Compartmentalizing Cancer

Compartmentalization is a tool, which we often use as a coping strategy or defense mechanism. It helps us sort our life into manageable categories, enabling us to deal with each and every one, individually, as we are able. I believe that we all do this, sometimes consciously other times subconsciously. We go through our daily lives dealing with the task that is in front of us; the one that requires the most attention; right now. Everyday tasks happen effortlessly, other tasks, such as cleaning out the garage, or planting a garden must be put into the mix of “What do I wish to accomplish first?” eventually, they will find their way to the top of the list. You will then open that compartment and deal with its' contents.

Cancer has its’ very own compartment that once opened, is filled with many additional compartments. Some of the compartments that fill the cancer box are fear, treatment, side effects, complications, triumphs, fatigue, pain, insurance, oncologists, money, time, changes in appearance, changes in lifestyle, the stigma of cancer, guilt, worry, frustration, anger, joy, gratitude, life and death. As a person living with cancer knows, you cannot possibly visit all of these compartments at the same time, without losing your mind; you must visit each and every one of them as you are able, when you are ready, and when you have no other choice.

Many people that are diagnosed with cancer eventually are cured; they are fortunate to be able to close many of the cancer compartments and only revisit them on occasion. They become part of their past, something that will always be there, and will have changed their lives dramatically, but they will no longer have to open those compartments on a daily basis.

Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia has yet to reach the status of cured. CML is a blood cancer that is chronic; chronic meaning that many, many sufferers will have to visit many of the cancer compartments, on a daily basis; and this sucks! My over-exuberant, positively optimistic outlook on life lives on, but sometimes I get so sick and tired of the speed bumps and compartments!

Having CML is not something that I dwell upon, but it is something that I am reminded of every single day. I am reminded every time I stand up; how I am reminded when I stand up is by pain. How I compartmentalize it is I know that as I start moving, I will adjust to the pain, and I can put a lid on it.

I am reminded daily by fatigue; have a cup of coffee and put a lid on it! I am reminded when I look into a mirror; I am pale and look like someone I do not know; avoid mirrors and put a lid on it! I am reminded by doctors’ bills and insurance; deal with one a day and put a lid on it. I am reminded by a poor test result; reschedule and put a lid on it. The list goes on and on and on; if I were to dwell on the big picture and consider that this is the way it is going to be for the rest of my life, or until a cure is found, I would probably go crazy.

Instead, I choose to compartmentalize cancer; I make a conscious choice to deal with only the things that need attention, right now; I try to keep a lid on the rest. I know that this can lead to a false sense of security, and I also know that I should not keep the lid on so tightly that I miss warning signs that should be addressed, but I also know that in order to live my best life, I must only deal with things that are imperative, and compartmentalize the rest.

That being said, here are a few suggestions that may help others, that are living with chronic cancer, or other conditions.

                             Guide to Compartmentalization

1.     Compartmentalize: Isolate your challenges.
2.     Focus on one challenge at a time.
3.     Make some progress on each compartment, before moving on to another.
4.     Once you have made some progress, you may then open another compartment.
5.     Close the compartments that you managed.
6.     Do not allow an unworthy concern to fill a compartment.

Compartmentalization is a coping mechanism that may help you adjust to your new life. Living with cancer is a challenge for us, as well as for those around us. The challenge often changes on a daily basis, so being as prepared as we can, will hopefully help us all, to live our best life.

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