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The 8 Overcoming Tools : How to Overcome Your Fear of a Diagnosis of Cancer

Destroy The Myths

There are many misconceptions concerning a cancer diagnosis that need to be destroyed. Myths are usually a combination of half-truths, old wives' tales, bits and pieces of information that we have stored away in our minds and accepted as true. Psychologists call this assortment of information our frame of reference. Before I deal with the myths, I'd like to show how myths and misinformation work in everyday life.

Suppose you had a trusted friend who showed up at your workplace and announced to you with great emotion that your house just burned down. Icy fear would grip your heart and you would jump to action. You would also respond quickly, I suspect, with many questions. "Is my family okay? Is there anyone else in the house? Is my insurance paid up?" But, what if this announcement was part of a sick joke, or a case of a mistaken house on your friend's part? Your reaction at the time you heard this terrible news, if you did not know it was a joke or a mistake, would be real!

You see, we act or react in life based upon what we believe to be true, regardless of whether what we believe is actually true or not. Popular misconceptions often go unchecked because they are constantly repeated and rarely checked for accuracy. Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy are myths, and believing in Santa or the Easter Bunny as a child is relatively harmless; however, some of the myths surrounding cancer need to be totally destroyed.

Myth Number One: Cancer is a Death Sentence

You can't think of many things one human being could say to another that has the immediate and fear- inducing impact of your doctor telling you, "You have cancer." Most of the fear and depression that come from getting this pronouncement are because of the general, yet mistaken, belief that cancer is automatically fatal.

This is a myth. It is not only not true, but the facts reveal a totally different reality. In the last twenty years especially, the rate of survival from almost every type of cancer has improved. For some types of cancer, the survival rate is ninety percent or higher. And for all cancers combined, the overall survival rate is approaching sixty percent. According to the Mayo Clinic Health Letter (February 1992), the survival rates have been steadily increasing with every decade.

As you consider these facts in contrast to the myth that cancer is a death sentence, keep in mind that just a decade ago cancer treatment was basically an either/or technique, because physicians were limited to either surgery or nonsurgical treatment in the form of radiation or chemotherapy. Today, doctors tailor treatment for each person with cancer and they often use a combination of treatment methods. The result is the continuing improvement in survival rates.

One more time: it is a myth that cancer is a death sentence. Erase that false tape from your mind. Start letting your mind absorb the correct information that most people recover from most types of cancer, and the results are getting better every year.

Myth Number Two: Time Heals All Wounds

Again, this popular myth is simply not grounded in reality. Time is a measurement of days and years. Time is a device we use like a yardstick or ruler or odometer to give us a relative comparison of the stuff that Ben Franklin said life itself is made of. But your fight against cancer, while it may be measured from start to finish in days or months, is neither constrained nor helped by time. The point in destroying this myth, that time itself is a healer, is to get your eyes off the clock and onto the positive things you can be doing, regardless of how much time passes until you achieve the positive outcome you are looking for.

The point to keep in mind is that your goal is to cooperate with your doctor in a treatment program that will get the best possible result for you, regardless of time.

Myth Number Three: The Law of Averages Will Catch Up With You

Mark Twain said, There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics." Statistics, including averages, are valuable for many purposes in many areas of life. With statistics we can spot trends, measure tendencies and make judgments. These are functions that are often impossible to perform on a case-by-case basis. For instance, the function of quality control in most factories is made possible by checking only a few items out of each batch or shipment. This is a case where the law of averages, properly applied, works amazingly well. If you pick the proper random sample, you don't have to test every single unit the factory turns out.

The whole field of financial analysis is based on another proper use of statistics. Quarterly and annual reports are based on compiled data that accountants and executives can review to determine where a company or an industry is headed in terms of profits, utilization of resources and market share.

In the field of medicine, statistics can be put to good use on a long-term basis to chart the effectiveness of various courses of treatment, drug therapies and demographic variations of patient responses to various types of disease.

But statistics, and especially the law of averages, have no place in helping you formulate your own attitude and your own goals for recovering from the particular type of cancer with which you have been diagnosed. This is simply a misapplication of the use of statistics. When you look at statistics to determine your own individual chances of recovery from cancer, you are falling prey to a myth. This is because all statistics, business, scientific, medical or sports, have one thing in common: they are great for measuring events and summarizing results after they happen. But they are not infallible guides for predicting future events in sports or business, and certainly not in predicting yours or anyone else's chances of recovery from cancer.

Your recovery from cancer has far more to do with the kind of treatment you receive, the timing of your diagnosis, your general state of physical fitness and your attitude, than any of the statistics you might come across for cancer survival. I am absolutely convinced that the reason most children with cancer respond so well is that they have no myths to destroy. They don't have to fight the additional battle with their own worry and fear that comes from reading statistics and automatically seeing themselves on the wrong side of the scale.

Let me give you another perspective that will help you see how to deal with this pervasive and dangerous misuse of statistics. In professional sports, every player is constantly rated by his or her performance on the field or the court. When a baseball player with a batting average of .300 steps up to the plate, all we know is that he has been successful in getting hits three out of ten times at bat, so far this year. But his batting average doesn't come anywhere near telling us whether he is going to hit the ball this time at bat! If it did, baseball and most other sports would be too boring to watch!

This same principle is true in all sports. Regardless of the statistics, you can't accurately predict present behavior not for an individual or a team. And you are in the same position as an athlete. Regardless of the statistics you may have seen about the type of cancer you have, you don't know how your result will later be tabulated.

So destroy the myth that your fate is somehow predetermined by the law of averages. Not only is this is a myth, but by taking a positive and optimistic view, you are more likely to create the mental and emotional state within yourself that aids the healing process. What I have just said is true at any stage of your treatment, but especially when you have just gotten your diagnosis. If you have any lingering doubts concerning this myth of statistics, just turn on your television to any sports event or game and listen for a few minutes. You are in the same situation as the batter stepping up to the plate: the statistics have no control over the opportunity for success now.

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