After the Big C: Three C’s to guide your way

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The Big C… cancer… it certainly can lay a number on you. Diagnosis, treatment and figuring out life after treatment or between treatments-whew! Some of the “figuring” seems like it just goes on and on whether it is trying to decrease side effects like fatigue, dealing with fear and uncertainty, mood concerns, cognitive issues or addressing changes in libido and sexual functioning. I hope these three C’s serve you and perhaps help you to focus in a new way.

CURIOSITY
An eager wish to know or learn about something.
Inquiring, Inquisitive.

There is so much to be curious about! Some of the areas that have really piqued my interest are: What if we let folks know that there are things they could do to improve their health after cancer? We do know that treatment can impact cellular mechanisms involved with aging. What are the activities, the health practices and food choices, helpful to slow aging AND do they help to aid peoples’ recovery from cancer? What if we let people know about adaptogens (substances that increase the power of resistance against physical, chemical or biological agents or stressors and impact the autonomous nervous system) and nervines (substances that work on the central and/or peripheral nervous system and may have a calming, stimulating or toning effect) when they completed treatment as a means of aiding recovery and improved central nervous system support? For many chemo leaves changes to their nervous system whether that be anxiety, peripheral neuropathy, balance challenges or unexplained neurological and mood symptoms. What about neurogenesis or supporting the growth of new nerve cells? I am also curious about ways we might counsel patients to be more proactive about connecting with what they find important in their lives after a traumatic time. If there is a sense of separateness from ones sensual and sexual self how do we help with healing. How do we have conversations about sexual health and sexual concerns with anyone who is wondering about that part of their life? There is so much to be curious about! Thanks too for all the cancer researchers who have the curiosity to study mutations, and telomeres so that new drugs are always in the pipeline. I am curious about how we might also impact our telomeres (parts of our chromosomes) with choices in our lives. I am really curious about taking all the pieces that we know (like foods that lengthen telomeres and thereby aid your cellular health) and how best to get this information out to people impacted by cancer.

“The important thing is not to stop questioning…”
 - Albert Einstein

Curiosity helps us to survive and is linked with many benefits including psychological, emotional, social and overall health. When we are curious about self, our lives, and our experiences, we have an urge to gain knowledge to help us adjust to a constantly changing environment. Research demonstrates that curiosity increases activity in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that helps us with learning and forming new memories. The hippocampus also helps with regulation of mood and emotions. Curiosity helps us clarify our troubles, our doubts, our thoughts and personal circumstances. It is also associated with lower levels of anxiety and greater psychological wellbeing. What questions have you been asking? Are you curious about what has been going on with your body? Are you experiencing side effects from your treatment that you want to learn more about? Do you find yourself worrying? Feeling unsure of your next steps? Surprised that at times cancer still causes challenges in your life? Try adding curiosity to your tool box! Are there topics you are curious about? Please let me know so that we can share that information with others!

“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”
- Albert Einstein

Curiosity can be nurtured and developed. Ever play 20 questions? If something intrigues you, find out more. Be curious about yourself, about what your find difficult, about what you want. Be curious about how your body functions. Ask your healthcare providers questions too! Be curious about how your emotions function. Spend time observing your life as if watching the story a play or movie. What do you notice? What leads you to wonder?

COMPASSION
A feeling of wanting to help someone who is sick, hungry, in trouble, etc. 
Tenderness, heart.

Compassion is often something that we have an easier time feeling towards others. Compassion helps us to connect to others that may be suffering yet self-compassion is frequently quite a challenge. Self-compassion is extending the same kindness to ourselves that we would to others. How many of you would confess to being “your own worst critic”? What if you took a few moments to ask yourself if you feel worthy? Do you have a sense that you are “good enough”? Do you find yourself being in judgement of yourself? 

Talk to yourself as you would to someone you love.
- Brene Brown

We all have those inner gremlins, krackens and swamp monsters! But who has the strongest voice? Being in a hard place is different than personal limitations and negative self-judgment. Self-criticism at a physiological level is perceived as a threat and kicks our flight or fight response into gear due to seeming attack. Those negative feelings serve to isolate us and make us feel more alone while we know that self-compassion can decrease depression, anxiety and stress as well as increase motivation, life style choices and our sense of connection with others.

A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day.
A string of such moments can change the course of your life.
- Christopher K. Germer

Practicing self-compassion often starts with mindfulness. You might start by taking some time and observing the self-judgment or the negative words you use. When you take some time and become aware of how self-criticism operates in your life, you can begin to extend care and kindness to yourself. Taking care of yourself is a compassionate act. Self-compassion is something to learn, to cultivate. What have you done lately to be a caring and kind friend to yourself? Do you want to create the space to let yourself truly thrive? What gets in your way?

CONNECTION
The state of being joined in some way.
Kindred, bond.

How connected do you feel? A sense of connection is internal and individual. Do you feel connected to family, friends, work colleagues, spiritual colleagues, folks in your exercise class or painting class, your neighbors, your dog or cat? Maybe you volunteer or have helped with a cancer related group event. The internet can help us to connect socially through venues like Facebook and email. What we do know is that social connection helps us physically and psychologically. Connection can help with anxiety and depression. Steve Cole at UCLA demonstrated with his research the power of social connection and your genes. Genes impacted by social connection also influence immune function and inflammation.

However I think social connection is only part of the “connecting” important in our lives.

There are so many ways we can feel connected. Do you feel connected to yourself? How do you foster your connection with yourself (and others)? Busy, stressful lives definitely make this difficult as does constant medical concerns and appointments. Practicing self-care like journaling, gardening, stress reduction, mindfulness, exercise, eating well, massage or other forms of bodywork can all help to increase ones sense of connection to self. 

Do you feel connected to your environment whether that be your home, the geographic place that you live or the places you go for a little respite? Nature can be a way of nourishing our connection to life. Do you feel connected at your place of employment? That could be a connection to the work that you do and/or to the people who work with you.

Do you feel connected to your dreams? To your passions? To your body? To the people you love? After cancer, when so very much of your life can feel very different, there may be a time of “reconnecting” or connecting in a new way to those people, places and activities that help to connect you fully and whole-heartedly to your life. Try being open and curious about the questions and the answers important in your life. Be compassionate with yourself about the changes you have experienced and all that gets stirred up because of that…and definitely connect with what makes your heart sing.

If you are interested in discovering how you might personalize any of these steps please do contact me. In working together we will focus on you, your needs and the steps you can take toward feeling better. I would also be indeed grateful if you decide to share this with friends, loved ones or professionals that you think might be interested.

Take care,
Liz

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder,
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger,
May you never take one single breath for granted,
God forbid love ever leave you empty handed,
I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean,
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens,
Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance,
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.
I hope you dance... I hope you dance.
- Lee Ann Womack