Tag Archive | Cancer

Hope Heals The Way…

Hope-is-like-the-sun

Never give up on hope. I’ve heard people eschew this often overused word as unworthy of attention. A word that only gives false hope, which leads to continued feelings of rejection, loss, and disappointment. But, Hope doesn’t guarantee that life will suddenly become filled with rainbows, leprechauns and unicorns. What it does do, though, is pave the way for possibilities!

Possibilities of a life lived better than the one today. Possibilities for answers to our problems; for solution-oriented thinking.

Because when we have hope, we encourage others to do the same. To not give up… on us. On the situations at hand. On whatever obstacle is currently in front of us.

If I had given up hope 8 years ago today because the doctors told me I had a 10% chance of making it through the night, burning_candleI am 100% positive I would not have made it through that night. But the doctors, the nurses, all the caregivers saw that hope within me. Because hope burns like the brightest candle in your soul. And it fueled them to work through the night to save me. It is undeniable; a hard to ignore source of personal power.

But I also think that’s what scares people most about hope. Why they begin to shy aware from it, call it out as being “cheesy” or setting oneself up with false expectations. Because they are afraid of their own burning flame… we all have the gift of this, if we stoke it, feed it, let it grow.

But with hope, brings responsibility. Because with hope, you are saying: “I am worthy.” And: “I am worth it… worth the effort.” You are taking responsibility for yourself. You are saying, “I am not ready to give up yet.”

I saw a woman (Cheryl L. Broyles) share her story of hope last week on a daytime talk show. A story wherein 15 years ago she was given 6 months to live as she battled terminal, incurable cancer. But, she said, “NO. I am not giving up hope for survival, for myself, for my life, for my family. And I refuse to let you give up hope on me either.” And here she is, 14 years later, sharing her story. She talks that what keep hope alive for her is making “deals” with herself; “when I reach my 1 year, 5 year, 12 year anniversary marks, I will do the following feat. Or, I am going to stay alive to see my children enter kindergarten, then it was high school, college, and now, have their first child.” And she now helps other people keep their hope alive.

And that’s when it hit me; I’ve stalled out on spreading my hope out to the world. It was the greatest gift that came from my survival; it was my mission statement when I started this blog. It was my goal when I planned to publish my story. And I have done many of those things. And I certainly make an effort to “practice hope” in my individual actions. But there still is a lot to do; there is still a lot a want to share. And that is where I lost my hope.

Because Hope doesn’t mean that life becomes easier. If anything, my life has become, and continues to become, more and more challenging. But what if that’s all part of my story? Who am I to define what hope looks like for me, or for anyone else?

All I do know is that hope means to keep moving forward. To push outside the boundaries of conventional thinking. To look at things in new and different lights. Because it’s not just us with chronic or terminal illnesses, that benefit from this hope. IT IS EACH AND EVERY ONE OF US!

From the smallest daily conundrums to the bigger challenges in relationships with our partners (current and ex!), children, and co-workers. And on to our inner desires and dreams. There are always ways to achieve what we want and need; it’s just not always gained by the conventional route. And that’s where hope comes in to play! Because once you give yourself fully over to the idea of hope (of worthiness), then you can’t help but say, “Well, then, how I am going to make the seemingly impossible, possible?” Once you open the door to new possibilities, you open the door to light.

I often hear hope and faith lumped together. And this, too, can turn some people off to the idea of fully embracing “hope.” Because they equate faith with religion, and that’s not the space they find their hope in. Many people do, and that’s a gift.

But I also want to point out that faith is defined as “belief in, trust in, loyalty to, strong conviction of…” Couldn’t you fill in that blank with so many other verbs and adjectives? “Belief in Hope;” “Trust in something greater than myself;” “Loyalty to myself and my own well-being;” or “A strong conviction in the fact that I am worthy of living a full life.”

My faith lies both in the power of actively practicing Hope, but also in the belief that I am not the one directing what that hope looks like. I may still die tomorrow; but at least I know that I didn’t go down without a fight. That I didn’t live every moment as fully as I could, in that moment. And that I didn’t let others give up on me. Even more importantly, I didn’t give up on myself.

So open your heart to a little bit of hope today. Feel that candle of life, love and energy burn within. You truly are worthy of it… all.

Fluent in the “Language of Pain”

Pain and wisdom

A recent article in U.S.A. Today discussed the “health care crisis” of chronic pain, stating that 40% of Americans now experience chronic pain… 40%!  Just think about that for a moment.  Thankfully, research institutes are also finally paying attention to this startling statistic and studying ways to treat this epidemic.

What stood out most to me in the article is the description of what happens to a being when they experience unrelenting pain.  We learn to become fluent in the Language of Pain.  It’s the old “practice makes perfect” adage. But in this case, it is completely unhelpful.

Our bodies and minds are wired to learn new habits and behaviors through repetition.  The article states:

“In a sense, chronic pain is not all that different from learning to play the piano or speak French.  The more the body ‘practices’ processing pain, the better it gets at it and the stronger the connections between nerves becomes.”

It speaks of a term, us chronically ill are all too familiar with, “allodynia.”   Allodynia is when pain sensations are so out of proportion with the reality that even the slightest breeze on the skin, gentlest of hugs, or softest touch of a feather, can feel like scalding water, the burn of a blowtorch, or thousands of needles stinging the skin all at once.  This can be a very frustrating condition to explain to “non-sufferers.”  How do you tell someone, “I’m sorry, but your hug hurts me,” without hurting their feelings?!

Chronic pain is defined as pain lasting 6 months or more.  It can be triggered by illness, but also by post-surgical pain that doesn’t go away, injury (even after it is technically “healed”), aggressive medical treatments (especially those for cancer), and chronic conditions such as arthritis, back pain and headaches.

Chronic pain effects 100 million Americans and costs between $560-635 billion dollars per year, yet doctors only receive 9 hours on average of pain education during their entire medical school education!

One of the sacriest facts is that it causes permanent damage to the body.  Chronic pain can literally shrink the brain.  It can reduce gray matter as much as 20 years of aging does!! (according to research at Northwestern University)

The biggest enigma of the pain puzzle for me, is the incongruity of my own personal pain responses.  I actually have an extremely high tolerance for pain when it comes to injury, injections, and other invasive procedures.  And then there’s the flip side… my body can be triggered by God knows what (I always equate it to having a switched flipped). When this happens, I am writhing in pain, the touch of the lightest sheet on my body can trigger what feels like an attack on my body… my nervous system is on fire.  I would sell my soul to the devil to make it stop!

Hence the pain conundrum!

And also the reason why scientists state that suicide rates are twice as high in people with chronic pain.  Chronic pain is highly unpredictable and volatile.  And, currently, extremely mistreated and misunderstood.

Although, they are starting to discover that there are several non-invasive, non-drug treatment options for “quieting the pain.”  I have found many of these helpful (when I remember to employ them!) and I would be interested to hear what techniques others use to treat this painful condition.

  1. Exercise:  This can be the hardest to start because when we are in the midst of pain, our minds tell us to be still; we are terrified that if we move, it will only get worse.  But this is the exact opposite from the truth. The USA Today article states, “Exercise is as close as there is to a magic bullet for pain.” Hazzah!  I think of it as re-training the nerves, muscles and brain (just as it has been conditioned to feel pain at every turn).  I started riding my exercise bike daily 2 months back and it has changed my life.  Now when I am having a particularly bad flare of pain, my body actually “tells” me to get on my bike and move. And it works! Truly. NOTE: It may be helpful to begin a exercise program in a warm pool.
  2. Acupuncture: Once dismissed as little more than a “placebo effect,” newer studies in (objective) mice show that acupuncture stimulates adenosine, a powerful pain reliever made naturally in the body.  And studies in humans are showing that after acupuncture, there are powerful changes that occur in the nerve pathways, running from the brain to the rest of the body (an important way the nervous system can control pain). Has anyone had success with this?
  3. Massage: I swear by this! I see my massage therapist every 2-3 weeks and she has changed my body’s response to painful stimuli. My recommendation would be to find someone trained in therapeutic/medical massage that will work long term with you; make sure it is someone you can clearly communicate with. When I first started, my therapist could only “rock” parts of my body until I got used to touch. Now, even when my body is “on-fire,” it responds positively to her touch; she quiets the hyper-active nerves. There is no one else I would trust to touch me.
  4. Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Meditation and Bio-Feedback:  All treatments that use the mind to quiet the body.  I use guided meditations daily and can now almost “leave my physical body” when it is in pain (not always, but often). I know people who have had success with formal bio-feedback training and EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique or Tapping Therapy).

There are other treatment options, not scientifically proven, but people have found comfort with:

  1. Chiropractic Care
  2. Magnet Therapy
  3. Reiki
  4. Heat Therapy
  5. Hydrotherapy
  6. Electrical Stimulation (TENS units)
  7. Ultrasound
  8. And what I like to call: “Distraction Therapy:” engaging the mind in another activity (something simple and repetitive like knitting, coloring, zentangles, bead stringing, crosswords or puzzle books, music, silly kitten videos!, etc.), until the pain becomes distanced from your physical body. This works wonders for me!

Please share your pain coping techniques, so that we can all benefit from the shared experience of this “painful” condition (pun intended!).

If you are interested in reading the full article, follow this link:

Chronic Pain: A Health Care Crisis

Also, here is a link to the American Chronic Pain Association:

ACPA

Breathing in the Now

Present moment

I was asked recently: “How do you stay so calm and in the present moment throughout all your health scares?”  This inquiry came from a dear friend who is filled with future worries over a loved one who may have cancer.  I include words like “future” and “may” on purpose.  Because upon reflection, I realize that this is the key to my acceptance, and subsequent serenity.

I must keep my mind in the present moment at all times.

This is a mindful practice. And as the word “practice” implies, it takes concentrated effort to maintain.  But with practice and time, it becomes more natural; like a form of breathing.

Breathing in the NOW.

Here are some steps I’ve taken to keep my mind, body and spirit in the here and now; neither fretting about the past nor worrying about the future…

SPIRITUALITY: The next question my friend asked was regarding to my spiritual health… “Is this what makes you so strong?” she wondered.  I’ve thought a lot on this. My immediate response was to explain that although I am deeply spiritual today, it was not always this way; especially during the throes of my most severe illness.  But, I was wrong.  Although it is true that my spirituality has only grown over the years and I can now comfortably say I believe in a Higher Power, an Energy that is greater than myself, there was always a spiritual trust deep in my soul…

TRUST: A trust that everything would (and will) work out the way it is supposed to be.  I can’t define what this is and nor should I (this is where I can get into trouble!).  But I do have an unexplained knowing.  And that “knowing” is the faith that I am going to die not on my time clock, but on the Universe’s.  And although that may sound scary, it can actually be very freeing.  Because once you let your mind release the worry of when you’re going to die, or get sick, or come upon hard times, you can focus on the HOW:

THE HOW: How am I going to live today to the fullest extent of my spirit?  What steps am I going to take to: nurture my mind, body and spirit; reach out to others instead of isolate; strengthen my relationship with my spiritual base (whether it is God, Buddha, the Universe, or the trees); show myself all the love I deserve; and reach out to others in need?..

SERVICE:  One of the best ways I have always found for getting outside of my own insular world of worry is to reach out to others.  This certainly isn’t the first time you’ve heard me sing this song!  Being of service to someone else (stranger or loved one) not only gets me out of my own head, it uplifts my soul, recharging my internal energy source, my Soul Beacon. And, let’s be completely honest here: there is always someone who has it tougher than you right now.  It’s important to keep that perspective!

IN THE NOW:  There are many techniques I use to keep my mind in the present… I will repeat the mantra “I have arrived” over and over while holding my hand on my heart.  I will use a God Jar (you can name it anything you want); this is a container where I write down my worries and place them inside.  Then when those worries resurface in my mind, I gently remind myself, “Oh, Tam!  You already sent that to the universe/God; you don’t need to worry about that anymore.  It’s taken care of.”

CONTINGENCY PLANS:  Stop making them!!!  I was master of this for so many years, and all it did was exhaust me!  I would figure out all the “possible future outcomes” and then come up with (several) contingency plans for each scenario.  But, you know what?  90% of the time my future would unfold completely different than anything I had “prepared” myself for.  So I would still have to fly by the seat of my pants, in the moment; but my mind would be so fatigued from all the ruminations, I wouldn’t have the energy to successfully face what was in the here and now.  Then, one day I just stopped!  And, you know what?  If I am doing all the above things to take care of myself on a daily basis, I can always find the tools to help me with whatever comes my way. And my life, my spirit, is much calmer because of it.

I realized all the anxiety I was feeling on a daily basis was self- created.  I decided to get off my own Merry-Go-Round of Hell (cue Twilight Zone music…).  You can, too!

STOP WAITING FOR THE OTHER SHOE TO DROP:  I thought that if I was always waiting for something bad to happen, I wouldn’t be caught off guard (disappointed, disheartened) when it did.  Yes, my life is constantly dropping shoes on my head!  But, all that waiting did was create a stress-filled environment where I was inviting trouble.  We attract what we expect!  So, I started expecting differently.  And because I stopped looking to the sky for these impending “bombs,” I am now able to recognize and celebrate all the calm days between the storms.

STOP ASKING “WHY ME?” AND START ASKING “WHAT NEXT?!:” Truly, there is no answer to the question “Why?”  I can’t tell you how many times loving friends have lamented, “Why you?  I just don’t understand why the nicest people get the hardest lives?”  I don’t know either.  But all this question does is create an environment of self-pity.  And when I am stuck in self-pity mode, I can’t see all the amazing gifts that have come out of my illness.  I’m not saying it’s all “unicorns and rainbows” here! But, I do know that in any situation, be it physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, financial, inter-relational… the only question that serves me is: “What next?”  What am I going to do with the hand that is dealt me?  How am I going to make this Situation serve me?  What skills do have to get through this?  And who do I know that can help me?

Once I move beyond victim mode, into action mode, I am living in the present moment.  AND, FOR ME, THAT’S THE ONLY PLACE I WANT TO BE!