Archive for February, 2009

Cancer Recovery 9

February 27, 2009


Great news – prevention is the best cure for cancer! The latest report is that 24% of all cancers are preventable with a healthy diet and exercise. The stats range much higher for individual cancers. This means that each one of us can do our bit to prevent cancers that would otherwise ruin our lives.

The World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research has reviewed 7000 studies and concluded that cancer “is mostly preventable”.

This is good news even if you already have cancer, because it means that you can prevent a recurrence of this dreaded disease. I remember after I was diagnosed, I was so worried about recurrence; this is a common fear for many people. They get over the diagnosis and treatment, and then think they have to live the rest of their lives in fear of the cancer coming back.

The report shows us that if we choose to eat a healthy diet and get regular exercise, there’s a good chance we can protect ourselves from another diagnosis of cancer. This certainly sounds like a worthwhile effort to me!


Cancer Recovery 8

February 26, 2009

Sleeping keeps us healthy; not getting enough sleep is a slippery slope! There have been a few articles in the paper recently about young mothers staying up at night to have some alone time. Some people work 2 jobs and skip sleep to do so. There are reports of people taking medication to stay awake so they can fit in more activities and don’t need to spend as much time sleeping.  Many people with cancer and other chronic diseases are not able to sleep. All this sets off alarm bells in my head since I subscribe to the theory that sleep time is when the body heals itself.

There seems to be a substantial amount of evidence that the human body needs adequate rest and sleep to function properly. Why do people want to reduce the amount of time they sleep? I think it’s a matter of prioritizing what is important to each of us, and choosing how we want to spend our time. Since I’ve faced my mortality with cancer, good health has become my number 1 priority in life; if sleep is part of good health, then other activities take a back seat to sleeping in my books.

After I was treated for cancer, I was planning my recovery and learned about the healing properties of deep relaxation and sleep.  So for 22 years now I have practiced deep relaxation every day, and I get 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night. It takes some effort, but I think the payoff is huge: so far I have not had a recurrence of cancer.

You can get more sleep and deep relaxation if you want to, and if you make it a priority. There are books, tapes, and courses to help you learn relaxing techniques such as meditation, Yoga, Tai Chi, and Qi Cong. Exercise, diet and listening to music are factors which can either stimulate or relax us depending on what we choose to do. Many people find that reading before bed helps them to sleep. Others have their favourite hobbies for relaxation.

Watching the late night news on TV does not usually qualify as an agent of relaxation. So if you want to get a better night’s sleep, spend some time to plan what you will do before you go to bed so you have the best chance of success.

The single, most useful technique I have learned is to practice deep breathing. There are many ways to do this, but it’s pretty simple really. When you are ready to go to sleep, make sure you are in a comfortable position.

Close your eyes and picture the word RELAX on the back of your forehead.

Slowly take a deep breath in to the count of 4; you want to push air into the base of your lungs which will push the diaphragm down and your abdomen will rise.

Hold the breath in to the count of 4. 

Let the air out  slowly to the count of 4.

Hold your breath out to the count of 4.

Repeat the process so you do 4 in breaths and 4 out breaths.

I hope you will have sweet dreams!

Cancer Recovery 7

February 25, 2009

Think positive! That’s what many people say to someone who has cancer. I’ve heard a number of other people say this is impossible, unfair, stupid, ridiculous, etc.. Who’s right?

I think it’s a matter of believing in a positive outcome, not just about thinking all is well when it’s not. It’s difficult to put on a false smile when you’re afraid of cancer, but you can do it if it makes you feel better. It’s all about how you feel inside. If you smile just to please someone else, then you’re doing yourself more harm than good.

You have to believe in the actions you choose to take. If you or a loved one is faced with cancer, it’s very important to figure out what is best for you. It’s easy to think positive if you’ve caught the cancer early and you have a good prognosis. If your prognosis is not so good, then it’s still important to choose how you’re going to live each day.

If you focus on this day, today and everyday, it’s easy to find something positive to believe in. Look around you – look to see what is beautiful, what sounds pleasing, what is there to give you energy so you can enjoy your life today.

Cancer Recovery 6

February 24, 2009

“Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence.” – Lin Yutang

This quote was in the Globe and Mail this morning, and it made me think of the cancer journey.

In 2008, my good friend Karen Da Silva launched a campaign to tell doctors about the importance of giving their patients “hope” rather than taking it away from them. In  2006 when Karen was told she she should go on vacation because she had 6 months to live, she felt hopeless and decided she wasn’t going to live out the time she had left without hope. She felt that “going on vacation” was a way of avoiding cancer and she chose to face it head on. Having a feeling of hope is a big part of how we live with cancer and it can make a difference in having a good day or a bad day, and even if we enjoy living at all.

In my conversations with Karen, we discussed the possibilities of life with or without hope. Karen wanted to live well in the time she had left and she felt it would not happen if she had no hope for today or tomorrow; so she set about developing an attitude of hope and as in the quote above, the road appeared.

Among other opportunities, Karen was asked to speak at a doctor’s convention and also recorded a video for the medical school at the University of British Columbia. My hope is that this video will make a difference in the way some doctors speak to their patients. A number of years ago, when Karen was told by a doctor that she would be treated as if she were in the group of patients who would recover, she felt inspired and mentally able to cope with her diagnosis. The faith inspired by the doctor’s language made a difference in the way Karen thought about her life with cancer.

With her belief in the power of hope, Karen made a difference to her own quality of life and managed to extend her life so she could enjoy more happy times with family and friends. We miss her.

Cancer Recovery 5

February 23, 2009

Cancer is easier to tolerate if we have a good relationship with our health care team. I’m a health care worker so I’m very aware that most of us are normal human beings before we become our professions. We have good days and bad days, we get sick and tired, we make mistakes; but we care about our patients so we pull ourselves together, so we can do our best for the people we encounter on the job.

As a patient, we are responsible for 50% of the relationship between ourselves and any member of the health care team. It would be optimal if everyone acted in a polite, respectful way, but as I said before – we’re all human beings and that’s not always the way it goes. Often our emotions and egos get in the way, and things get skewed.

If you feel you haven’t been treated the way you would like, it’s up to you to politely say so and express your needs; health care professionals may not be able to read your mind so please speak up if your needs are not being met. As long as your requests are reasonable and realistic, you stand a good chance of being satisfied.  Please bear in mind that everyone is different and it’s often just a matter of good communication to sort things out.

If you would like to create a good working relationship with your health care team, here are a few things you could do:

– document on the calendar a few facts about your health such as pain levels, amount of sleep, and activity levels

– use a scale of 1 to 10 for each day so the facts are consistent

– take your medication as directed and note any changes you have made

– tell the truth to your health care team so they have a better idea of what is really going on

– go half way to create a relationship with your health care team, other patients, etc.

– use your best communication skills: write things down, make lists, etc.

– take someone else with you to appointments to help you keep track of the details

– love yourself enough to be pro-active about your health

I hope this helps.

Cancer Recovery 4

February 20, 2009

…contd. How many people does it take to build a support system? The only answer that doesn’t work is zero, because everyone needs at least 1 other person beside them to thrive.

If you or a loved one has cancer, you need a main supporter who understands you, and can ask others for the kind of help you need. People come from nowhere if they hear you need help; so if it’s a reasonable request and someone says “Is there anything I can do for you?”, don’t be too shy to tell them what you need.

Families and friends are wonderful providers of food, companionship, and rides to medical appointments. Support can be found in the community as well through churches, non-profit organizations, Hospice, and activity based organizations such as arts and sports.

The medical team is also part of your support system. I believe that if you have a good relationship with your health care team, you will feel better about your treatment, you will have better care, and you will gain more benefit because of it.

Some time ago, I was part of a planning committee for a Navigation Map for women with breast cancer. The committee was made up of survivors, thrivers, and people from non-profit organizations. The general consensus was that a support system is a basic need all along the cancer journey, and it’s the support system which helps a person with cancer to find their own road to recovery.

Cancer Recovery 3

February 19, 2009

Cancer can be a great teacher: I learned more about relationships than I had ever learned before my diagnosis with cancer, and I credit my support system for helping me get well. 

So in order for my support system to help me, I had to be willing to accept help. This was very difficult for me and other people I’ve spoken to, because many people with cancer are nice people who like to do things for others and not have others do things for them.

It’s a good thing for me that I learned to be gracious about asking for help and accepting it. I found it amazing that so many people wanted to help me and my family, and once I figured out that the world wouldn’t fall apart if  I let other people do things for me, it was wonderful!

If you are facing cancer, the best thing you can do is to build a support system of people who can help you get through the day and give you hope for the future. Forget about how things used to be and build a whole new life with people who love you so you can love them back.

Cancer Recovery 2

February 18, 2009

I understand that a diagnosis of cancer is like a slap in the face. Then the carpet gets pulled out from under your feet. A roller coaster appears and you’re thrown up, down, and around so you have no sense of direction anymore. When the roller coaster stops, you find yourself  in a swamp with no clear path to follow.

I’ve experienced all this and heard others say the same: it’s a nightmare.

What saved me was my support system. My husband, family, and friends came to my rescue and coached me along until I found the road to recovery.

If you know someone who is facing a cancer diagnosis, please be kind to them. The act of love and friendship may just save their life.

Cancer Recovery 1

February 17, 2009

I want to tell the world that cancer is a wake up call, not a death sentence. When I was diagnosed in 1986 and 1987,  I prepared to die but learned how to change my life instead. Since then I’ve taken good care of my health and and here I am 22 years later without a recurrence so far.

I would like to help other people find their own road to recovery from cancer. If you know of anyone who would like some help on the cancer journey, please watch this site.

Hello world!

February 14, 2009

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