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Expert Guidance from Cancer Coach

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Brandi Benson- Ewing Sarcoma Survivor

My cancer journey began when I found a lump on my leg in 2008 while deployed in Iraq. I was not a cancer-literate person. I did not know the possibility of cancer occurring in places other than the brain, breast and stomach and lungs. And so when I saw the lump, I did not think it could affect my health tremendously. I did not have a family history of cancer.  In 2009  I was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma, a very rare type of cancer, and life changed for me. As I never saw a future with cancer. Ironically, I went to Iraq to fight a war and left there to fight a war within myself. I would say that cancer changed me because it shook me to the core and woke me up. Cancer has motivated me to do better in life. And now, I have done so much that I would never have. I have been to amazing places, opened a business, and written a book, all because of cancer.

Our initial reaction to the news

My initial reaction was the feeling that I was about to die. It was because that is what I have known through the media and on TV.  The possibility of going through the various treatments and still not making it was scary. The doctors I consulted said that I have hardly one year to live. The negativity of the whole situation was tremendous. However, it was my mother who gave me the strength. She strongly believed in me. She constantly told me that miracles happen every day, and I could be one of those miracles. That is what motivated me to go further. There were people in my ward with the same condition succumbing to death every day. But my mother’s support and belief in me gave me the courage to move forward. They did not have a strong support system as I had. And so, if I am here today, it is due to my mother and her never-ending love and support.   

Treatments that I underwent 

I underwent an aggressive treatment regimen and had a massive surgery. And also did 101 rounds of chemotherapy in the span of ten months, which was unheard of. I also took various physical therapies. Cancer and its treatments took a mental toll on me, so I sought various mental health therapies to meet my emotional requirements. 

Comorbidities as a result of the treatment

It was hard to accept that the life I was fighting for is now gone and that I can no longer be the same person I used to be. And having to start everything all over again really scared me. And so, for years, I was in denial about it. I also had to learn how to walk again. I was also in the process of accepting the physical changes in my body and being comfortable with looking different. And so these were some of the changes I had to experience and make peace with. 

Things that helped my mental and emotional well-being

During the initial days, I was in denial and went into depression. But slowly,  I began to believe in myself, and my mindset changed. But it was not easy; it took me quite some time to make peace with cancer. Even after cancer, there is this constant fear of recurrence, which is natural. For me, there are various things, such as a pepper diet, good rest, and exercise, which help me stay afloat. It is also important to get mental health therapy to help you emotionally during cancer.  Instead of completely dwelling on the factor that I have cancer, I did things that would lighten my mood and allow me to look forward to the next day.

Lifestyle changes during and after cancer

I used to be a person who ate a lot of dairy, sugar, meat and fried food.  I cut down on all of these and stopped eating meat. Even though, I occasionally have fish for protein, I have reduced my overall intake of unhealthy foods. I also started taking lots of juices and even got a few massages. There was various also brought changes in things such as the people I am surrounded by and even the music I listen to. I switched from music to motivational podcasts. 

In short, I changed my diet, the people I hang out with, the things I am listening to and even my thoughts.  I always make sure that I am grateful, and I have a sense of gratitude in me. These changes that I incorporated into my life have greatly impacted it in a positive manner.

Financial Aspects

As I was in the military, all my treatments were paid for. And so, in terms of financial resources, I was not under any stress as I did not have to worry about the financial aspect of my treatment at all. 

My top three learnings from this process

The first thing is to never give up on yourself because there are miracles every single day. The second thing is to have a family or a strong support system through the journey. And the third would be cancer or things that shake us to the core, gives an opportunity to reinvent ourselves. And so, we can change our narrative into a positive one. 

My message for the cancer patients and caregivers

The doctors said I had one year to live thirteen years ago. I am still here because I believe in myself. I want you to believe in yourself. Everyone’s bodies are different and might respond to things differently, but keep pushing.  Think about your goals and focus on them.

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