Holidays bring out so many emotions that sometimes it’s hard to avoid them. During Thanksgiving I decided I would avoid cancer thoughts at all costs. It’s something that is not easy to do because for most of us, it’s a thought that becomes indelibly imprinted in the brain when you first hear the words, you have cancer. When you hear the word incurable, it has the impact of a tattoo created with a jackhammer. Your brain rattles with the echo of that sound forever. Sometimes you can’t even believe how much the thought runs through your mind. Some people set up a donation jar and add coins whenever they think of the C word, which is often; they then donate the money to their favorite charity. Others try to avoid C thoughts by rewarding themselves when they succeed and then using the donations to buy something special.
I try every day to keep a cancer free zone for a period of time. On holidays and at least one day per weekend once a month, I keep a cancer free zone to give myself what I perceive as a very necessary break. I am aiming at keeping a cancer free zone at least one day per week. Here are some of my techniques for keeping my own cancer free zone.
Clear and simple, meditation is certainly easy to practice, but it does require practice. I usually do it at night when I’m in bed, the most potent time for C thoughts to come creeping around inside your head. Often they just won’t go away without some intervention. Use the simplest technique to begin. Follow your breathing, inhaling slowly through the nose, exhaling through the mouth. For an added boost I imagine cancer warriors bringing in reinforcements when I inhale and cancer cells leaving my body when I exhale. Sometimes my images are bizarre, and other times they are just silly. Sometimes I don’t use images at all.
I have always had a rich life of daydreams. I can close my eyes and go off to a place in my mind where I create a story in a place I can visit for five or ten minutes or however long I decide, usually in advance. Fantasy is something that I have always used to deal with unwanted stress or to stimulate my mind in preparation for either a creative or any other task. The result of indulging in a fantasy is an enhanced ability to focus strongly on a goal.
Let’s face it, some days exercise is not a good option when you’re already so weak from some side effects that have you glued in that all-too-frequent horizontal pose. But, when you can, even for a brief ten minutes, do some kind of exercise whether it’s gentle and tame, like yoga or stretching, or mildly to moderately active like dancing, walking, stationary biking, swimming or engaging in simple calisthenics or exercises. If you can exercise more than that, you know what you can do, but the key then is learning your limits. Exercise always has a way of refreshing you and helping you to think about your body and its amazing capabilities. Sometimes I wonder at the way I can feel utterly beat one day and ready to get up and go the next, even when it’s only for a little while . I always try to take advantage of the days that feel good since doing something on those days always makes me feel empowered and energized. When I exercise, I think only about my body’s participation in the action; I avoid thinking how cancer has affected my performance–this can be a big challenge when I don’t fight it and end up grieving over the loss of strength or stamina that I have experienced since my metastasis. While I allow myself to grieve for this loss to cope with it, I have learned that I need a distance from it while I’m exercising.
Reading for fun
We read so much about cancer that it can be overwhelming. I think it’s important to carve out a certain amount of time each day to read anything but cancer. Read fun articles that don’t take a significant attention span. Read essays that provide escape. Read a book if you have the attention span for it. Read philosophy or spiritual material, but be careful with this one because you sometimes read these materials directly in relationship to your own coping with cancer. You decide what you can handle that allows you the break you need for escapism in reading.
Engage your creative side
Whatever it is, playing an instrument, singing, dancing, choreographing, acting, painting, drawing, sculpting, writing, photographing, cooking . . . In many ways this is my strongest tool for my cancer free zone. I recently began a creative project that within the scope of the visual arts, an area that by far my weakest of my creative expressions. Oddly, though my skills are what I would describe as crude at best, I am enjoying the expression that I feel when I work within this frame of creativity. When I dance, I am always transformed away to my cancer free zone. Writing outside the cancer zone is also cathartic for me. Over all, this is my favorite and most potent form for creating my cancer free zone.
I think it matters not what you choose, but I think it’s absolutely critical for coping with cancer to have and to use a reliable tool to create your cancer free zone. This disease is relentless in intruding into our lives physically, emotionally and mentally. It never stops or slows down, but it revs up any time we have a test, a doctor’s appointment, a new pain or sensation in a different part of our body, an unpleasant or unwelcome comment from someone or, sometimes, just looking at the physical manifestations (our baldness, our red and swollen face or limbs, our breasts–new, missing or changed from surgery . . .).
For me, I find it necessary to go to my cancer free zone regularly; I need that escape so I can function outside the cancer. I am not my cancer and I refuse to let it dominate my every moment. I do not yet have complete control over getting to my cancer free zone; some days it’s more challenging than others. I have noticed, however, that the more I do it, the better I am at going there when the conditions most require it. It is my oasis, and I always look forward to going there. I hope you find your oasis and cultivate it; it can be a most welcome and regenerating destination.