As a recovering work-obsessed multi-tasker, I spent most days analyzing work and life situations while also writing emails, listening to conference calls in the car driving, or reading industry information during exercise sessions. The idea of “doing it all” energized me. But truthfully, I was always exhausted and stressed. I took yoga a few times to “de-stress,” but found limiting my thoughts to be impossible. In addition, I felt foolish because I thought everyone around me was “better at stretching.” So I gave up before I really even began. Despite my lackluster first experiences with it, I ran to yoga after my second breast cancer diagnosis and haven’t turned back since.
Prior to launching Pretty Wellness, I rarely revealed to friends and family how much I really knew about health and wellness. Perhaps I didn’t want to sound too preachy. Or maybe I was afraid of sounding hypocritical, given my former Diet Dr. Pepper addiction (it was once my biggest vice). Regardless, years of nutrition electives in college and part-time jobs as an ACE certified aerobics instructor have given me hands-on access to the latest nutritional information. (Not to mention the countless evenings chugging light beer and reading girly fitness magazines.) While I knew that eating whole foods would contribute to a more healthy and active body, a part of me still felt invincible and wasn’t necessarily practicing what I knew. It took my second round of breast cancer to re-educate myself on fueling my body.
Sometimes I forget I had cancer.
Sometimes I forget I have cancer.
Sometimes I forget how very lucky I am to be living in an age where we have information at our finger tips. It’s frightening and often overwhelming to skim the daunting prognosis stats, hear the triumphant stories and research every ache. Whether it’s right or wrong to self diagnose, initiate treatments or push doctors for more, at least we have it. So many people don’t. So many did not.
We all have the power of choice. As hard as it might be at times, we can choose to wake up in the morning and be in a good mood. Despite bad weather, a burnt breakfast or any other seemingly annoying thing, we can choose to not let it bring down our day.
I thought I knew how to choose joy. After all, I did it in the hardest moments of my life. Throughout my first and second diagnosis with breast cancer, I smiled and handled myself with grace. I found a way to focus on fun despite the hardship. And I learned it from a wonder woman of positive spirit, Mary Ann. On one of my toughest days, just hours after being diagnosed as a 31-year old breast cancer patient, Mary Ann came to me. A kind-hearted and super-souled woman, she guided me through those first six months, helping me understand the intense physical and emotional toll of cancer. She assured me that even as a newlywed cancer patient, I could be happy. I listened. And I was.
I wasn’t scared of the painful side effects from surgery.
I wasn’t scared of fatigue and emotional drain from a packed schedule of cancer doctor appointments.
I wasn’t scared of humongous machines filled with radiation.
And I wasn’t scared of chemotherapy … I was petrified.
When I was first diagnosed, I only knew a few people who went through cancer treatment. And I didn’t know much about their experiences, so I really had no idea what to expect. I feared the worst when I was told I needed chemo; my stomach sank and anxiety filled my chest. I imaged myself regularly hugging a toilet, unable to leave the house and participate in life for 16 weeks of treatment. But this wasn’t my experience at all. In fact, my first chemo treatment was just me, my husband, two nurses and an IV.
Today marks 10 years since my first-ever surgery, a bilateral mastectomy. Fox CT interviewed me to celebrate this milestone and highlight how others can look to handle a similar situation (video above). Being initially diagnosed young, I learned how to navigate through diagnosis and treatment while finding a few laughs a long the way. Below are some quick links to cancer resources. Cancer survivors and their caregivers can use these ideas as a guide to help navigate the diagnosis, treatment and hopefully be comfortable with being their own patient advocate.
Recent Diagnosis – Patient:
Everyone is different, know there is not one right way to act or feel. These suggestions worked for me in an effort to stay relatively sane while evaluating various cancer treatments.
Support – From Friends and Family:
When people mention they don’t know what to say to someone who has been diagnosed with cancer, I just tell them to know their audience. Treat a friend/family member in a similar manner, with perhaps a little bit more kindness, in an effort to make them feel some normalcy.
- Be proactive with support: suggest a few ideas how you can help from this list of 50 thoughtful ideas and gestures for a friend in need.
Support – Financial, Emotional for Patients and Caregivers:
The first few weeks after being diagnosed are filled with many new obstacles, including excessive stress and potential financial burdens. There are many ways to combat these issues, including finding support organizations and using mindfulness techniques.
- CancerCare – This organization provides counseling, support groups, education and financial assistance for both patients and caregivers.
- Finding time for exercise and mindfulness activities is helpful: benefits of yoga, acupuncture and walking for cancer patients.
Hope and Inspiration:
Being diagnosed at 31, many of my peers had not faced this disease before. Regardless, facing cancer is life altering, and I wanted to have hope. So I found it incredibly helpful when people shared global survival stories. Here are some quick links where you can find hope, inspiration and motivation from others experiencing hardships.
- Kris Carr – Author and inspirational speaker known for the Crazy Sexy Cancer brand outlines her journey toward wellness while living with a rare form of cancer.
- Gotta Make Lemonade – Public figure Samantha Harris and her husband have created a platform to inspire others to overcome life’s challenges. These include cancer and injury as well as professional adversity. My story was featured here, as well.
For more relevant information about my cancer journey and supportive resources, check out our cancer resources page.
Have you been touched by cancer? Please share your story or recommendations for other patients or caregivers.