now and adjust your run down the first stretch accordingly. When you do, you’ll discover you are in a whole new environment of medicine, confronted with both a disease ( what cancer can do to your body ) and an illness, (what cancer and its treatment can do to your life), and reeling from the possible amputation of the future you thought you had.

The next 15 blogs will each comment on topics from the early phases of the lap and what to expect all excerpted from the book CANCER'S BELL LAP & THE DRAGON BEHIND THE DOOR available through this website, Amazon, Barnes and Noble:

1-Hearing the Bell and How to Respond;

2-Running the First Stretch: Survival – What does it look like?

3 -Entering the First Corner - defining your goals and checking out your doctors.

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This is such helpful information, Rob! It shows that you have walked alongside folks at all stages of their process Great information, obviously a deep understanding of the hurdles people with cancer face. I will look for more blogs and refer folks here. Thans!


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