Cancer’s Blessing: A Patient’s Perspective (7th in a Series)

In January, we introduced you to our friend, Paul Bohannon. Eight years ago, Paul was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and given 6 months to live. Yet here he is to tell his story, eight years later, cancer free. How did he do it? What was his path? What did he learn? What can you or a loved one learn if you are going through a cancer diagnosis? We invite you to follow Paul’s story each month, although if you don’t want to wait, you can read more of his story at right now.

By Paul Bohannon

Last month we talked about tips and tricks to reinforce mental success in cancer treatment. This month we’re adding on to those tips.

Your Successful Survival Plan

Since I am a planner, today I’d like to spend time diving deeper into how I built my survival plan. I would like you and your loved ones to stop talking about the cancer, and instead focus on your survival. It is much healthier to talk about a survival plan than a cancer treatment plan.

1. Put your plan in writing. Review it with your doctor.

In April’s issue, we talked about developing a treatment plan. For me, I journaled about my treatment and options. You can record whatever details will help you; I would include the date, who I met with and what we discussed. In some cases, the doctor even spelled the words for me.

My writing enabled me to put into my own words all that was being discussed. This allowed me to later reflect on the appointment, as well as jot down questions I had and identify certain key points I wanted to research. Today, most doctors expect you to take notes and to be an active participant in your own survival plan; ask them for supporting evidence or research, since they often can get this detail directly from the drug manufacturer or researchers.

In my case, there was a very large treatment study conducted in England that addressed men with metastatic prostate cancer. My cancer was already into my spine and ribs at this point, so I wanted to better understand what the research covered. What I learned was that, while this study had a lot of data that didn’t directly apply to me (average age of the participant was 67 years old and I was 45), there was enough overlap to my situation that it made sense to move forward.

Before I proceeded with this treatment, I was able to share the study and my notes with my naturopath and my sister-in-law, who was a retired nurse. The feedback I received from both was that the lack of side effects, effectiveness of the treatment and the longevity boost were worth it.

So, from these notes and the research, we added a series of new items to my plan, including Lupron (most cancer patients know this one) and others. I also agreed to undergo 24 treatments of radiation to pinpoint the spots on my spine and ribs, as well as target the prostate bed. Agreeing to chemicals and radiation was a major decision for me. The first round of my survival plan did not include these due to the seriousness of the side effects.

That brings us to another benefit to journaling: you can record and document how treatments evolve and mature. It’s amazing to witness firsthand the evolution of technology, and the reductions in unwanted side effects that go with it. Case in point: For me, radiation was initially not an option because the side effects were severe. Twelve years ago, radiologists did not have the ability to pinpoint radiation that they have today. Even during my treatment, the dosing and number of radiation treatments was updated because of advances that allowed doctors to achieve the same results with one-fourth the number of treatments.

2. Review the plan often.

Journaling also helps you to periodically review your plan. There are two major goals here. The first is to hold yourself accountable to making sure you are doing the small things that are essential, like meditating or praying. The second goal is to review your plan with your care team, including loved ones, your physician(s), and naturopathic or spiritual advisors.

One final point I would like to make about Survival Plans is that your only goal with cancer is to outlive your cancer. The advances in medicine and treatments are moving faster in some fields than others. If your cancer is one of the more common cancers, there are voluminous amounts of research. The beauty of cancer research is that innovative doctors are continually finding ways to apply Treatment A, which is designed for Cancer A, against Cancer B or C. Your chance of outliving your cancer is increasing daily.

3. Check your progress against your plan.

Remember that you and your doctor are building a survival plan, not a treatment plan. I typically review my plan with my doctors on a quarterly basis, so that I can gain access to new tools and research. One additional benefit of this approach is that my doctor is more of a “partner” helping me develop my plan vs. the sole driver of my plan.

In March, we spoke about leveraging an advocate. Make sure your advocate has access to your journal. Every month, take some time together to review your plan. Let them know it is completely ok to make notes in your journal, including any research they’ve been able to do, additional treatment options that may make sense, and any questions they may have for your medical team.

While planning and journaling may not come to you naturally, after a while, trust me – it will be second nature.

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