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Attitude Is Everything!

 This motto appears at each chair in the chemo treatment center at Blue Ridge Cancer Care, part of Lewis-Gale Medical Center in Salem — a reminder that patients can contribute to the success of their treatment by adopting a positive attitude and focusing on the good side of cancer treatment. The oncology nurses adopt the same positive attitude as they lovingly attend the patients during the time they receive infusions. They offer refreshment, a soft pillow or warm blanket as needed, and a hug when the treatment is over, demonstrating compassion for each patient.

Recently, I have been visiting this treatment room regularly. In mid-July I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma (cancer of the bone marrow). Myeloma is a slow moving disease, not curable but it can be kept under control for many years, thanks to modern drug treatment.

My diagnosis was not a surprise. For the past twelve years I have been monitored annually because of a blood abnormality that is a risk factor and can lead to this diagnosis. It’s called MGUS —  monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance. Quite a mouthful, hence the acronym! It was almost a relief to finally receive a diagnosis and begin to treat my cancer while it is in the “smoldering” stage without symptoms.

I am blessed to have an excellent Christian oncologist – Dr. Bill Fintel, whom I met many years ago when he cared for the Reverend Jim Allison, former pastor of Raleigh Court Presbyterian Church. Dr. Fintel was also with me through the twelve years of monitoring my health.

Over 25 years ago my mother also had multiple myeloma. Although there is no direct inheritance of myeloma, the occurrence in a close relative is another risk factor. Lately I have been reflecting on my mother’s bout with this disease, wishing she could have benefitted from all of the research that has been carried out during the past twenty-five years.

The new drugs are amazing. Since the first of August, I have taken infusions once weekly, and so far have not experienced dreaded side effects such as nausea and hair loss – only fatigue. I am well aware that my situation is less traumatic than that of many other cancer patients, and I am grateful that the drug I receive is both effective and gentle.

Recently, while searching for a tape of preschool songs to give to my niece for her three-year-old, I discovered a recording of a talk by Dr. Fintel (“coincidence” – or God’s grace?). It was just what I needed to hear.

 In August 1994, while he was treating Rev. Allison, Dr. Fintel spoke to our adult Sunday school class. His topic was “The Difference That Faith Makes.”  He told how those patients with a strong Christian faith seem to fare better with treatment, have longer and more frequent remissions, and a more positive attitude toward life than patients who lack such a faith. I found strength and encouragement, hearing this time with a personal interest that was missing in 1994. I found that I could put my trust in God who created me to see that this Christian doctor provided the care I would need.

I also read the book written by Dr. Fintel and Gerald McDermott, religion professor at Roanoke College. The authors have updated the book regularly to keep abreast of new information. This third edition of Dear God, It’s Cancer, published in 1993, is entitled simply Cancer, subtitled A Medical and Spiritual Guide for Patients and Their Families.

The book provides detailed information about the physical and spiritual aspects of living with this disease. Cancer is clearly written, with case histories that illustrate the points the authors make. I found the book uplifting and encourage anyone who has cancer, or has a friend or loved one with the disease, to read it. Pastors and social workers who counsel cancer patients would also benefit from reading it.

Cancer gives one a new perspective on life. We all know that “someday” we will die, but when diagnosed with the Big C, the inevitability of that day is clearly defined. No longer do you take for granted the gift of each new day, but receive each day with joy and a desire to use it wisely. How do you want to spend the rest of your life? Your priorities change, and things that once seemed so important are cast aside and more attention is focused on personal relationships and simple pleasures.

This is the positive side of a cancer diagnosis. I thank God for the doctors, nurses and researchers that help in the fight against cancer. I also thank him for the opportunity to refocus my life and appreciate the beauty of every single day, realizing that ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING!

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