One day soon you will wake up, go about your day and forget you are battling cancer. In the meantime, it’s important to implement strategies that keep you mentally tough and physically as strong as possible. If you had told me there’d come a day when cancer wouldn’t consume me, amid the peak of my treatment, I wouldn’t have believed you. During this three-month intensive phase, I had four consecutive days of treatment. By 7:30 am, I’d have an IV inserted into my arm pumping me up with one type of medicine or another, followed by various detox methods. After half a days worth of healing protocols, I’d get back to the house I was staying in, crawl into bed and pass out for several hours. When I awoke, I headed to the pool. The Arizona sunshine and poolside environment fueled my body with enough energy to get me to yoga in the evening. This simple afternoon routine revitalized my body and cleared my head, yet I still couldn’t see beyond tomorrow’s treatment, until the time in between treatments became greater.
Life can feel pretty bleak when you are continuously under the weather, which is an understatement. It’s easy to get down when you feel zapped of energy, are not sure which end you’re going to be sick out of or are feverish, nauseous and forgetful for extended periods of time. It’s like having the worst flu of your life for days on end. On top of those symptoms, you might be losing your hair or the skin on the bottom of your feet, and your nails may look like a zombie’s out of The Walking Dead. Despite how bad it seems, do not let the side effects of cancer treatment get you down for more than a moment. No more bad days, only bad moments. I’m not recommending you stuff your feelings or saying you can’t have a tantrum here and there. I had plenty. I believe you have to feel it to heal it, so by all means let it out. Cry. Scream. Drop F-bombs. Punch a pillow. Please don’t hurt anyone! But do whatever you need to let the frustration out. Then move on and be sure to experience some level of joy, laughter, and happiness each and every day, which will keep you going.
No matter what type of cancer treatment you choose, there is no easy route to getting well. Whether you’ve chosen a conventional or natural path to healing, when the cancer is dying-off, you are most likely going to feel it in your body. That’s why staying mentally strong by putting a plan in place and establishing a loose and forgiving routine is so important. Here are four tips to help you stay on your game.
Cancer doesn’t come with a play by play guide to what you can expect. I’ve talked to people who, after a round of chemo, were symptomless for twenty-one days , only to wake up with mouth sores and a wicked case of diarrhea several weeks later. I know of one woman who has yet to experience any harsh symptoms. In my experience, this is quite rare, but she has a very positive outlook, and who can say what the future will hold. I know people who went the all natural route and said it was the hardest challenge they’ve had to overcome–mentally and physically. The point is, there’s just no way of knowing how your body is going to respond to treatment. Don’t compare your healing journey to anyone else’s. We are all unique beings; expect your treatment response to be unique to you. The more you listen to your body and what it’s telling you, the faster you will heal.
After my first three days of treatment, I had planned to board a plane home, and instead, I went to bed Friday afternoon and didn’t emerge until Sunday, shy of bathroom breaks and taking in fluids. I knew I did not have the strength to fly and then drive two hours back to my home in the mountains. If I had ignored my body’s need to rest and tried to fly home, I most certainly would have caused harm to myself or someone else. I was not fit to be on the road. It’s important to learn what your body needs and honor whatever that may be without getting down on yourself. Rest might be a new concept for you. Get over it! You need sleep. This is when your body does most of its healing. Hunker down and accept that your life is not the same as its always been. If you want to get better, you’re going to have to give your body a break. On the contrary, if you’re feeling awesome, get after it! Eventually, I found that on most days, laying by the pool for a short time to boost my vitamin D levels naturally, moving my body gently in yoga and taking a shower made me feel a lot better. This was not an elaborate plan, but it worked. Some days I had enough energy for a mountain bike ride. Other days I knew I wasn’t leaving my bed.
It’s helpful to have someone around who sees what you need when you’re unable to think past your achy, fatigued, body. Believe it or not, I had to be reminded to shower a couple of hours after one of my detox protocols, an ozone sauna, otherwise, I would wonder why I felt so nauseous. Don’t judge yourself because your brain isn’t functioning at the level you’re used to. Be gentle.
One of my girlfriends scheduled a buddy to walk with her every day even if it was just around the block because she didn’t have the energy to go farther. This plan gave her something to look forward to and guaranteed she’d move her body, at least, a little bit. You cannot underestimate what the stress of a cancer diagnosis and treatment will do to your memory and reasoning. I found it very helpful having people around who gently nudged me in the right direction. There’s no way I would have made it into the sun and to yoga as often as I did without my buddy encouraging me. When he was around, I made much better choices.
Like me, many of you are likely used to doing a lot on your own. That time is over. Allow people to support you; most people who love you will want to help. Don’t feel guilty because people are doing for you what you normally do for yourself. Once you’re back on your feet, you’ll have plenty of time to pay it back and forward if you choose.
What makes you happy? Do you have a favorite hobby? Is there something you look forward to every day? Maybe it’s a snuggle with your dog or as grandiose as planning a trip around the world. Incorporate as many simple pleasures in your day that put a smile on your face. Plan for the future. Dream about your big idea becoming reality.
The afternoon by the pool and evening at yoga boosted my energy levels to the point where I could face the next day of treatment. Some nights a funny movie put me in the right frame of mind. Depression starts to set in when too many days go by where you don’t experience a little joy. Sunday Funday took on a whole new meaning. Usually, by then I was feeling significantly better and would make plans to road trip to Sedona, get in a bigger workout or go shopping, to the movies and out to dinner. If I didn’t seize the moment of feeling as well as I was able on Sunday, the next week would be unbearable. When you’re feeling well… Go for it!
Why do you want to live? What’s important to you? Are you a mother or father? Husband or wife? Sister or brother? Best friend? Do you want to see your kids grow up? Have you always dreamed of having children? Do you have goals you haven’t accomplished? Is there something you love to do that you cannot imagine not doing anymore? Did you promise your college roommate you’d be her maid of honor? Are you too young or not ready to die? Get clear on why you want to be here and think about that every day.
I believe I am only just getting started living my purpose. I have a lot to get done here on earth. Now is not my time. Whatever your reason to live is, hold your vision tight every day. No matter what news you receive. Regardless of how bad it might sound. Never give up or forget why now is not your time. There are countless miraculous stories out there of people beating the odds, even when only given a couple of weeks to live.
As my girlfriend Kristen said, “Being negative is a waste of time and energy. It doesn’t help anything. Being positive helps you stay healthy.” The benefits of a positive attitude are scientifically proven. The placebo effect is real. Ask any doctor. The more we focus on healing, the healthier we become. Take care of yourself. Rest when you feel fatigued. Move your body when you know it will energize you. Ask people who care about you to help you stay on track because there are going to be times you’ll forget what makes you feel better. Laugh often. Take in as many marvels of this world that you can. See yourself in the future vibrant, healthy and happy. Decide that you want to be here and never lose sight of why.
You have to believe you are getting well. Staying positive is your most important job. If you keep your spirits up and take care of your body, one day not too far out, you’ll go about your day and forget you are battling cancer.