Liz Benditt is the President and CEO of The Balm Box. She was recently interviewed by Medium as part of their "Top 5 Things You Need to Beat Cancer" series. Below is an excerpt from the article - read the entire article here.
Based on your experiences and knowledge, what advice would you give to others who have recently been diagnosed with cancer? What are your “5 Things You Need To Beat Cancer? Please share a story or example for each.
- Treatment Plans are up for discussion — they are not a directive. Given my age and general good health, Doctors almost always recommended the MOST aggressive treatment plans for me — but ultimately, I was the one who made the decision regarding what I was willing to put my body through. I focused on the odds. We are lucky to live in the age of information. There is great research and data on a patient’s odds of a recurrence or complication for most standard cancer treatments like surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy. This is SO subjective! For example: for me, engaging in hormone therapy post-breast cancer would reduce my odds of recurrence by 50%. That sounds high, right? But in reality, post-lumpectomy and radiation treatment, my odds of recurrence were about 15%. 10 years of hormone therapy would take my odds of a breast cancer recurrence down to 8%. This is such a personal and subjective decision — are the side effects of hormone therapy worth an 8% reduction? Some women would say YES, absolutely! Others say, NO, not worth it!
- Information is power and gave me more confidence in my choices. To actively participate in my treatment plans, I needed a care team willing to include me in the upfront planning. I interviewed and selected doctors who were willing to collaborate with me as a partner — I did not want a medical overlord. In my ongoing cancer journey I have met some brilliant, skilled medical professionals that were horribly arrogant and dismissive. One made me cry in his office. No matter their stellar credentials, I refuse to work with other humans that are mean, rude, or downright creepy. I am incredibly fortunate that I live in a major metropolitan city and could choose from a variety of doctors, all covered by my health insurance. Learning to actively interview and select care teams that aligned with my values and personality has been a game changer.
- Nurse Navigators are worth their weight in gold. Inevitably, most cancer patients will work with more than one doctor at a time, and sometimes it is not clear when to call which doctor with a question or issue — enter the Nurse Navigator. Not all medical centers keep Nurse Navigators on staff, but I was lucky that my local hospital includes a small team of Nurse Navigators. These professionals have been a phenomenal resource. Especially during my breast cancer treatments, my nurse navigator acted like a neutral third party who helped answer questions, made recommendations on the timing between appointments and guided me to the right specialists for my specific diagnosis and medical history. She was warm, smart, resourceful, and sympathetic. Having a medical professional who was only accountable to ME, not one of my doctors, who would listen to my concerns and provide thoughtful insights and suggestions was invaluable.
- Self-care is not selfish. As a working mother during all four of my cancer diagnoses, I was so much more attuned to taking care of others before myself. My personal time was never a priority, smooshed into the edges of the day before anyone woke up or after everyone was asleep. Cancer treatments are almost always exhausting — I found myself needing to rest at least 2–3x more than pre-cancer. That leaves a lot fewer waking hours to squeeze everything else in. The reality is that some things must go — whether it’s early morning workouts, making homemade dinners, attending every kid’s orchestra concert or soccer game, finishing the laundry or all the above — you will not be able to do it all and will have to prioritize where to spend your finite time. Taking care of YOU, prioritizing YOU while undergoing treatment is the fastest path to recovery. One of my favorite items in some of The Balm Box packages is a literal credit card entitled, “The Cancer Card: The Exclusive Membership you always never wanted”. I encourage all cancer patients to flash that card at will — use it to skip the dishes, retain control of the TV remote, order pizza, or have your teenager fold the laundry. (It builds character — I promise!) It may seem anathema — but prioritizing yourself in the short term will ensure you are around to prioritize others in the long term. That’s not selfish — it’s practical.
- Saying Thank You Goes a Long Way. Do you know how often your radiation tech or oncologist is asked about THEIR day? (I actually don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing not a lot!) We are all humans — medical personnel included — and human beings appreciate being appreciated. Aside from simply being kind, showing appreciation for your care team is the very best way to ensure you get the best care. Want that ideal early morning appointment slot? Need an extra tub of free lotion? Want a hospital bed next to the window? People bend over backwards to help patients that are personable and gracious. Seriously — being kind, saying thank you and asking people about themselves is one of THE best ways to help yourself! Win-Win!