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Keep Fighting! Really?

“Keep Fighting” or “Keep up the Fight” are common encouragements sent to cancer patients and caregivers, but what exactly does this mean?  My late husband Rich Conklin received these messages from well meaning family and friends countless times each day. Immediately following his diagnosis of colon cancer the encouragement was well received.  Those phrases brought hope during times of waiting, direction and clarity during times of confusion, and unity when we felt so alone. Yes, the meaning of those comments was clear and morphed into a battle cry to defeat the invisible enemy invading his body.

Our family was ready for war.  Rich was a collegiate football player back in his day and he stated, “Cancer is the toughest opponent I have ever had.”  Rich was mentally laser focused on beating this disease, and Rich, like so many, fought the good fight to heal his body, yet it was not until his tactics changed that authentic healing occurred.  We all know that fighting involves an amount of stress being placed on the body. A cancer fight usually involves chronic stress with episodes of a fight-or-flight response based on new alarming news from a doctor.  During acute or chronic stress, muscles tense, sugar is released in the blood stream, the dripping of cortisol harms arteries and disrupts digestion leading to GI issues, inflammation increases, potential heart issues may occur, and most notably studies confirm that too much stress over a long period of time can take a toll on your immune system, causing it to crash. All of the above are NOT good when you want your body to fight cancer.

One afternoon after receiving more bad news I walked to the mailbox, which I dreaded due to the bills piling up.  I reached into the mailbox and I retrieved bills and more cards. Rich opened each one and most had the comment, “Keep Fighting” from loving friends and family.  However, I had had enough. I asked Rich, “What would happen if we surrendered as opposed to fighting?” We talked about what that meant and what surrendering would look like.  Of course we discussed God, God’s plan, and letting Him do the fighting for us. Our job was to surrender to His plan. I heard in my heart, “Glory to God for His healing.” All of sudden we both felt the stress of the day slowly dissipate. We became more gentle towards one another and ourselves throughout the following days, found humor in the little things, made decisions out of love and acceptance, and we were able to find the joy of just being present and mindful about each moment.

That type of ‘fight‘ through surrender is much more conducive to healing than creating an inflammatory bomb inside your body by allowing chronic stress to captain your day!  These are the moments that bring me extreme joy when I think about Rich’s battle with cancer- the time we decided to surrender which opened our eyes to the abundant pleasures in our world.  

I write this now based on recent conversations I have had with caregivers and survivors of lost loved ones.  Many of our stories have commonalities and we all have gotten to the point of surrendering, some later than others.  Surrendering does not mean one does not want to get well, it actually means you are fighting right by giving your bodily environment a chance to destroy the cancer cells and recover.  At HCB2, we strive to create environments where cancer is challenged to survive. Educating about the importance of decreasing stress and inflammation is a large part of our work. I share this with you as encouragement to find ways to release your grip on the negative and what the world pelts at you each day.  Whether you are challenged with cancer or burdened in traffic, exhale, find the beauty around you, and be thankful for the moment. Your spirit is strong and capable if you just give it a chance to comfort you. BTW, cancer hates that!