Do You Immerse Yourself In or Minimize Your Bladder Cancer Experience? Both Have A Place in Navigating Your Illness

I’ve noticed that every patient and caregiver has his or her own unique style in managing the bladder cancer experience. And broadly speaking, people tend to either immerse themselves – learning everything they can about the illness – or minimize it – by staying focused on the positive and thinking as little about cancer as they can.

Both modes of coping and thinking have their place. Trying to strike a balance can be ideal.

I immersed as a caregiver and my husband minimized as a patient

When my husband was diagnosed with stage IV bladder cancer, my response was to swing into action. I was online – Googling, searching, posting on message boards, reading about doctors, and treatment.

My husband’s response was to listen to the doctor’s recommendations – and focus on the most positive of them – and to minimize cancer in every way possible. He did not allow it to consume his mind even as it consumed our days. I was both utterly impressed and frustrated with his approach. In the years since in my work as a bladder cancer patient advocate, I have noticed that people tend to fall into one.

Pros of immersion

Immersion is for those who feel the need to act. The “do something” mode, I call it. I know it made me feel productive, it focused my nervous energy, and I felt compelled to do what I could to make sure my husband was getting the best care.

The benefits of this approach are that the patient/caregiver learns a lot about the illness, gets quickly educated on important questions and considerations, and may discover resources they wouldn’t have otherwise been told about by doctors.

Cons of immersion

The major “con” of immersion is that you are, well, immersed. Bladder cancer becomes all you think about. Or it can become all you think about if you’re not good at setting boundaries. (And if you are an immerser, you are likely not good at boundaries.)

Immersion can take its toll just like spending too much time and mental energy on anything can. Setting boundaries, taking breaks, recognizing this problem is not yours alone to solve – all of these approaches can help temper immersion.

Pros of minimizing

Minimizing helps you to continue to live as normal a life as possible. And there’s a lot to be said for that. I’ve heard people call it “denial” and, yes, in a way it is. But what’s necessarily wrong with that?

My husband was given a terrible prognosis of anywhere from eight months to three years of life. What do you do with that information? It’s so easy to become depressed and consumed. He was incredible at focusing on the few hopeful notes and living his life based on those.

Choosing not to spend each day worrying

You can argue it’s not “facing reality” to approach it this way. And that is technically true and can cause problems if you really should create a will, for instance, but don’t feel the need.

But what I witnessed was that my husband felt better than I did every day because he simply chose to minimize how big this was in his life. He lived 11 months from the diagnosis. Is it better to live 11 months worrying and stressed about cancer every day or is it better to live them as peacefully as possible?

Cons of minimizing

If minimizing keeps you from doing things like writing a will (as noted previously), that can be a problem. It can also be frustrating to family members if a prognosis is poor and the patient simply doesn’t want to talk about it.

Minimizing can also cause a patient to not necessarily know about certain treatments or support options. We like to believe our doctors are the best – and often they are very good. But there are a lot of details to living with cancer that doctors simply don’t have time (or may not know about themselves) to tell you. Doing your own research helps you find those other resources.

A balance within a family is ideal

A couple that can balance each other with regard to minimizing or immersing – and also have respect for each other’s approaches – is the ideal. Diving in and backing off with regard to bladder cancer are both helpful. Not doing too much of either is the key.

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