Coping With Cancer
A cancer diagnosis can take you on a road you’ve never been before, a road where it’s hard to find your way and the best turns to take are not clearly marked. There are highs and lows: the learning curve is steep, yet sometimes you’re in a swamp with no road at all, and you yearn for solid ground. Everyone walks a different road with cancer and even though the experiences are similar, it can be a lonely time.
I experienced many emotions along my road, and it seemed ages before the road felt comfortable and familiar. I received excellent health care, therefore I do believe in the value of conventional Western medicine to put you on the road to finding a cure for disease. My health care team spoke in terms of a cure, yet even though I hoped this would happen, I was afraid it may not. I felt there was a gap after I had completed surgery and chemotherapy, and research studies have concluded that this is a common phenomenon. The gap is typical of people who wonder: What comes next? What lies around the corner? How I can live my life with the burden of cancer hanging over my head?
Fortunately there is a lot of help available to you, but it can be confusing. The trick is to listen to your intuition, or that “still small voice within” and ask yourself questions such as “How do I feel about that?” or “What is really important to me?” then listen for the answers. Cancer gives you permission to prioritize what is truly important to you, to see where you gain or lose energy, and to reduce the impact that the energy robbers have on your health. It may be necessary for you to make some changes. This is not an easy task, so draw a line in the sand to maintain your comfort zone, and use your support system to help you through each step. As a Wellness Coach specializing in cancer recovery, I am available to provide this support for you if you would like some assistance in making and maintaining changes, or in helping you to navigate your journey with cancer.
After I was treated for Stage II breast cancer in 1986 and 2 minor cancers in 1987, I felt the need to search for answers. I learned of the need to heal my body and my mind. I learned that being pro-active about my health would give me a better prognosis, and that by taking charge I could help myself through the healing process to gain peace of mind. I read many books and found a common thread which led me to write a list called “Find Your Own Road”; this list serves as a guide for each of us to find our unique road to health. It doesn’t mean that you walk the road alone, but that you make choices about what you will use to build your own road. There are books, tapes and videos to help you, but it’s important to take the time and choose what speaks to you. If you approach everything with a critical eye and take only what you need, then you can streamline your own health care system.
“Find Your Own Road”
- Sleep and Deep Relaxation
- Stress management
- Volunteer Work
- Support System
- Art / Music
- Complementary Therapies
- Visualization and Guided Imagery
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Items 1, 2, 3 and 4 are the most important categories to consider; if we practice good lifestyle habits in these 4 areas, it puts us on the road to good health.
There is an abundance of information about the benefits of foods which promote good health. I’m sure that most people know what they should be eating to achieve good health, but many factors get in the way of making the right choices. This question helps me to filter through information when making all the decisions we make in a day. When I make a choice with regard to nutrition, in the grocery store, in a restaurant, or searching the fridge, I ask myself “Is this good for my health?” Since my health is a priority, if the answer is no, I have the option to make a healthier choice to be kind to my body. It’s that simple. The human body needs certain elements to function properly so unless the right foods are put in to it, the body systems will be compromised. A well fed body is a body which functions to the best of its ability – pain free, comfortable, in the best possible state of health and wellness.
Regular exercise provides a foundation of fitness and well-being. It is important to figure out what we like to do to maintain an active life style. If you can walk, walking is the most basic and therapeutic exercise which can be incorporated practically anywhere, anytime. If you are unable to walk, you can maintain proper functioning of muscles and joints with gentle movements such as Tai Chi or Qi Cong tailored to your needs. The key is to have a regular schedule and to enjoy what you do.
3. Sleep and Deep Relaxation
Your body heals during sleep, so give it ample opportunity to do that, especially if you are in active treatment for cancer. Surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy are effective, but the body needs rest to recuperate and maintain a healthy state. Deep relaxation means complete mental and physical relaxation for at least 15 minutes a day, and comes from such things as deep breathing, meditation, prayer, massage.
4. Stress management
Stress management techniques are the same as for deep relaxation, with the addition of many other coping skills depending on what works for you. The main thing is to balance times of stress with relaxation so your body can recuperate from the adverse effects of stress hormones. If stress is allowed to keep building, your body will not be able to maintain a healthy state. If you compensate for high stress times with short periods of relaxation, then your body will be better able to take on the next stressful period. Think of waves on a beach – they advance and recede with a gentle rhythm. If they did nothing but advance we would all be under water.
Simplicity in life will helps me to place a focus on my health and make it a priority. In this fast paced world we have lost sight of our basic needs and materialistic wants can be blown out of proportion to what is really important. A cancer diagnosis serves to remind us where our priorities lie. Loving and being loved by others is a prime human need without which life just doesn’t make sense. Dealing with any unfinished business will free up space in your mind to help you achieve a state of peace and be comfortable with who you are.
Spirituality is an individual choice and may or may not include formal religion. Many people say that their faith has sustained them through an ordeal with cancer which is a wonderful source of support for them. If you have no formal religion, try spending time appreciating nature, and expressing gratitude for what you have; this will help you to connect with your inner self and also to see a bigger picture. Loving and nurturing yourself will ultimately help you to love and nurture other people.
7. Volunteer Work
Volunteer work can provide you with many happy hours. When going through chemotherapy, I heard about a study which said that volunteering gives people satisfaction and promotes longer life. I remember thinking: “I can do that”, and I added one more block to build my road to health.
8. Support System
Building a support system keeps you putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward on the road. I was fortunate enough to have much support from my family and friends without whom I would not be where I am today. It is tough to walk a cancer journey alone and well worth the effort to develop a support system. Volunteering and working with other volunteers provides me with peer support. I am now a Wellness Coach specializing in cancer recovery for people who would like to have help learning to live well with cancer.
9./10. Humor / Art / Music
The fields of music, art and laughter offer a wealth of healing power; they change our moods, which affect our hormones and the chemicals in our bodies. Positive emotions produce hormones which are health giving as opposed to the hormones of negative emotions which destroy our body systems. Music, art and laughter promote good health in the form of endorphins which increase our happiness and sense of well being. I once attended a multi-faceted seminar which was based on science and promoted good health for women; however, it ended with a speech by an old Chinese doctor who said: “Happiness is the key to good health.”
11. Complementary Therapies
Complementary Therapies cover a wide range of aids to good health including: Massage, Therapeutic Touch, Reflexology, Reiki, Yoga, Qi Cong, Tai Chi, and many others. Complementary practitioners are by and large a wonderful group of people who have the intention of helping you to heal. Complementary Therapies can promote wellness in your life after cancer treatment, but remember to check with your doctors if you’re still in treatment. Be sure to seek modalities which are right for you; Complementary Therapies must feel comfortable for you and if you get any negative vibes, then it’s important to listen to your own body and hear the message it gives you.
12. Visualization and Guided Imagery
Visualization is something we all use to get us where we want to go as we picture the road ahead. During my cancer treatment, I used Visualization and Guided Imagery to strengthen my belief that I could actively heal myself. I listened to pre-recorded tapes and found color pictures of T-cells killing cancer cells in the June 1986 edition of National Geographic magazine. I spent many hours visualizing my cancer cells being snuffed out by hard working killer T-cells. Imagery is an individual thing so it’s important to develop a visualization which will work for you.
13. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
I worked with a psychologist as I was going through chemotherapy to help me come to terms with cancer; she helped me to let go of unfinished business so I could focus my energy on dealing with my disease. She referred me to a course in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy which helped me to reduce anger, anxiety, fear, guilt and worry. Many people are encouraged to use positive thinking but I think it is hard for them to see the benefit of this if it is superficial and without behavior change. I believe that good health comes from healthy lifestyle choices which include positive thoughts and positive behavior.
Facing cancer has changed my life. I had excellent care through diagnosis, surgery, and chemotherapy in 1986 and 1987. However, coping with the emotional impact of cancer was a struggle for me until I learned how to incorporate the building blocks which helped me to “Find My Own Road”. I believe that by improving my quality of life, I have been able to enjoy a greater quantity of life. If you are facing cancer or another chronic disease and would like to make some changes in your life, I encourage you to start today because “Today is the first day of the rest of your life!” Learn from the experiences of the past and move forward into the future with what you have at this moment to sustain you.
If you would like my support, please call:
Lynn Roodbol, Certified Wellness Coach
Helping to navigate the cancer recovery journey!