11/07/2011 02:54 EST | Updated 01/07/2012 05:12 EST

Wishful Thinking


I have been reading lots of articles about cancer research, experiences of cancer survivors, and opinions on a variety of cancer help sites. One particular discussion presented me with the opportunity of a lot of food for thought. Dr. Susan Love wrote a blog entitled "Wishful Thinking and Breast Cancer." She spoke about how decisions to pursue different breast cancer treatments were attributed to wishful thinking. By this, she means that we are hopeful that by, say, removing a breast, we will get all the cancer, and will return to a 100 per cent survival rate. As a very well-known breast cancer surgeon, she also reminded the reader that even if you remove the entire breast, there is still tissue that remains and possible cancer cells left behind.

Wishful thinking, according to her blog, also applies to obsessions about healthy food. Although a healthy diet is ultimately good for you, it is counter-productive to believe that you will remain cancer-free simply by following a certain diet.

After reading this blog, I set out to do what I like doing best when I have to really think about an issue. Run. I left the house in the cool evening air not knowing how I felt about what I had read. What did Dr. Love really mean? Perhaps the details hit home because I was diagnosed with cancer in one breast, only to eventually decide that I would opt for a double mastectomy and reconstruction. My decision was made carefully, in consultation with my doctor, and after carefully reviewing my family history and details of my case.

As I ran along the path, I reflected back to the experience I had when I was first diagnosed, and thought of the things I would say to a newly-diagnosed breast cancer patient who asked for my opinion. As the crisp area cleared the cobwebs in my mind, I realized that Dr. Love had some good advice.

As women, we all like to think that we make the best decisions for ourselves and our families. And because many of us shoulder a good part of the decision-making regarding ourselves and our loved ones, we take pride in keeping everything together. But sometimes the stress and flurry of life makes us decide quickly. Sometimes the tiny nagging list we have at the back of our mind pushes us to shorten it and get on with other things.

But cancer is not tiny, and being diagnosed with it and having to make decisions, sometimes quickly, does not mean you should do so in haste. It is more important than ever to collect your thoughts, ask the important questions, and make sure you have the information you need to make sound decisions. There is no room for wishful thinking.

Belief... Hope... Strength... Courage... Yes! There's plenty of room for that. There is also plenty of room for healthy eating, and regular exercise. If it wasn't part of your life before cancer, I sure hope it is after!

So, all Dr. Love meant was to caution women not to be too quick to decide. It is not the time to have the wool pulled over our eyes regarding such an important matter of health. She has most likely seen her fair share of women who may have been on track to make a poor decision.

As my feet pounded the pavement, the rhythm led me back to the decisions I made along the way. Did I make any of them through the wishful thinking lens? I don't really know if I could properly answer that question. What I do know is that a lot of thought and investment went into my final decision. If I look back, I wouldn't have done anything differently. I know I made the right decision for me, and that I gave myself the best possible odds of survival. Did I ever believe that having a double mastectomy would totally eradicate any cancer I had in my body? No. Never. Careful reading and discussions with my doctor would confirm that fact. But I knew that by having a double mastectomy and eight rounds of chemotherapy, my odds of living longer could go up.

My life is much different now. Cancer has made it that way. It's surprisingly good. I have learned to manage my stress, and a a result, I am a much calmer person. I ran before and during my treatment for cancer, and continue to do so now. I know only too well the benefits of regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight. I practice meditation, and pay far more attention to my needs.

For me, it is a combination of all these changes and decisions that will put as many chances of survival on my side as possible. The decisions I made, and continue to make, are in my own best interest, and I make them fully consciously and realistically. There are no guarantees in life, and none of the good things I do will ultimately mean survival. So as I ran up to my house at the end of my run, I gave thanks for the day, and for my enjoyable run. I am happy.

And yes, there is a little part of me that simply hopes for the best!