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Emotional Rollercoaster

“The Other Shoe” Phenomenon, Glass Half Full/Empty – Implant associated Lymphoma, Mr. Rogers

“The Other Shoe” Phenomenon, Glass Half Full/Empty – Implant associated Lymphoma, Mr. Rogers

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Dear neighbor!

The summer is passing quickly. Many of you are likely already starting to prepare for the next 6 months – health, school, work, family, house, car, travel, and the Holiday season….etc!

Life can feel like a never-ending whirlwind at times – pulling you in many different directions, leaving you to organize and streamline the chaos.

Having been told that you have cancer, one of life’s “worst case scenarios”, you may have, unconsciously, lost trust in your body or life, and started to be more ‘on guard’, ready for “the other shoe to drop” or deal with whatever or whenever the next ‘worst case scenario’ may be. You may also know this as the Fight-or-Flight response. But this response can go into overdrive at times, affecting all aspects of your life, even the routine ones. Perhaps you used to be a glass-half-full person, but now you may have become more of a glass-half-empty person.

I hope this writing will allow you to try to Stop-and-Think-First before you act, when you feel your body tensing up for a ‘fight’….(unless, of course, there truly is a life-or-death emergency, like a lion chasing you!).

Pause to get yourself e.g. a delicious meal, a good night’s rest, a meaningful conversation with a loved one, whatever it takes to regain a more neutral and realistic perspective….and then rethink your decision-making again….you may discover that your glass is neither half-full, nor half-empty…..it may actually be refillable, maybe even to the top….!

Life is not always fair….some people may have more suffering on their path than others….but some may also choose to keep their suffering more private….please don’t give up hope….and find “neighbors” who can help you carry your backpack!

Won’t you be my neighbor…please? Please…find below a few things for education and entertainment!

Learn and Think:

Certain breast implants have been in the news this week due to a FDA recall:

Based on the currently available information, our analysis demonstrates that the risk of breast implant associated lymphoma (BIA-ALCL) with Allergan BIOCELL textured implants is approximately 6 times the risk of BIA-ALCL with textured implants from other manufacturers marketing in the U.S.

At this time, the FDA does not recommend removal of these or other types of breast implants in patients who have no symptoms due to the low risk of developing BIA-ALCL. The FDA will continue to evaluate any new information and may, as a result, take action regarding other breast implants, if warranted. Source

If any questions or concerns, it may be best to contact your plastic surgeon.

Live and Feel:

Lately, I have become fascinated with Mr Rogers’ legacy, probably encouraged by the upcoming release of the Its a Beautiful Day movie in which Tom Hanks portrays Mr. Rogers. Mr. Rogers courageously displayed his own vulnerability/sensitivity and preached “love” to encourage “being”, acceptance, respect, confidence, and health. His award-winning messages and poetry are simple, yet deep, and just as helpful as they were 50 years ago, independent of your age! His thought-to-be-last video message to his grown-up fans gently encourages “the expression of feelings in ways that will bring healing”.

Fred Rogers once said:

“Part of the problem with the word ‘disabilities’ is that it immediately suggests an inability to see or hear or walk or do other things that many of us take for granted. But what of people who can’t feel? Or talk about their feelings? Or manage their feelings in constructive ways? What of people who aren’t able to form close and strong relationships? And people who cannot find fulfillment in their lives, or those who have lost hope, who live in disappointment and bitterness and find in life no joy, no love? These, it seems to me, are the real disabilities.” Source

 

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Being (a) Patient – Colonoscopy, Happiness, Lion King

Being (a) Patient – Colonoscopy, Happiness, Lion King

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Dear Travel Buddy!

Great to see you have stopped by to check in – always appreciate the company! This weekend, my family (thank you!) assembled a few pieces of furniture….which inspired me to write about ‘patience’….! 

When my patients express concern that their medical care is moving (too) slowly or their recovery is taking longer than expected or desired, I often ask them if they know why a patient is called ‘a patient’. Usually this results in an inquisitive, speechless gaze. The word patient is derived from Latin:

Adjective: Able to accept or tolerate delays, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious.

 

Noun: Person receiving or registered to receive medical treatment.

Citation

 The precise meaning of the medical definition of patient continues to be inconsistent, likely as the medical field and society continue to evolve. As such, a renowned medical journal had even devoted an article in 1999 (!) to the discussion of the pros and cons of finding a new word for patient. The article’s conclusion was that the massive undertaking of changing the word ‘patient’ to something else (requiring it’s own research, implementation, and distribution efforts) is likely not worth the diversion of time, effort, and resources away from providing and innovating patient care.

A similar discussion is ongoing about the ‘cancer survivor’ label. For some, the term cancer survivor may allow recognition and unity. For others, it may result in discomfort, because they don’t feel that their journey was heroic enough or because the label may allow division among survivors or represents survivors’ guilt or even a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder trigger

The reason for your impatience may change over time:

  • Initially, when you are newly diagnosed (and undergo testing, await treatment plan decisions and insurance authorizations), being impatient may be a reflection of a fear of the unknown, lack of control, or feeling overwhelmed. Starting cancer therapy is usually the best remedy to provide some relief. But in the interim, it may help to know that only a few cancer types and situations represent a true medical urgency/emergency. Even though anyone would like to have their cancer treated as soon as humanly possible, for the majority of cancer diagnoses, it is more important to be strategic. The quality performance of a number of strategically selected and rapidly evolving imaging, laboratory, and pathological tests will facilitate informed decision-making and the creation of a personalized cancer treatment plan that aims to optimize benefit and minimize harm. Furthermore, it also may help to know that there are many official organizations that hold cancer centers accountable for administering cancer treatments in a timely manner (e.g. the Commission on Cancer in the USA).  
  • Next, as you transition from the active treatment phase into the post-treatment phase, impatience may become more reflective of a frustration with the slow or incomplete recovery process, a need to gain more control over your life (and survival), or a desire to catch up on life that was abruptly put on hold for the cancer treatments. With respect to a frustration with delayed/incomplete recovery/healing, I would like to refer to a previous post on acceptance. The instinctive urge to catch up on lost time could be interpreted literally, since some cancer treatments can be really intense and prolonged. But it can also be interpreted figuratively: the cancer experience may have increased one’s awareness of their own mortality and ignited an urge to get certain things done ‘before time runs out’. It may help to know that your priorities will often change after a cancer diagnosis, allowing you to live closer to the essence of your life, catch up with (and perhaps even surpass) your pre-cancer trajectory! 

Please try to be more patient with yourself…..this is not a sprint, but a marathon! And I sincerely hope you will feel comfortable enough to ask your health care providers for help, if you feel ‘your mind is becoming your worst enemy’ and leads to dysfunction. There is no need for shame or embarrassment in this current time and age. You are only human – everyone has a breaking point!   

Together we stand strong! Please find below a few things for education and entertainment!

Learn and Think:

  • Health maintenance alert! The American Cancer Society recommends that most people – those at average risk – start regular colon cancer screening at 45. People with an increased risk may need to start screening before age 45. Please discuss this with your health care providers! 

Live and Feel:

  • This non-profit organization, Action for Happiness, is devoted to making the world a happier place by providing various insightful tools and resources that promote the 10 essential keys to happier and more resilient living (for free or low cost).  
  • The original Lion King movie from 1994 is one of my favorites. Its music and story themes (circle of life, the good prevails) resonate with me. [The Lion King 1 1/2 movie is hilarious, which tells the Lion King story from the perspective of Timon and Pumbaa]. This weekend the Lion King movie’s remake premiered – I didn’t get to see it yet – did you?! I love the Circle of Life song – click here for the video, see below for the lyrics! 

“Circle of Life”, partial lyrics

From the day we arrive on the planet
There's more to see than can ever be seen
More to do than can ever be done
There's far too much to take in here
More to find than can ever be found
But the sun rolling high
Keeps great and small on the endless round

It's the Circle of Life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the Circle
The Circle of Life

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Acceptance – Nutrients, Perfectionism, Photo Ark

Acceptance – Nutrients, Perfectionism, Photo Ark

 

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Dear travel buddy!

How is the summer treating you so far? If you are able to go outside, please protect your skin. In addition, for those undergoing active cancer treatments, please explore with your cancer provider if these could increase your skin sensitivity. On the other hand, if you are watching the summer pass by from the side of the pool, or even inside, then please know you are not alone! I am sure there are many other persons, including myself!, who prefer or are in need (for e.g. physical reasons) to stay on the side-line, which may result in feeling like an outsider.

But what are we trying to “fit into”, really? And who defines or decides who does or does not fit? This makes me think of Hans Christian Andersen’s  Ugly Duckling story about a swan’s egg that ended up in a duck’s nest! Other ducks gave the “ugly duckling” a hard time, because he appeared and behaved differently. But when the ugly duckling encountered other swans, his perspective changed. His self-image and confidence improved for the better: he wasn’t ugly after all! The humbling experience also led to a silver-lining insight:

He felt quite glad that he had come through so much trouble and misfortune, for now he had a fuller understanding of his own good fortune, and of beauty when he met with it. [Source].

For me the morale of the story is that trying to ‘fit in’ may not be the best approach, because it has a moving target of which the standards are driven by the constantly changing societal norms and pressures. Furthermore, striving to fit in may force us to portray ourselves differently to the outer world than we feel on the inside. This facade may result in us losing touch with our inner values and principles, and drain our soul.

This is valid for every person, but perhaps more so for cancer survivors who may not always be able to conform to society’s expectations. Their bodies may have been disfigured. Dysfunction or disability may interfere with one’s ability to climb the career ladder. Cancer treatment related infertility or financial difficulties may ruin one’s ability to create the picture-perfect life.

Instead, pursuing acceptance and belonging may be a healthier approach, although it still requires effort (as does every meaningful relationship!). But this pursuit may be easier to sustain, because it is ideally based on authenticity and thus may allow you to remain more true to yourself. But determining where you belong starts with you finding the “new you” and accepting this “new you” in the post-treatment phase!

Life is a journey….enjoy your personal rediscovery, frank conversations with your loved ones about your (likely altered) abilities/needs/wants, and the expansion of your social circle with more people who ‘like you just the way you are‘! [sorry – I could not help myself as a Pittsburgher].

Together we stand strong! Please find below a few things for education and entertainment!

Learn and Think:

Live and Feel:

I create and maintain this platform on my own. Please help by nudging me if you encounter technical problems.

 

 

It’s the little things – Finances, Marijuana, and Symptom Reporting

It’s the little things – Finances, Marijuana, and Symptom Reporting

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Dear reader! How have you been?

I have been home alone this weekend. My boys are at an out-of-town baseball tournament. And even though I love them dearly, I am sure many of you can relate if I would share with you that it can also be really nice to be home alone. And being able to take the time to enjoy routine activities as well as to explore, e.g. by trying out a new grocery store, and then coincidentally discovering a new ice-cream place…..shaking things up a bit…..being fascinated by the little things…..stimulating the senses. Over the last few weeks my existence had shrunken down to the work and home environment – and so it felt really good to be able to be ‘out and about’ for a bit….expand my world….allowing the simple things to bring distraction and joy, just like in childhood!

Until the next time! In the mean time, please find below a few things for education and entertainment!

Learn and Think:

  • Cancer care is rather expensive and not always (fully) covered by insurance, resulting in 25% (1 out of 4!!!) of cancer survivors facing financial hardship. Therefore, it is encouraging to see that there is a government-led, bipartisan initiative, Cancer Survivors Caucus, that tries to improve care for cancer survivors!
  • You should feel comfortable to discuss any of your symptoms, no matter how seemingly small or innocent, with your health care provider to allow them to figure out why it is happening and if anything can be done to provide you with (partial or total) relief. And there is now evidence to support that those who self-report symptoms may live longer!
  • Medical marijuana is a trendy modality that you may have heard of or read about and wondered whether it is something you should try? Dispensaries are popping up everywhere. It often needs to be paid for out of pocket. It is not yet FDA approved – evidence is limited. Here are a few good articles (from the CURE Magazine and NIH) to allow you to decide for yourself. And as always, please discuss with your own providers first before pursuing a medical marijuana license.

Live and Feel:

  • Article: Saturday Night Life alum Vanessa Bayer reflects on her cancer journey that started in her teenage years.
  • Movie: I saw this movie recently (Cast Away). It reminded me of how random life can be at times. And how our inner strength can surprise us at times when it instinctively rises to brave life’s challenges. And lastly, how everyone needs someone…..even if it’s only Mr. Wilson!
  • Video clip: This bird was spending quite some time interacting with my car mirror. For me it symbolizes that “sometimes when we cannot go where we’d like to go, we may discover that we already are where we are supposed to be!”.

All Goes the Way It Should Go – Dementia, Metformin

All Goes the Way It Should Go – Dementia, Metformin

team-spirit-2447163Hello you! How have you been?

I am back online after a brief silence! I had to prioritize my time/energy for work and family, while dealing with and healing from an unexpected, sudden, and fixable health issue. All should be up and onwards now!

There is really never a good time to be sick. But we often cannot control its timing, forcing us to:

  • Initiate emergency contingency plans (for childcare etc.),
  • Ask for and accept help (at work and home),
  • Improvise, and then the hardest step of all, at least for me,
  • Let go, go with the flow, stop rushing things along, and trust that all will be what it will be. I reassure myself by reminding myself that everything goes the way it should go, whether I like it or not, whether I know the reason or not. And so, I try to accept and make the best of any situation.

Now, I have a refreshed appreciation for every day that I don’t need to visit the hospital, see a doctor, or am held back by health issues!

I am grateful for the loved ones, friends, and colleagues, who took time out of their lives to provide support (whether via text, phone, or in person). It takes a village to travel through life – together we stand strong!

Learn and Think:

  • Cancer Survivors May Have Lower Risk for Dementia. Cancer survivors may report post-treatment brain fog, which is a usually mild and transient cognitive impairment. As far as know this is not a precursor for the development of dementia. In contrast, researchers have found more evidence of a puzzling phenomenon: cancer survivors seem to be a bit protected against dementia.

Live and Feel:

“Life is short. I think that you find your own way. You have your own rules. You have your own understanding of yourself, and that’s what you’re going to count on. In the end, it’s what feels right to you. Not what your mother told you. Not what some actress told you. Not what anybody else told you, but the still, small voice. Beyond that, I don’t know. And it’s the not knowing that’s the good part. To me, mystery is the most beautiful thing—the fact that you can’t figure it out—that’s it for me. That’s for sure.”

Happy Weekend!

Happy Weekend!

Hello you!? What are you doing this weekend with the summer ahead of you?

I am trying out a new blog format in which I will share a few topics that may allow you to learn and feel! Let me know what you think!

Till the next time!

 

Learn and Think:

Does Cancer Battle Bring Personal Growth? Yes and No, Survivors Say “It’s normal for people to find meaning in their cancer experience while still acknowledging it as a terrible ordeal”.

How to Talk to Your Kids About Your Cancer Diagnosis. This short read with helpful advice from experts and a mom who’s been there twice may be helpful. There is no right or wrong way, as long as everyone feels loved and supported.

The cost of cancer: 25% of survivors face financial hardship report finds – CNN. Health care providers should ask patients in a respectful and nonjudgmental manner about their ability to afford their treatments – and if difficulties, then refer patients to local resources (e.g. navigators/social workers) or regional/national resources to receive advice and sometimes even grant support. Similarly, cancer survivors should not be embarrassed to tell their providers that they struggle financially. Awareness of the magnitude of patients’ financial hardship may urge policymakers to change legalization and health care coverage.

Live and Feel:

Happy video about a Dog Becomes a Sun Flower.

Beautiful video featuring a rare albino mantras ray.

 

Are You Happy?

Are You Happy?

All human beings have feelings, although at times we may not know exactly what we are feeling, or how to express our feelings in healthy and helpful ways. This can be particularly true when you have experienced an overwhelming and sometimes traumatizing experience like cancer, which may have forced you to face your day to day life in “survival mode” and triggered you to ignore your feelings. 

Once a cancer survivor enters the post-treatment phase, they may feel that it is expected for them to smile all the time and be grateful for the extra time they have been given. Additionally, our society and the people around us may mean well by continuing their role as cheerleader – encouraging us to be happy and strong and upbeat!

This is important in the pursuit of a healthy sense of well-being, but, as a cancer survivor, you may continue to ride an emotional rollercoaster still unsure of what lies beyond the next turn. You may be tired of the cancer treatments, angry that your recovery may be slower than you expected, and frustrated that you need to do extra activities to facilitate healing. You may be upset that you have missed certain parts of your life and perhaps continue to miss out on things you once enjoyed or planned to enjoy.  [Disclaimer = if your feelings affect your ability to function and/or your pain is so overwhelming that you are considering hurting yourself or others, then please contact your local emergency service and/or your doctor].

No one knows what your happy is, or what you feel, or what you should be feeling. Only you know how you feel, even though you may not always fully understand why you feel the way you do. But there is validity in even the confusion. We are all unique, and we cope differently with grief about what we have lost (e.g. time, health, functionality, sense of well-being and security) and how we search for new meaning and purpose in the cancer aftermath. Allow yourself the opportunity to experience your feelings; work through your emotions instead of avoiding them. This often nurtures and allows the truest and deepest of personal emotional healing. 

Sometimes, a simple change in wording can make a big difference. Rather than encouraging you to “be happy”, advise your loved ones and friends to ask outright “how are you feeling?” and then giving you (and them) permission to be open, thus creating the opportunity for a joined conversation that includes exploration, healing, and growing.

When It Simply Becomes Too Much…

When It Simply Becomes Too Much…

We all know that someday, we will all face death. A cancer diagnosis makes this realization personal, and often comes at a time that we would not have necessarily thought of our own mortality. As you reach the post-treatment phase, you may find that your priorities in life have changed and this may lead you to consider making changes in your life. You may be worried about your environment and what you put on or in your body as you continue to wonder why or how you developed the cancer. The people around you may not understand or even be open to talk with you about these changes. After so much focus on the treatment of your body and the cancer, you owe it to yourself to tend to your emotional needs and long-term goals. 

Emotional distress is real and can negatively affect your quality and quantity of life. But worrying about being stressed can have negative health effects on its own

Don’t be afraid to seek the help you need to heal from this journey. Most likely your cancer diagnosis started abruptly and forcefully pulled you away from life as you knew it.  The journey continues and now leaves you to pick up the pieces from this experience. It can continue to be overwhelming and even traumatizingat times.

Consider reaching out to the many professional services that are available to you within your community. One or a combination of interventions may sometimes be recommended (e.g. exercise, talk therapy and/or medications). Professional therapists are ready to help you process and make sense of your thoughts; to help you find new meaning and purpose, and to help you build new hopes and dreams.

Emotional Rollercoaster

Emotional Rollercoaster

“You have cancer…”

These words often result in what feels like an emotional roller coaster ride. Undoubtedly, you and the people around you will experience a wide range of emotions – fear, sadness, grief, anger, frustration, resignation, etc., and these emotions are likely to change rapidly and contradict each other. This ‘roller coaster’ may confuse and even overwhelm you and those around you.

For many, the ride begins with the first diagnosis; for others it may not manifest until much later when the realization of lingering or post treatment symptoms occur. For some, it may be the fear and/or uncertainty of cancer recurrence.

Regardless of when you experience these emotional extremes, it is important to recognize them as valid and to understand that they may interfere with your ability to function in your daily life- at work and at play- and even hinder your ability to tolerate your cancer treatment. Emotions play an integral part of our daily lives and our ability (or inability) to function at our best. Even our best efforts may find us unable to ‘shut down our mind’ and let our bodies get the rest that is critical to peak performance and optimal health.

Sometimes, a cancer diagnosis can also worsen pre-existing emotional problems or trigger memories to traumatic experiences from the past.

No two people handle stress in identical ways, yet there are some general guidelines that may help us all find some relief. Some suggestions to find relief are outlined in this link and briefly summarized below:

For most, the roller coaster will not significantly impact your ability to function and will pass as you become accustomed to your new ‘normal.’ Giving yourself permission to work through the emotions you experience will help your inner self to heal and regain your sense of self. However, for some, it might be time to reach out. If you experience emotions that ‘paralyze’ you in your daily living, if you experience feelings of overwhelming helplessness or hopelessness, or if you entertain thoughts of hurting yourself or others you need to reach out and ask for help. Talk to your physician, your loved ones, your clergyman; share with them what you are experiencing. Pick up the phone and call your local emergency number (in USA: call 911 or call/chat with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255). Know that there are people out there who are standing by, willing and wanting to help you through this time.

Let It Go…!

Let It Go…!

The above picture shows the Freedom Sculpture by an artist, Zenos Frudakis, who stated:

“I wanted to create a sculpture almost anyone, regardless of their background, could look at and instantly recognize that it is about the idea of struggling to break free. This sculpture is about the struggle for achievement of freedom through the creative process”.

Like it or not, we are all human, and part of that definition means that we are creatures whose existence is framed by emotion. Happy, sad, indifferent, scared, lonely, calm or agitated, and the list goes on. The very thing that we share, emotion, is also very unique to each person and experience. There is never a right or wrong feeling; only how we act on those emotions! When we pay attention, when we acknowledge our innermost emotions and give them expression, we are helping ourselves to expand and invite healing to come and dwell with us. That is often easier said than done, especially if we are struggling to ‘be strong’ to recover and heal from your cancer journey.

It is difficult to say what will help us as an individual to acknowledge and face our deepest emotions. There is no defined path; we must each find our own way. Our journeys, while sometimes similar to another’s, are unique. But just as we share these emotions, we can also share tools for coping. One such tool is suggested through art. Mediums such as music, visual art, poetry, literature, drama and nature can heighten our self-awareness and at times, even reach beyond to our unconscious to promote healing from within.

Catharsis is the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions.

So allow yourself the time to make or enjoy art that touches you – e.g. listen to music, watch a movie, walk along the outdoor path. See the beauty of what surrounds you and allow it to gently nudge the emotions that dwell within you to the surface. Let the healing begin from within.

“I’m not sure whose story I have been telling. I’m not sure if it is mine, or if it’s some character’s I have yet to meet. I’m not sure of anything. All I know is that, at any moment, life will surprise me. It will bring me to my knees, and when it does, I will remind myself, I will remind myself that I am my father. And I am my father’s father. I am my mother. And I am my mother’s mother. And while it may be easy to wallow in the tragedies that shape our lives, and while it’s natural to focus on those unspeakable moments that bring us to our knees, we must remind ourselves that if we get up, if we take the story a little bit farther…if we go far enough, there’s love”.

                                                                               Excerpt from Life Itself.

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