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Be Afraid, but Do Not Panic - Advice from a Doctor and a Cancer Survivor

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

I wanted to share this all with you. What we are going through is really stressful. What you're feeling is valid, and I don't want to minimize that. I do, however, want to tell you that stress needs to be controlled in whatever way you can.

I read an ER doctor's story about covid 19, and he ended by saying, "Be afraid, but do not panic."

That is exactly what the doctor told me 20 years ago when I was diagnosed with cancer.

It seems oddly contradictory, but I want to encourage you that it is possible.

Being afraid is necessary to make sure that you take all the steps that are under your control to stay safe. Social distancing, monitoring your body, getting enough sleep, etc.

Panic keeps you from taking the steps that are under your control.Panic traps you in a worry spiral about things you can't control, and this is crazymaking. This is why people develop anxiety, depression, and PTSD during a crisis.

Here's what I learned about survival in going through cancer while being absolutely terrified (I was given 1 year to live).

If you don't already have one, develop a gratitude habit. If you already have one, expand it. Don't stop with 3 things a day you're grateful for. Write an entire page of things you are grateful for. Express gratitude even for things that are making you angry or stressed. You can transform your relationship with those things and feel more calm through gratitude.

Make art! I made a lot of fractal art while I was doing treatment. It was really healing. Don't stop making art.

Journal, journal, journal about your feelings.

Prayer, meditation, and deep breathing. Make it a ritual. But also do it anytime you are feeling anxious or angry. In AA, they say 1 day at a time. When I was going through treatment, I said 1 minute at a time. That's what I needed to do.

Laugh at yourself. You're silly. I'm silly. We're all silly.

Keep in touch with each other. When a neighbor says, hey, let's go out at 7 pm and wave at each other, do it! Use Facetime, Skype, or Zoom to keep in touch with people.

Take naps. This is a great time to catch up on sleep if you can.

Be gentle with yourself - you're doing the best you can.

Be gentle with everyone - we're all doing the best we can.

Use this time wisely and after this is all over, you'll look back and realize that you made use of this crisis to bloom.

By the way, I said up front that I was given 1 year to live. Last week I celebrated 20 years of survival. I was afraid, but I did not panic. And that got me through.

Now, just for fun, here's a picture of me in the special hat I made for last night's Zoom Toastmaster meeting.

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