How to deal emotionally with a life-threatening disease

Everyone is different, and people cope with things in their own way. Laura Pexton was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 29 before her baby had even learned to walk.

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  • Everyone is different, and people cope with things in their own way. Laura Pexton was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 29 before her baby had even learned to walk. The trauma of that diagnosis was terrible, but after surgery, chemotherapy and radiation she presumed she’d beaten the cancer and went back to her routine.

  • Two years later, however, Laura began experiencing back pain and learned that not only had the cancer returned, but it had metastasized to her bones. The doctors told her that eventually the cancer would kill her.

  • Laura was devastated. She started on a new drug, Herceptin, that showed promise to treat her cancer. Understandably, Laura fell into a funk. She was justifiably feeling sorry for herself and was completely miserable. She acknowledges that she was “wallowing in self-pity.”

  • Laura sought help wherever she could find it. She began receiving “Healing Touch” therapy and found renewed peace. Exercising her personal faith in God, she found comfort in the New Testament words of Jesus Christ, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you…”

  • With peace restored, Laura began to look outside herself for the first time in years. She harked back to the days before cancer when she traveled as a nurse on medical missions with Operation Smile.

  • Despite the fact that Laura still had an incurable cancer and that the disease made her bones brittle, which resulted in several broken bones since her second diagnosis in 2004, Laura set those concerns aside and decided to go on another medical mission, this one to western China. In the past four years, Laura has completed eight medical missions for Operation Smile and IVU Med (an organization that treats bladder issues and trains local doctors to perform them, as well).

  • Laura has found that serving others has brought her more joy and hope in the future. She is now working toward a Ph.D in Public Health at the University of Utah so she can have an even bigger and more positive impact on the world. She still battles her cancer, but she doesn’t let it stop her. She doesn’t let it even slow her down.

  • Your experience with the diagnosis of a life-threatening illness will be different. You’ll need to find your own path.

  • Laura’s experience can be broken down into three basic phases. Initially, she wallowed in self-pity. Next, she found comfort and peace largely from external sources; she needed to have her inner peace jar refilled. Finally, she found renewed joy and happiness in serving others.

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  • You may experience a similar pattern, initially grieving over the loss you experience. Don’t be afraid to seek out help and comfort until you have your personal peace restored. Once you do, you, also, may be able to find ways to give and serve as a way to find meaning and leave a legacy.

  • A cancer diagnosis, or other serious disease can put you in a tailspin. Don’t be ashamed of that. Find hope in the prospect that your life is not over and there may be much yet for you to do.

  • Laura Pexton’s inspiring story is told more completely in my book, "Your Mark On The World."

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Devin Thorpe, husband, father, author of Your Mark On The World and a popular guest speaker, is a Forbes Contributor. Building on a twenty-five year career in finance and entrepreneurship that included $500 million in completed transactions, he now champions social good full time, seeking to help others succeed in their efforts to make the world a better place.


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