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Lessons learned from surviving cancer 5 times

By Eric LeVine, Special to CNN
November 21, 2012 -- Updated 1639 GMT (0039 HKT)

Editor's note: In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle -- injury, illness or other hardship -- they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn't know they possessed. Chef Eric LeVine has won awards, written a cookbook and beat out three competitors to become a Food Network "Chopped" champion. But his biggest battles have been with cancer. He's won five times, and in the process he's learned about the importance of support and the weight of the family burden that comes with those battles.

(CNN) -- When I found out that I had cancer for the first time, I decided not to say anything to my family members for about six weeks. Why? That's the question my family asked me when I finally told them.

I had a lot to consider. I had thought about the pressure and concern they would all have for me. I thought about the weight that would put on them, the worry they would have and I just didn't want them to worry. I have always been the one to carry my friends and family, to help when I could, to be the strong one. I didn't want to be perceived as needy or weak. It's just not in my DNA.

I never asked for help; I never wanted it, no matter how sick I was. I drove myself to treatments and asked everyone to just treat me as if nothing was wrong.

Well, that didn't work. People would call all day, sometimes twice a day. I thought if I wasn't thinking about it, it was easier. To know that you can die from something - it was just too much pressure. When everyone asked how I was feeling all day and night, it was a constant reminder.

So I realized that the best way for me to use this knowledge - my experience - was to pay it forward. Not with cancer patients, but with their families - teaching them how they can help their family member, the cancer patient.

I've learned that little things go a long way. One question I get all the time is: "How do I help my XYZ? I want to make them feel better and be sure they are OK." My best advice has been to not burden the patient with your worries. It causes unintentional but also undue stress, because not only does the individual have to worry about what they are going through - the future and the fun of treatments - but now you have just saddled them with your worry. Just letting the individual know you care and you're there for them is important. He or she will ask for help when they need it.

For me, it was my battle every time, my fight. I chose to live or not. The mind is the strongest weapon a cancer patient has. You can't will a cancer patient to fight, it comes from within. Be there for him or her, love them, support them, don't drag them down.

It's a tough enough battle.

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