When our makeup expert Emily Kate Warren was diagnosed with thyroid cancer shortly after giving birth to her first child, her world changed. Here she offers her personal advice for handling a cancer diagnosis.
1Find the humor in your treatment.
There are lots and LOTS of horribly embarrassing things that happen during your treatments. Your doctors will see that the elastic is shot in your undies. Your partner will have to bring your urine sample to the nurse sans lid. You will look completely stupid in your weird, hospital shower cap do-whats-it. You will barf and fart simultaneously and people will hear you. Laughter is truly the best medicine. Embrace it! Laugh heartily—if you are in a state that embraces medical marijuana, grab your license and a copy of “Airplane.” Stat.
2Try choosing charitable forms of distraction.
I found that diving into other cancer causes in small or large ways was a great way to feel that I had some control over my own situation. It also helped me feel I was rallying for something. Seeing brave warriors like Natalie Grace, Raelyn and Melissa Kahle fight the fight and still smile, made me feel courageous. For me it felt like these warriors were extensions of my family and I was part of their army. Strength in numbers is the real deal. Helping others will help you.
3Create a mantra or a prayer you can repeat over and over in times of great sorrow or fear—and say it in front of a mirror.
Nothing makes you feel more present than really looking at yourself in the mirror when you are talking. My eyes are totally uneven and the gray streak in my part is getting larger by the moment! The scar in the middle of my throat is severe enough that strangers have asked me if I had a “trach.” But accepting myself for who I truly am is part of grounding me and making my mantra part of me. I have four phrases I say with my family in mind (especially my daughter) and I’ll gladly share them with you as a starting point for finding your own:
Know the true difference between right and wrong—even if we choose wrong, let us have a moral compass and know the difference.
Be kind and compassionate.
Be curious about the world and the people in it.
Make the most of our time together.
Don’t question whether these will come true—it’s miraculous what creating an intention can do. Throw caution (and for some skeptics, logic!) to the wind. There’s no harm in trying.
4Ask for space when you need it and learn to say no (without saying sorry).
No is not an insulting word. Practice saying it with me, “No, I can not drive your kid to soccer practice this week.” “No, I can’t attend your charitable fundraiser.” “No, I can’t make cookies for the bake sale.” “No I can’t fly to Nantucket for your wedding.” Say it when you need to. Even if all you plan to do during those times is to take a nap or screw your partner. Your true friends and family will understand. And if they don’t, explain to them that you need a little space while you process your diagnosis. Play the f’ing cancer card NOW.
5Let go of the ridiculous.
Before cancer I have, for years, had the unfortunate personality trait of being insecure from time to time. Did I say the wrong thing? So-and-so didn’t respond to my email quickly enough…are they angry with me? When you have been diagnosed with cancer you need all the mental space and clarity that you can get so you can do your thing and do it 100 percent. Letting go of the ridiculous is the first step in that process. So what if you don’t like the lame book your book club is reading? Give yourself permission not to finish it! Let your floors go without Swiffering for a day or two—even if you have a pet! Embrace your long leg or armpit hairs—remember we are all mammals and hairy legs are really no big deal!
6Don’t initially lose yourself to panic.
Your doctors might not move as rapidly as you would hope, but some cancers take lots more investigation before you will have all the pieces to your puzzle. During that time, you’ll have to be somewhat patient (this part sucks because you will want to know now). You’ll need to learn to manage your anxiety and emotions—which might be waffling between sadness, fear and denial.
7Really, truly, live in the moment.
A cancer diagnosis makes you question your mortality sooner than some—but none of us can ever truly know when our last breath will take place, even a doctor. So try your hardest not to fast forward with the “what ifs”—they can completely take up valuable space in your head. And you need that space to trudge on in your journey. Wake up, acknowledge your fears for five seconds and then treat today like you are none-the-wiser about your situation. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Give your baby 15 extra kisses before you leave the house, even if it means you run late for work. Call your grandmother and sing her a song. Stop and literally smell the roses. Even if your best isn’t your best because you don’t feel well and you look like shit—try your hardest to live in the moment. Because as some smarty-pants once said, “The past is history, the future’s a mystery and right now is a gift… It’s why they call it the present.”