She said: “It’s time to put as much work and stamina into enjoying life now as I did defending it!”
Some might say that while making it through treatment is no small feat, once treatment is over, survivors often feel lost and abandoned. It’s counter-intuitive to what most of us expect. We can’t wait to finish treatment and while there is a huge sense of relief when treatment is over, often post treatment can bring increasing worry about recurrence. While in treatment, we have a task at hand and are actively engaged in defeating their cancer. After treatment is over, it often becomes a “watch and wait” scenario.
The late Dr. David Servan-Schreiber describes a post treatment discussion with his physician in his book, ”Anti-Cancer”. Once his treatment was over, Dr. Servan-Schreiber asked his oncologist: ”What should I do to lead a healthy life and what precautions could I take to avoid a relapse?”
“There is nothing special to do. Lead your life normally and we’ll do a MRI scan at regular intervals to see if your tumor comes back and we’ll detect it early” was his physician’s answer. Not an uncommon response but one that can often leave survivors feeling helpless.
In fact, there is so much that survivors can do. They can become active participants in their health and be empowered to make a difference in their own survival by the choices they make every day. The key is to avoid a feeling of helplessness.
The best way to overcome the fear is to get busy living! Combat the anxiety with choices that will positively impact your health while at the same time improve your quality of life. The issue is not about motivation, but about understanding the impact of these choices on one’s body, mind and spirit. Survivors give 150% effort to their treatment. Why not give that much effort to living life and thriving after treatment is over?
So no matter the length of your survivorship, it’s never too late to get started. Instead of having absolutes to follow, I offer a few guiding principles to consider for 2012 that might add years to your life and life to your years!
1. Food as Medicine.
“Let Food be thy Medicine, and Medicine be thy Food” Hippocrates
Instead of believing that food’s main purpose is as an energy source, consider that food really is the most important medicine that nourishes each cell in your body. Providing more than energy, healthy foods create the right “terrain” for good cells to flourish and bad cells to die. I subscribe to the 80/20 rule knowing that no one is perfect all of the time. Try it guilt free.
2. Practice Gratitude
“Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.” Omar Khayyam
One thing, I have learned from cancer is that life doesn’t come with any guarantees and is full of uncertainty. Practicing gratitude takes practice! It can really rock your world once you start to see things in a more positive light. If you are struggling to be grateful, keep it simple. Think of very basic things to consider; gradually you will build on the basics and it will become easier.
3. Live consciously in the present moment.
“The key to life is not the number of breaths you take, but the number of the moments that take your breath away.” Anonymous
Life goes by fast, and it seems to go faster and faster the older I get. There is no time like the present to get connected to your spirit. Download a meditation app or try a class.
4. Move your body. Exercise is vital to cancer survivors, can reduce recurrence, and improve survival rates. The benefits of exercise for cancer survivors are amazing. Imagine decreased fatigue, pain and stress. Exercise improves sleep, mood and cognition; not to mention reducing the risks of heart disease, diabetes and other chronic health issues.
5. Sleep improves just about everything. Getting 8 hours of sleep each night can help keep cortisol (stress) levels balanced, which is good for your body, your immune system and your brain. Enough sleep on a regular basis can really improve your coping abilities. Sleep recharges your brain and gives you the energy to do what you want to do.
6. Reduce the chemicals and toxins in your life. What’s good for your body is good for the environment. Start with buying organic produce, or meat and dairy when and if possible. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and – the key to success is to take it slowly.
7. Feel the love in your life. There is nothing like a cancer diagnosis to learn who your “peeps” are that love you. Don’t forget to show them that you care, even after your treatment is over. Post treatment can be when many survivors need the emotional support more than the physical support. Let them know that even though things may be improving physically, things may be tough emotionally. Give yourself permission to ask for what you need in your life.
Dr. Servan-Schreiber believed that the very things that can lengthen your life can also help you to feel good and enjoy life. Fear is hardly a good motivator; instead, feeling well in body, mind and spirit are the best ways to stay motivated for the long run. So now is the time to become an active partner in your health. Take back control…..It’s a new way of living!