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Emotional Rollercoaster

Scary Cancer

Scary Cancer

I remember when I found out that I had cancer, I was about 15 minutes from seeing a patient in my outpatient clinic.  To my surprise, even though I am a professional and I had been dealing with these near scares for over 15 years, my world stopped right away.  I was paralyzed for a few minutes, trying to understand what had just happened. Then I got a bit scared and started crying. After a few minutes of those intense emotions, I called my husband who had trouble making out my words since I could only utter, “I have cancer”. Then I called the nurse who supports my clinic who came to console me, gave me tissues, and took me to start seeing patients. Just as instantly as my emotions appeared, they dissipated and I switched into my professional mode – cool, calm, collected, and focused on my patients. 

Working allowed me to ‘forget’ about it for a bit, but when I came home I went straight into my pajamas and covered myself under my blankets and just lay there. I didn’t want to speak with anyone, I just wanted to be alone. I was still paralyzed, some of my patients call it “shut down”. The next morning when I woke up, my fighter instinct had kicked in. I was ready to tackle this health issue like it was a checkbox on my to-do list, which it was, although its impact on every aspect of my (and my loved ones’) life was major and lasting. 

When you’re first diagnosed, it seems like you go into automatic pilot mode, keeping your eye on the ball and reprioritizing your work and life to make time and preserve energy for performing tests, seeing doctors, and undergoing treatments. You may not understand or tolerate these treatments well, but you accept them because you trust your providers and you want to throw anything you can at your illness so it goes away and you can resume living your life happily ever after, as if the scary cancer never happened.

But it did happen. And it will change you. You cannot go back, you cannot unsee or unknow it. It forces you “to find the new you‘….

Everyone reacts differently. Some may get sad, while others get angry, quiet, or shut-down.  Some react a little, some a lot. Some react instantly, while others are delayed. Some reactions may last, while some are short-lived or intermittent. Even not having a reaction is a reaction.

I often wonder, “Why is a cancer diagnosis so scary and overwhelming?” Other non-cancer diagnoses/diseases, such as heart attack or stroke, may have similar associated life expectancies, but they don’t usually trigger the same intense emotions. So what is so special about cancer? I have been trying to figure this one out, and I’m not sure I have the answer, but it may have something to do with the notion that cancer behaves unpredictably. Also, cancer and its treatment can wreak havoc on one’s body and mind. Patients may feel especially fearful if they have experienced horror stories from movies or family members who went through cancer in the days when our supportive therapies were not as well-developed as they are now.  

When  an experience (or the threat of an experience), such as physical/sexual abuse or  serving in a war, becomes too overwhelming for your body, mind, and spirit to handle, and/or you do not have adequate emotional support, it can become a traumatizing experience. Cancer can be a traumatizing experience, too. The word itself can trigger scary associations, resulting in it being referred to as the “C-Word”. 

The tricky part of having been through a traumatizing experience is that it may have primed you to (over)react easily to other triggers, retraumatizing you. This can manifest itself by keeping you always on the alert for when such a trigger may come around again or having anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks, or trouble concentrating, If you think this may apply to you, please know that there is help for you. Allow yourself to speak about this with your loved ones or healthcare providers. You are not alone. There is no need to feel embarrassed or ashamed. Everyone has their breaking point. Like Mr. Rogers said, “Anything human is mentionable, and anything mentionable is manageable”! 

Learn and Think:

A book and documentary describe the phenomenal progress that has been made in the cancer field. Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies.

Live and Feel:

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, the movie about Mr. Rogers — is out.

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Cancer Fight – Supplements, Time

Cancer Fight – Supplements, Time

Dear Fellow Traveler,

It seems like I’m always seeing and hearing people describe cancer patients as being in a fight with cancer. The word “fight” makes sense in many ways, but at the same time it makes me cringe a little because the word can mean many different things depending on one’s cancer status and where a survivor is in their healing journey. 

Dealing with cancer might be the major fight of and for our lives using a heavy arsenal of artillery like chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. However, using the word “fight” suggests that cancer and we are equal partners and that we have a fair chance to win. With our current medical knowledge, we do not always have that chance. Thinking of cancer as a fight may make cancer patients feel like they have failed their loved ones (who are often unrelenting cheerleaders!) and themselves when cancer starts to “win”. This may give a person in the final stages of their life a heavy burden to carry – shame, embarrassment, and guilt — as if they could and should have tried harder to fight it. It is important to remember that the fight with cancer is not fair. The knowledge and therapies available to us in the 21st century do not yet guarantee that we can outsmart cancer. And yes, lifestyle may play a role too – but we have to note that there are so many other, often unknown, factors in our body, the black box, that affect cancer outcomes

Cancer is our enemy, since it can literally attack and break our bodies down resulting in suffering and death. The emotional rollercoaster it sets us on may result in anger, sadness, and frustration. But over time, perhaps with help from others (including professionals) we may be able to see the silver lining of a cancer diagnosis. It confronts us with the fragility of life and teaches us empathy, humility, and the value of time and love (which can, at times, seem rather abstract). In the end, we all try to make sense of our lives, the good and the bad, by telling our life stories in a way that makes sense to us, comforts us and allows us to be at peace. 

Cancer therapies can result in battle scars. Emotional scars, in the most extreme form, can be similar to the PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) that soldiers have when they return from war. Physical scars — from surgery, radiation, procedures, port placements, etc. — serve as a constant reminder of your illness when you look in the mirror or when other people ask about them. That may be more than you or your loved ones can handle. Healing may require a little bit of work to allow you to accept that cancer is a part of your life story and new identity, but nothing more than that. Even though cancer can be all-consuming, you are defined by more than your disease. Recognizing this may allow you to remain graceful, resilient and adaptive when others comment on your scars. You may openly explain to them that you are not ready to delve into that topic yet or are not ready to deal with their emotions. Alternatively, you may have a ready-to-go, light reply that strikes a balance between humor and respect (“Oh! Those are my battle scars!”) that allows you to kindly dismiss and change the topic. Most people will get the hint. 

When a person deals with cancer, depending on where they are in their healing journey, describing them as fighting cancer can be a seemingly innocent, yet charged label, that may give them the feeling of being a loser or a failure.  Remember, the fight isn’t always fair. I believe every person is brave and deserves a Medal of Honor! 

Thank you for visiting me. Below I’ve included a few things to educate and entertain you. Remember, I share ‘extra treats’ if you follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest! Plus, you can get notified of a new posting by subscribing to our newsletter!

Learn and Think:

Live and Feel:

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The Gifts and Challenges of Caregiving

The Gifts and Challenges of Caregiving

Dear Fellow Travelers,

When my husband got sicker, there was no denying that aside from work, he would be unable to contribute at home. There was no question, no need to talk it through. I had to step up and take responsibility — managing my job, a baby, my husband’s needs, and a household on my own with limited resources. This dynamic lasted for years. He was not aware of how much I tried to handle. When I started to deal with my health issues, I felt, as a strong and independent woman, that I could not and should not ask for help.  My health issues were minor in comparison to his. Over time, he started to heal more while my health issues lingered and resulted in difficulty getting around. This required me to clearly communicate what I needed help with, and it required my husband to hear me and meet my needs.

As you can imagine, this sounds easier than it was. Men and women are from different planets and have different ways of feeling, thinking, and communicating. On top of that, the dynamics in our household were constantly changing in response to a growing child and both of our jobs and health issues. My husband and I alternated between being a caregiver vs. needing a caregiver – sometimes even at the same time. These dynamic power shifts did not always go smoothly, causing friction and extra stress. At some points, we would talk patiently and transparently and find a compromise that would work for us all. At other times, we would say things that would hurt each other and would end up feeling regretful. We always aimed for the former, but to our frustration, we often ended up with the latter. 

Caregivers can be anyone who feels responsible, has the resources and time, and loves you –  spouse, parent, child, or friend. Caregiving may feel like a duty or obligation at times — if no one else is available to take on the responsibility,  if you feel it’s your turn (when caring for your parents), or if you’re stepping up because you’ve promised loyalty through thick and thin to your spouse. Some people seem to be more naturally skilled in anticipating another person’s needs and wants than others. Similarly, some of us are better at expressing our needs and wants. These two qualities are related – the more a person feels genuinely cared for, the more they are willing to ask for help. But even if caregiving does not come as naturally to a person, this skill can be fostered over time with love and patience  (Still, sometimes external support may be needed from professionals.)

Both the caregiver and care-recipient have their limits. Pushing beyond those may lead to exhaustion and conflict, in particular when stressed due to constant change or mismatched dynamics, for example:

  • Grief. Both parties may be in different stages of acceptance.
  • Autonomy. There is no manual. Every duo needs to make their own decisions about when to ask for help and when to give help without becoming too overbearing. Both of you may change your perspectives on loss of independence over time.
  • Self-centeredness. When we don’t feel well, we often need to focus on ourselves to get through the day. If the normal balance between giving and receiving is out of sync for a prolonged period of time, it can lead to guilt for the recipient and exhaustion/resentment for the giver.
  • Finances. When illness results in more money going out than in, this can cause major stress on every facet of one’s life. The caregiver may feel strained between finding ways to earn more money (which may require hiring help for home) versus doing it all alone.
  • Affection. When preoccupied with health issues, expressions of affection are not to be undervalued since they help to keep the bond strong and resilient. The ways in which you express your love for one another may need to be changed, because the illness may have changed your physical, functional, or emotional abilities. At times, it may also help for both parties to mingle with other person(s). Sometimes, even the kindness of strangers can be surprisingly helpful. (Beware, however, some strangers may not appreciate your vulnerable state because they cannot relate). 
  • Logistics. At times caregiving by a loved one may become too challenging for financial, physical, or emotional reasons. In these cases, it may help to talk with your providers to explore relevant sources of support, including but not limited to respite care, which allows the caregiver a chance to recharge. 

For the most part, every duo is unique. Both members of the duo need to make decisions and compromises that they feel respected by and at peace with to maintain the relationship. Please keep in mind that it usually is more like a marathon than a sprint. You are only human; give yourself permission to refuel. You cannot help another if you have nothing to give. Ideally, caregiving can be a win-win for both the caregiver and care-recipient. It’s good to feel that you have support and will be carried when needed. Similarly, being of help to someone provides meaning to our lives! 

Thank you for visiting me. Below I’ve included a few things to educate and entertain you. Remember, I share ‘extra treats’ if you follow me on FacebookInstagramTwitter, or Pinterest! Plus, you can get notified of a new posting by subscribing to our newsletter!

Learn and Think:

Live and Feel:

As cancer survivors know, that dread disease [cancer] is a challenge, and it helps to know that people are rooting for you”. She vowed to stay on the job “as long as I’m healthy and mentally agile.

Quote from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

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I Just Need to Lose Weight! – Updated Cancer Exercise Guidelines, and more.

I Just Need to Lose Weight! – Updated Cancer Exercise Guidelines, and more.

Dear Fellow Traveler,

As we are heading into the holiday season, many of my patients are dreading the temptation of being surrounded by lots of food (cookies!) and the resulting weight gain.  When concerned about health outcomes, weight is an easy culprit – blame it on the weight!  Recently while discussing new health issues, one of my patients told me — surprisingly calmly considering this has been a priority for this patient for years already —  “I just need to lose weight”. I sensed the defeat and helplessness.

Weight is a topic that is central in many people’s lives. It can be viewed statically (as the number on our scale, our perception of our weight) or dynamically (losing weight or gaining weight too fast and/or unintentionally). Weight is associated with many negative feelings, such as defeat, helplessness, shame, guilt, frustration, embarrassment, judgment, sadness, and stress. These feelings can contribute to unhealthy eating patterns and the vicious cycle of emotional/stress eating, or even yo-yo dieting. Almost every patient asks me about their weight. What can they do to get it and keep it down? What should their weight goal and speed of weight loss be? Which weight loss methods are the best?

The misconception often goes that if one is more disciplined, one will have better weight control. But weight control cannot be simply reduced to only two factors, food intake and energy expenditure. There are many unknowns about which factors control and stabilize one’s weight. This makes it hard to determine the best interventions for losing weight. Many different homeostasis models have been proposed by the scientific community, such as the set-point theory. Beyond that, in regard to  improving cancer outcomes, we do not yet fully understand which factors matter most – e.g. weight in normal range, weight loss, physical fitness, redistribution of fat deposits.

There is not a magic solution. There are many resources out there to guide weight loss, most of which manipulate what/when you eat and how active you are, but most have not been studied or compared with robust scientific methods. Everyone has to find the approach that fits with their belief system, personality, and lifestyle. Here are a few general pointers that you may find helpful:

  • Any change is hard. Start low and go slow. This will allow you to solidly integrate a new habit it in your life.
  • Multiple small interventions may be more sustainable and wholesome than a one-prong approach. E.g. Swap out your current breakfast for oatmeal or call your friend while walking around the block.
  • Rather than pursuing diets that omit certain food groups or ask you to fast for a prolonged period of time, it may help to pursue a diet as nature intended: a wholesome, plant-enriched diet of moderation and variety, while minimizing processed foods.
  • Please allow yourself a treat every now and then since eating also allows you to socialize and enjoy life.

If ever the cancer should recur, then I hope you will not blame yourself, since there are more factors associated with cancer outcomes than lifestyle. You can only do your best with the resources and the physical/emotional abilities available to you, and you likely will fall off the wagon once or even several times along the journey. The point is that you keep trying in ways that fit where you are in life!

Thank you for visiting me. Below I’ve included a few things to educate and entertain you. Remember, I share ‘extra treats’ if you follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest! Plus, you can get notified of a new posting by subscribing to our newsletter!

Learn and Think:

  • A near decade-old guideline update has been released, issued jointly by the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Cancer Society and 15 other international organizations, with new advice about physical activity for cancer survivors. More precise and practical details are still needed from future studies, however. As always – any exercise is better than nothing!

Live and Feel:

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Finding the New You After a Cancer Diagnosis – Cleveland Clinic Healthy Now Survey, Reading Suggestions, Tom Hanks, Virtual Travel ideas, Cancer Whisperer!

Finding the New You After a Cancer Diagnosis – Cleveland Clinic Healthy Now Survey, Reading Suggestions, Tom Hanks, Virtual Travel ideas, Cancer Whisperer!

Dear Fellow Traveler!

There is growing evidence for the notion that cancer therapies may age our bodies prematurely, as nicely outlined in this article by a geriatric oncology pioneer who sadly died at a too-young age due to a car accident. This week, while doing some self-reflection and talking with other cancer survivors, I wondered if cancer can also stress/strain/accelerate one’s emotional development. When I researched, I found out that might indeed explain a lot about the identity crisis cancer survivors often find themselves in at some point along their journey. Let me try to explain.

Per the psychosocial developmental stages of life, as described by Erikson, deeply reflecting upon one’s life usually does not take place until one hits age 60+. But many cancer survivors find themselves torpedoed forwards into this reflective life stage as they wonder what they have accomplished and what their legacies will be if they should die prematurely. (This is a very normal reaction as long as it does not overtake you, in which case, please talk with your loved ones and health care providers). Per Erikson, humans continue to mature from birth through the end of their lives, striving for their own unique balance in overcoming particular life-stage specific conflicts:

  • Stage 1:
    • Period: Infancy
    • Conflict: Trust vs. Mistrust
    • Goal: Sense of security, safety, reliability
  • Stage 2:
    • Period: Early childhood
    • Conflict: Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt
    • Goal: Independence, autonomy
  • Stage 3:
    • Period: Preschool
    • Conflict: Initiative vs. Guilt
    • Goal: Purpose
  • Stage 4:
    • Period: School Age
    • Conflict: Industry vs. Inferiority
    • Goal: Competence
  • Stage 5:
    • Period: Adolescence
    • Conflict: Identity vs. Role Confusion
    • Goal: Personal identity
  • Stage 6:
    • Period: Young Adulthood
    • Conflict: Intimacy vs. Isolation
    • Goal: Development of strong and lasting relationships
  • Stage 7:
    • Period: Middle Adulthood
    • Conflict: Generativity vs. Stagnation
    • Goal: Accomplishments like raising a family, succeeding at work, and volunteering in the community
  • Stage 8:
    • Period: Maturity
    • Conflict: Ego Integrity vs. Despair
    • Goal: Wisdom and satisfaction

These stages are arbitrary (in terms of the age they start/end) and fluid. When challenged by an external stressor like cancer, previously-acquired coping skills may not suffice anymore. The experiences you have had in your life will determine how overwhelming (or even traumatizing) a cancer diagnosis may become — and if it will be an opportunity for emotional growth or a trigger for emotional stress or despair. You may need to go back and forth between stages to refine or rework your coping skills. 

After this long introduction the big question is, how can you find the “new you” or relief for your “identity crisis”? A lot has been written about this. But in the end, everyone has to make their own peace with their own unique life story, which may take time. A key aspect of working towards finding the new you is the refinement of priorities and coping styles. This sometimes may include processing past hurt with help from a talk therapist. But here are a few general pointers that you may find helpful:

  • Are you doing something because you think you need it (e.g. to fit in with societal expectations) or because you want it? Be true to yourself – dare to be authentic!
  • To prevent loneliness, surround yourself with people who accept you for who you are and are not afraid to join you on your cancer journey. If friends like this are hard to find nearby, you may find comfort in online friendships. 
  • Set a meaningful, fulfilling creative or altruistic goal and stick to it. Quality matters more than quantity – in particular when you have functional impairments – “if you cannot run, walk”!
  • It’s never too late to start a new venture! See this man who after retirement felt “he was waiting for his obituary” – and started his own business at an older age to “get his blood flowing”!
  • Allow yourself to be spontaneous, laugh, and make memories.
  • Recognize that your actions impact others through the ripple effect (legacy!). Work to make that impact authentic, respectful, and memorable.
  • Become comfortable with change. It’s the only constant in life.
  • It’s easy to be self-critical. When reflecting on your life, recognize that you did the best you could with the knowledge, wisdom, and resources you had. 

Remember, we are all works in progress!!!

Thank you for visiting me. Below I’ve included a few things to educate and entertain you. Remember, I share ‘extra treats’ if you follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest! Plus, you can get notified of a new posting by subscribing to our newsletter!

Learn and Think:

Live and Feel:

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Keeping It Real on Social Media – How Many Steps a Day?, Healthy Food Trends, and How to Avoid Drama

Keeping It Real on Social Media – How Many Steps a Day?, Healthy Food Trends, and How to Avoid Drama

Dear Fellow Traveler! 

I have not posted anything in the last few weeks. I was busy with work and hosting a visitor.  Then I had to have a colonoscopy, an experience I expect is well-known to many of you. (Thankfully, it didn’t find anything concerning!) Taking a break from social media was refreshing. That made me think…

Reading posts about someone’s seemingly perfect life (that we may not ever be able to achieve) can lead to feelings of isolation, anxiety, and inadequacy. Posts detailing someone’s complaints about the world can make us feel down too, in particular if we feel that they may target us, either directly or indirectly. Social media sites have begun changing their rules to create a more respectful platform that will hopefully foster more meaningful connections. This is a great beginning, but I think more subtle changes are needed.

Before posting on social media, ask yourself what your purpose is. If your goal is to elevate yourself by showing off your accomplishments, to ridicule someone, or to express your complaints or frustrations, perhaps you should think twice. If your intention is to help others by posting content that is inspiring and authentic (whether focusing on the ups or downs that are inherent to life), then your post is more likely to have a positive impact. Social media can be restorative. Even if you cannot interact with others in person due to your health circumstances, you can still help them and create a legacy online via the ripple effect of shares, clicks, and likes! This might make you feel as if you are exposing your vulnerable side, so you may want to start slowly. Follow your comfort level.

If reading social media causes you more grief than joy, you might consider turning off your accounts. If that seems too extreme, you should feel free to change who and what you follow to dynamically match your evolved taste and life priorities. This will allow you to maintain the feelings of belonging and meaningful connection that social media was intended to create. If you are homebound due to health concerns, social media can be a great way to stay present, engaged and in touch while you travel the virtual world!.

Thank you for visiting me. Below I’ve included a few things to educate and entertain you. Remember, I share ‘extra treats’ if you follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest

Learn and Think:

  • How Many Steps Should You Take a Day? I believe the short answer is: “It depends”. This article describes 1) the fascinating history of the arbitrarily chosen target of 10,000 steps per day as well as 2) the notion that one’s daily physical activity goal cannot and should not be reduced to a target step-count since the target depends on your personal fitness level. Plus, physical activity includes so much more than only steps. However, anything is more than nothing! 
  • Eat This, Not That had an entertaining clip on a recent Today show episode about the Tastiest and Trendiest New Healthy Foods! I was particularly interested in their featured broccoli crust pizza, oats and keto-ice cream product! Yummy in my tummy!

Live and Feel:

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Animals and Illness – Hormone Replacement Therapy, Mastectomy Reflection

Animals and Illness – Hormone Replacement Therapy, Mastectomy Reflection

Dear fellow traveler! Hope this week has treated you well.

Over the last few months, our household has been having an ongoing discussion about the pros and cons of having a pet. Also, we’re wondering what kind of animal would be best for our lifestyles. Since pets come in all kinds of shapes and breeds, we began to consider size, activity level, and maintenance. We live in an apartment and are all busy busy, including my boys. They are often on the road for their baseball activities, so the pet and I will probably become best buddies! Having grown up on a farm, I know that having an animal around would rekindle some happy memories for me. Eventually, after lots of thinking and talking, we decided to start off with a cat, a calm breed who loves cuddling but can also be alone. The Dutch word for milk is melk and we’re fans of this MLB baseball player. Hence, the cat’s name will be Melky. Our pet-to-be is now a few weeks old and will come to us in December. We are all so excited! 

Pets can play a significant role in the lives of human beings (and hopefully vice versa)! Animals may improve the quality, and even quantity, of life! Dog ownership has recently been associated with better (heart) health (likely due to dog walks)! Furthermore, pets may distract and soothe us, allow us to release and process our feelings, and remind us of the fragility of nature and life. They can function as role models in terms of resilience, gracefulness, and self-care. Pets often love to receive and give affection in an unconditional and nonverbal manner.

More than that…..pets play a meaningful role in society:

  • Service animals are trained to support their disabled owners.
  • Emotional support animals provide therapeutic benefits to those with emotional difficulties.
  • Therapy dogs do not have the legal access rights that the above mentioned animals do, but they provide great comfort to people suffering in medical facilities and nursing homes. In fact, training your dog as a therapy dog is a fulfilling way to give back to your community.

Whether you decide to get your own pet or spend more time with someone else’s, please check with your healthcare provider about which kind may be best for you. You and your loved ones may have sensitivities or allergies. In addition, your previous or current cancer therapies may increase your risk of acquiring an illness from your pet.

Continue to be kind to yourself and others! Thank you for visiting me. Below I’ve included a few things to educate and entertain you. Follow me on social media for ‘extra treats’ (@CancerSurvivorMD on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter)!  

Learn and Think:

For those of you who are going through the change of life prematurely, perhaps as a result of cancer therapies, please find here the results of a recent major study that provides updated guidance on hormone replacement therapy. Being educated on this topic can help you talk with your healthcare provider.

Live and Feel:

A survivor’s reflection on her mastectomy.

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Guilt – Reflective Lectures

Guilt – Reflective Lectures

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Dear Neighbor!

I have had a conversation with different people about the same topic, guilt, a few times this week. I always wonder why that happens Did I steer the conversation in that direction because it’s on my mind? Was it a coincidence? Anyhow, I thought I might try to write about guilt. I hope it may help you.

Feeling guilty is often associated with a feeling of shame or regret. It’s not easy to try to make sense of the whirlwind of feelings and thoughts that you may have when you have survived or are living with cancer:

  • Could I have noticed symptoms earlier or gone to the doctor sooner?
  • Did my lifestyle choices or habits increase my risk of developing cancer?
  • Why didn’t my treatment work the way I had hoped?
  • Why did I survive when others have not? 
  • Am I a burden to my family or caregivers? (Sorry we needed to cancel our family trip, boys!)
  • How will I handle the financial costs of treatment?
  • What will my boss and coworkers think about all of the time I have to spend time away from work for treatment?

Source

Caregivers may also feel guilty. They are healthier and may wish to to take the place of the cancer survivor. Often they regret that they can’t do more to help or even take away the pain or illness. Also, they may hide their feelings/thoughts, since they do not want to put more stress on the survivor. They may skip out on fun outings to avoid stinging the survivor who cannot join. 

Feelings of guilt are normal and can come and go. Working through them will allow you to release them  so they don’t interfere with your well-being and healing. Several tips to allow you to help yourself with this are outlined here. Finding ways to soothe, comfort, and distract yourself by engaging in activities that bring you joy and relaxation may help. Sharing your thoughts/feelings in a journal or with people who care about you can be beneficial, too. However, if guilt paralyzes you, causing social isolation or preventing you from functioning, you should talk with your healthcare provider who can connect you with a talk therapist and/or a local support group. 

Remember that cancer is not your fault—or anyone else’s. Experts do not fully understand why most types of cancer develop. Sometimes people with cancer feel guilty about having given their “bad genes” to their children or having made bad lifestyle choices in the past, such as cigarette smoking. In these situations, please tell yourself that:

  • Even though we live in the 21st century, there are so many things in our body’s black box that we still don’t understand.
  • We cannot always control nature, no matter how much we try. 
  • Our previous decisions made sense at the time, driven by knowledge and circumstances. 
  • We are not perfect. We must forgive ourselves. 

This brings us to the next topic that can get me really fired up: stigma! Sadly, certain cancers are more associated with stigma than others, in particular those to which we attribute a certain sense of responsibility (e.g. nicotine and lung cancer). However, not everyone who smokes gets lung cancer, and not everyone who gets lung cancer has smoked, which attests to the notion that there are so many different factors involved in the development of cancer that are beyond our control. Plus, over time we may discover that many of today’s widely-accepted practices might need to be changed since they may be found to be associated with the development of diseases. I don’t feel there is any room for judgment, because it usually does not result in anything meaningful or positive. 

Furthermore, you may feel an urge or even obligation to find a purpose in the ‘extra’ time you were given. Or is it the other way around—were we spared for a purpose that we may not know about yet? We will never know. We all tell our own story in a way that gives our lives meaning and purpose.

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Source.

Enjoy creating and telling your life story! Please be kind to yourself and others! 

Thank you for visiting me! Please, below find a few things to educate and entertain you!

 

Learn and Think:

It’s cucumber time, or a slow-medical news-season. Give your brain a rest!

 

Live and Feel:

Two men who died at a young age from pancreatic cancer gave inspiring lectures that I would like to share with you:

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Simple Life – Always Remember Us This Way

Simple Life – Always Remember Us This Way

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Dear neighbor! 

As I write this, the crickets are chirping energetically, clouds are slowly moving in the sky, the light effects are beautiful at this golden hour before the sun goes down, creating a peaceful atmosphere. Earlier this week, I had a conversation with another cancer survivor in which we both expressed our admiration of the complexity of our universe and the beauty of life…everyone and everything has their place, meaning, and purpose….all seems to be perfectly orchestrated, in an almost unimaginable manner….allowing you to trust its automation and to focus on the busy-ness of life….in cruise control mode…..

But when your body goes out of sync…..and develops cancer…..then we get reminded again of the fragility of life, the world, and the universe….a humbling experience.

At that point, when you find yourself facing a disease that has the potential to alter the course of your life, nothing else may seem to matter anymore….values that you used to pursue with great strategy and devotion (e.g. career, wealth, societal expectations) lose their priority practically in an instant…..and values such as love and time become more important…

Love. An encounter with cancer makes us feel more vulnerable. And may encourage us to seek from and give comfort to persons all around us….anyone….loved ones, but also strangers….it may allow us to see the beauty in people and things around us that we did not really pay attention to before….

They May Forget What You Said, But They Will Never Forget How You Made Them Feel. Source.

Time. In the end, we are always running out of time….a 24 hour day is never long enough…..we may have lost so much time to being sick that we would like to catch up on life…..we may not know how much time for living we may have left, or how much precious energy you may have to make it through the day…..these uncertainties may urge you to prioritize the essentials…..and to keep life as simple as you can and/or want…..the things you would both want and need should be pursued, while those that you don’t want nor need should be avoided….and matter that you either would want or need should be reevaluated.

There is something very refreshing and liberating about a healthy and personalized dose of minimalism in every aspect of our life.

Minimalism is a tool that can assist you in finding freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom from worry. Freedom from overwhelm. Freedom from guilt. Freedom from depression. Freedom from the trappings of the consumer culture we’ve built our lives around. Real freedom. That doesn’t mean there’s anything inherently wrong with owning material possessions. Today’s problem seems to be the meaning we assign to our stuff: we tend to give too much meaning to our things, often forsaking our health, our relationships, our passions, our personal growth, and our desire to contribute beyond ourselves. Want to own a car or a house? Great, have at it! Want to raise a family and have a career? If these things are important to you, then that’s wonderful. Minimalism simply allows you to make these decisions more consciously, more deliberately. Source.

We are all unique…..we all have our own set of values, principles, obligations, and desires…..I encourage you to feel free and allow yourself to follow your passions….and make new memories that will carry you and your loved ones!

Thank you for visiting me! Please…find below a few things for education and entertainment!

Learn and Think:

Its cucumber time, or also a slow-medical news-season. Give your brain a rest!

 

Live and Feel:

The lyrics of Lady Gaga’s song “Always remember us this way” fit well with this blog’s content.

 

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Pity vs. Compassion – Wild Horses, Journaling

Pity vs. Compassion – Wild Horses, Journaling

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Dear neighbor!

How are you today? This week I shared a meal with another cancer survivor. We ended up talking about how we try to carefully gauge when, how, and what we share to avoid becoming a conversation stopper or the object of pity. But not sharing our pain can lead to feelings of ‘self pity’ and isolation. On the other hand, the sharing of our stories can also make us feel worse or even compelled to comfort the other person, in particular when sharing our pain triggers negative judgment (such as ridicule, inferiority, failure, or pity).

The bad press received by pity concerns both what pity lacks, namely, actual assistance, and what it implies, namely, a feeling of superiority and satisfaction with our own position. Source.

And this brings us to compassion. Pity and compassion are two reactions (to seeing someone suffer) that overlap and are on opposite ends of a spectrum that also includes sympathy and empathy. I like the following graphic, which visualizes the relationship between these 4 terms:

inforgraphic
Designed by Robert Shelton.  Source

 

These different terms correlate with different perspectives on life that one may have been born with and/or acquired over time.

Someone who has compassion senses a cancer survivor’s suffering and has an active desire (and ability !) to:

  • Allow one “to just be” (which may take a survivor already quite a bit of energy/effort!),
  • (Often silently) provide company (while respecting boundaries),
  • Universalize the situation (because life is not fair for many),
  • Create temporary distractions from problems (with e.g. silly activities),
  • Allow one to feel less of a nuisance,
  • Take on the challenging task of knowing when and how to help, since a cancer survivor may not always need instant help or a solution. And may even (stubbornly!) prefer to first try to sort things out on their own (perhaps needing you as a listener or a sounding board),
  • Jump in if you see HELP signals, e.g. trouble taking care of oneself, dysfunction in their family or society, posing a danger to self/other,
  • Be comfortable with the unsatisfied desire to help. In particular, if the survivor is not (just yet) open to accepting help (you can bring water, but cannot force one to drink), or if there is no clear solution at this point in time.

Compassion is one of the main drivers of altruism, which in its turn can facilitate well-beingAltruism can be a noble (or even self-motivated) initiative to alleviate suffering, but helping others can also be a defense mechanism in which one distracts themselves from their own thoughts/feelingsThe helper needs to also care for him/herself to minimize risk for caregiver burnout.

Compassion for me translates into a few key words and noble goals that we all should aim for: honesty, unconditional love, genuine care, and passionate generosity. But please remember that you are only human – it’s the reaction to and recovery from our unavoidable mistakes and failures that count and allow us to grow!

Won’t you be my neighbor…?

Please…find below a few things for education and entertainment!

Learn and Think:

Its cucumber time, or also a slow-medical news-season. Give your brain a rest!

 

Live and Feel:

  • Enjoy this video of one of the few remaining herds of wild horses – the Chincoteague ponies and Assateague’s wold horses!
  • Visible Ink offers Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer patients to express themselves in writing with the individual support of an experienced writing mentor. Their initiative has been described in the NYT. Journaling may be one way in which one can write their thoughts and feelings away to facilitate healing!

 

Please help by nudging us if you encounter technical problems.

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