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Adjunctive Therapies - Part 2

Updated: Apr 20

Self Care

I’ve always been a gal who enjoyed a good long soak in the tub, a lit candle, a soothing face mask. But with this diagnosis came an urgent need to make sure self care was something that happened more often than when my work demands would allow. It would have to be something I did deliberately and intentionally.

When I first received my diagnosis, I opted to speak with an oncology therapist, a service offered by Northwestern. I spoke with her on three different occasions and she reminded me that my mental state could shift at any moment and she asked what kind of self care I was doing. I think it is important to note that a licensed clinical psychologist stressed the value of self care.

I found that I did not need to return to regular visits with this psychologist, although knowing she was there was very helpful in case I found myself having difficulty processing my emotions. But I did need to intentional about practicing self care often. So true to my preferences, I began with long, warm, epsom salt baths more frequently. The physical and spiritual relief were equitable; it was where I did most of my crying, and I still do. During radiation treatments, my radiation oncologist okayed these baths since my skin was healthy, with the promise I would stop if it became uncomfortable.

After my port was put in, and I started IV chemo, I was more limited in when I could take long baths, and after my surgeries, I couldn’t do them at all until my incisions were healed, which was devastating. A trusted spiritual advisor has always emphasized the importance of salt in clearing my energy and she recommended I now use a salt spray while I was showering. I used Zum Mist Sea Salt Spray. Energy clearing or not, the ritual of it, the smell of the essential oils, the commitment to myself, the continued practice of self care was an opportunity to down regulate my nervous system to a more calm state.

Another key element of self care was massage. Regular massages had been a part of my routine for several years prior to my diagnosis, but now, they were more important than ever and I prioritized the time and the budget necessary to maintain consistency. I am blessed to have a massage therapist that was understanding, gentle, compassionate, and adaptable to every part of my treatment timeline. Her dedication to making me feel relaxed, to helping relieve the stress and pain in my body, was a generous gift. When I was too tired to leave the house, she came to me. When I couldn’t completely lay down, she offered solutions. When my neuropathy flared she adjusted. My entire medical team gave me the green light for massages throughout my treatments. In fact, it was always one of my first questions, “Can I still have massages?” Or post surgery, “When can I go back for a massage?” The importance of how life improving these massage sessions were for me is invaluable. Thank you to Yuri, for everything she has done for me.

Writing and Reading

As demonstrated by this blog, I began writing immediately. I documented my random thoughts, my darkest feelings, my nightly dreams and daily observations everywhere. I had stacks of journals, note pads, and files on my computer. Writing has helped me process, to work through  and give me something to reflect back on. Writing gave me an opportunity to document my progress, to celebrate my accomplishments and to connect with The Divine.

I made my way back to avid reading, an enjoyed pastime that I lost at the expense of a harried, frenzied schedule. I have shared with you some of the health focused books I read, but I also jumped back into fiction and into books that explore the larger questions and concepts of the universe and our place in it.

Rituals and Habits

During the sixteen weeks of chemo treatments, Disney+ released a limited series called Limitless with Chris Hemsworth and Dr. Peter Attia. Aside from the fact that we all get to watch Chris Hemsworth do amazing physical challenges, many times without a shirt on, the show was impactful to me as I considered what life would look like post cancer. I highly recommend watching this series.  It offered me three key takeaways:

  • Meditation is important- Stress is a huge factor in cancer. How we process stress and how we reduce stress is vital to our good health. I meditate every morning with the assistance of the Calm app. I like the various series they offer, as well as the daily practices. Sometimes, I meditate several times a day, depending on what is thrown at me. The benefit has been a clarity of mind, a sense of perspective, a reminder to breathe, and know that I truly can overcome anything. And meditation is a lot easier than one might think. Just the act of sitting peacefully, with your own thoughts, no technology in hand, is enough.

Along the lines of reduced stress, I read the book Cured: The Life Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing by Dr. Jeffery Rediger. This book continued to reinforce the fact that I could not return to life as I knew it if I was to be my healthiest self. And no - I am not going to pick up and move to a remote island and live off the land, but I have set different priorities and boundaries in my life that allow me a better balance of healthy behaviors, from the food I eat to how I spend my time.

  • Hot and Cold - There is some scientific data to show that exposing ourselves to extreme heat and cold can help strengthen our bodies defenses against disease and aging. And I was intrigued by how invigorating, stress reducing, and mentally challenging this could be. So now, I end my showers with at least 30 seconds of cold water. I also invested in a infrared sauna blanket that I use on a consistent basis.

  • The Mind Body Connection is real - What am I doing to challenge my mind? What am I doing to use my body in a different way? It was mentioned in this series that dance is one of the best ways to challenge both the mind and body. I grew up taking ballet and jazz dance lessons and had always wanted to return to it. So why not now? The minute I was recovered from my ileostomy reversal surgery, I was in the nearest dance studio practicing ballet again.

It’s important to acknowledge that cancer will change you. It changed me more than I thought it would. But it changed me in so many great ways and those changes have rippled out to my husband, my family, and my friends. I am proud of all of these changes I have made - I feel like I am healthier now than I was pre cancer. I feel my ability to navigate challenge is stronger than pre cancer. I know that my perception of life is much clearer; I know what is important to me and I know what is a priority. I am more deliberate and intentional in how I care for myself and how I use my precious time on Earth.

“I've already seen the bottom, so there's nothing to fear”- Pink


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