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stress and cancer

Cancer Smarts: Twelve Things about Carrying Stress (and how to not let it break you down)

“It’s not the load that breaks you down. It’s the way you carry it.” – Lou Holtz

The truth in this statement is a little painful to acknowledge. I’ve been good at some things in life. Carrying heavy loads has not been one of them. The context for every person is different but the problems from stress are very real! Since I can’t quite tell you how to keep from getting cancer allow me to share some things I’ve learned about dealing with the stress-load of life as a cancer survivor.

1. You can’t do it all.

2. Let people help.

3. Do work that you love.

4. If you don’t love your work and a change is not feasible, do things you love outside of work to recharge and refresh and protect your sanity and joy.

5. It’s OK to be angry. It’s not OK to not deal with anger properly.

6. Know your personality. Are you energized by being with people, or away from people? I unashamedly make it a point to do things that nourish my body, mind, soul and spirit. Therefore I purposefully avoid things, people and places that sap my body, mind, soul and spirit. I recharge in quietness. You can actually take a free personality test right here to gain insight into your personality: https://jacobadamo.com/personality-colors-quiz/

7. Take care of yourself. Eat right. Exercise gently in a way the helps your body and doesn’t hurt physically. Sleep plenty. Get fresh air. Soak in natural sunshine for 15-20 minutes without sunscreen. Walk barefoot. Be grateful.

8. Take care of your soul. When I don’t spend time with God through scripture reading and prayer I notice a difference in my outlook and the way I handle stress throughout the day. When I stop and start the day with time talking to the God who created me and knows every detail of my past, present, and future, I’m grounded. Settled. De-stressed. Focused. Loved.

9. Simplify your life.

10. Get things right with God.

11. Get things right with the people you love.

12. Show kindness and respect to the people you don’t love.

12a. Cheery fresh flowers make burdens lighter.

It’s all connected.

Cutting out a tumor can remove the cancer. What about the environment in the body that allowed the cancer to grow? Perhaps we need to find ways to nourish and heal the body beyond the standard cutting, poisoning and burning approaches of cancer treatment. I speak respectfully from personal experience. I went through treatment twice. The first time we were flat out running through a gauntlet of fear. The second time I was angry and I tried to use that anger to arm myself with knowledge. I felt less stress about the situation; I felt like I had some control in the chaos after I prayed with my husband. We did our best to make decisions armed with faith and good information. We were confident that, no matter the outcome, God was (and is) in control.

I am not telling you to not go to your oncologist (I did). I’m telling you that you’ll need to accept responsibility to really understand the impact of treatment upon your body. What are the pro’s and con’s? Are there ways to protect the body during chemo and radiation while helping standard medical treatment approaches to work better? What are you, the person who will go through this treatment, comfortable with, in conjunction with your doctor?

Once you pray and consider all options, you go forward one day at a time.

“Stress has a profound impact on how your body’s systems function,” says Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D., professor of General Oncology and Behavioral Science, and director of the Integrative Medicine Program at MD Anderson. Health experts are still sorting out whether stress actually causes cancer. Yet there’s little doubt that it promotes the growth and spread of some forms of the disease. Put simply, “stress makes your body more hospitable to cancer,” Cohen says.” The article goes on to share information about two kinds of stress – short term stress, and chronic stress, which is long-term and more damaging. Read the article here: https://www.mdanderson.org/publications/focused-on-health/december-2014/how-stress-affects-cancer-risk.html.html

I believe there was not just one single thing that allowed cancer to thrive in my body. There were many little and big things combined that tipped the balance towards disease over a long period of time. It has taken time to tip the balance back to current wellness (by the grace of God). Stress is real and so are strategies to help cancer patients and cancer survivors manage the business of living well during our remaining time on earth.

Verses that help me cope with stress:

2 Timothy 1:7 NIV, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”

Psalm 20:1 NIV, “[ Psalm 20 ] [ For the director of music. A psalm of David. ] May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.”

Proverbs 18:10 NIV, “The name of the Lord is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.”

Psalm 90:14 NIV, “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.”

How do you find help to deal with stress as a cancer patient or cancer survivor, or supporter?

PS: Something I love to do is take photos of nature. Here’s a fun picture from the countryside near where I grew up. Enjoy!

Racoon

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stage four colon cancer survivorSharon O’Connor is a wife, mom, and stage 4 colon cancer survivor. She loves coffee, writing, playing piano, and taking walks with her husband, Tom, and their adopted Pug-Maltese mix, Ace. Sharon is grateful for wellness support strategies that work and that have helped support her personal journey with cancer.

[ More about Sharon ]

Lost and Found

“I’m taking a walk over the hill; maybe I’ll see something.” I grabbed the battery and popped it into the camera.

Tom looked at the clock. “I think you’ve missed that opportunity… it’s a little late to surprise the animals.” Everything is allowed to be later on Saturday mornings. Especially me.

“That’s ok,” I responded. I finished tying my laces. “The scenery will be peaceful and perfect for time with God. As long as I don’t meet anyone else in the woods trying to scare me.”

A week ago I stood at the top of the hill shouting, “I KNOW it’s YOU!” A figure – a man – had jumped off the path into the woods ahead. Silence.

“I have a stick, and I hit hard!” A thin walking stick. Not really helpful. Maybe I could throw it like a spear. Probably now would be a good time to turn around and go home. Like *run* down the hill home. It had to be Tom hiding in the bushes. On the other hand, I had left him on the couch watching baseball 15 minutes ago. There was no way he ran up that hill. Minutes passed. I crouched and waited. Sure enough – Tom finally emerged from the woods ahead. All smiles and and chuckling and very pleased with himself. The man let me leave the house for a quiet walk in the woods and then raced up the hill to scare me. And yes, people, he’s all mine. He knows me and knows where to find me. And I love him for knowing. And running up a hill to scare me.

The night before I had stopped by to see our neighbor. She walked methodically along her flower beds and I fell in step. She pulled a plastic laundry basket with a string behind her to hold weeds and dead plant clippings. I offered to pull the basket for her, as usual, and received the response I expected.

“No. I can do it. Thank you.” We continued walking.

“Do you want to see a wild orchid?” she asked. Yes. I did. She introduced flowers and herbs like cherished friends, pointing out various uses for each one. She reads plants like I read piano music. I do not speak “plant” very well. Hence my stunned amazement to find flowers thrown all over our property when we bought our home. And hence my neighbor’s stunned amusement to find how little I knew about some of the plants. Ok, most of the plants.

“Here it is. See?” Her hands reached gently to hold the thin stem like a treasure. I would have mistaken the orchid for a weed; it was not stunning or eye-catching like the orchids I had seen before. It was quaint and plain and you had to look carefully to see the lovely blossoms. Hidden treasure in plain site. If you knew where to look.

hands, wild orchid, meadow, hands holding orchid

She showed me another flower that a friend had brought to her from Hawaii. The flower was in residence under a huge pine tree. It ruled the space and immediately drew your gaze. My neighbor talked about the timing of the thriving blooms. A time for everything.

yellow blooms yellow flowers

Rain drops spattered and we stepped under the branches of a towering pine tree. Our conversation continued for a few minutes until the huddle of clouds broke up.

We turned together and looked across the meadow.

“Do you mind if I take a picture?” I asked. The whole field was aglow. When I was little my aunt told me, “God loves to paint the sky for us. See how God painted the sky tonight? Isn’t it beautiful?” God was painting the sky again and splashing colors all over this particular piece of earth. It was beautiful.

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I followed my friend as she emptied her basket. She pointed out mint leaves and pulled golden rod and we visited the turban lillies. Another friend of hers, she said, a Master Gardener, had planted the other daylillies nearby.

turban lily flowers encouragement for cancer patients cancer smarts blog encouragement

Our last stop was at a choke cherry tree. “I’ve never eaten a choke cherry,” I said. I had passed this tree for five years and never noticed the fruit or known its name. I think people are like that sometimes; we think we are unnoticed and maybe a little lost on our journey towards Home. Especially if it involves cancer and medical treatment. Or maybe we’re just blooming where we’re planted whether anyone notices or not. But God notices. He sees our fruit. He knows where we’re planted.

choke cherry choke cherries cancer smarts blog cancer blog cancer survivor blog encouragement

“I’m not surprised you’ve never eaten a choke cherry,” she responded. It was not a criticism. Just a fact. She examined the leaves and plucked a few berries and I picked some to try.

“These are sweet!” she stated, pleased. “They are usually a little bitter.” We spit out the seeds and talked about choke cherry jam.

I returned home with thoughts about lost and found plants. And people.

Feeling a little lost? God knows right where you are and where you need to go. Trust him and ask for direction.

Feeling alone in some trial? God holds you tenderly and will nourish your life as you rest in his care. Even if you don’t see his hands.

Hiding on the sidelines and unsure of what may be ahead on the path? God will walk with you if you step out in faith. His protection is better than any walking stick.

Are you on the wrong path – even if it seemed filled with light at first – and now feel surrounded by the dark? Good news. God loves you so much that he sent his son, Jesus, to find you. And me. Tell God you’re sorry for what you’ve done wrong. Accept the gift of Jesus’ death on a cross that paid for the sin that separates you from God. He’ll care for your soul and light the journey Home.

I am the light of the world; anyone who follow me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life." Jesus, trees, light, dark, path, cancer, encouragement, salvation, sin, redeem, garden

 

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Get Humming

I sat in a chair facing the trumpet vines. The (trees?) are at one end of our pool and I was plotting to capture hummingbird images. You know, because the world has never seen hummingbirds in pictures, ever. The fluted coral trumpet vine flowers fascinate me. They are what my mind’s eye remembers most from our first weeks in our home five years ago. Soon after the trumpet vines bloomed that summer we learned there was something wrong with my body that ultimately would be named stage 3 cancer. Click. Swimming in the pool before surgery that fall. Click. Sitting on the ladder with my feet in the water the following spring after chemo, radiation, and multiple surgeries. Wounded. Click. Waiting for the surgeon to say I had healed enough to get in the water. Click. The relief that swimming and stretching and floating provided to my battered body. Still provides to my body. Click. The trumpet vines are in bloom again. Click.

Tom was skimming the pool. I had done my laps and was armed with my camera under the table umbrella.

“Mrs. S. (our neighbor who planted the trumpet vines over 40 years ago) says hummingbirds come out between 6 and 7 PM. Maybe I should just try to get some photos around her feeder,” I said. “Do you think it’s too hot out now? I guess I can try and see.”

“You need a bigger lens.” He finished skimming. He was right. For 24 years he has noticed details and helped me see the bigger picture.

I’m content for now with what can be seen from this limited angle. Tom left to mow the lawn. Chloe trotted proudly behind him through the gate. I don’t think either one thought the hummingbirds would cooperate. I scrolled on my phone with one hand and held the camera in the other when I heard that delicious humming sound and this happened:



See More Hummingbird Photos in the Bird Gallery Here

I was thinking about the hummingbirds today and their constant motion and quiet rest. Sometimes I do wonder why we must go through Things. The suffering and all that. And when suffering is removed or relieved a new and different struggle often appears. Constant motion. Too-short rest. My phone buzzed and I saw an email from another friend who has faced great illness. We met by email after I shared my journey at a women’s conference. She, too, had colon cancer and did some medical intervention but she chose mainly natural options to build up her immune system. She is doing beautifully. Her doctors are astonished. She has shared Christ with many people who she would never have met if she had not been on this journey. She closed her email with these words that encouraged me. I hope they will encourage you:

“I think of you often and I pray for you. God has us here to be a shining light in a dark world. This is my hope that God permits that the symbol of my life be a candle that burns itself, spends itself, consumes itself while there is still wax to burn! Have a great minute, hour, day and super weekend.”

She reminded me of the bigger picture.

If you’re searching for the beauty of (hummingbirds? health? happiness?) and can’t quite find the image, stay still and focus. If you’re headed into stormy waters and unsure how deep it will get, keep moving forward in faith. Are you sitting on the edge because you’ve been wounded beyond bearing? Rest and wait. God is setting the stage for good. If you listen close, you’ll soon hear the humming. Now go shine.

“Restore us, Lord God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.” Psalm 80:19

PS: The last time I blogged here it was about scanxiety and an upcoming annual CT scan related to an encounter with stage 4 colon cancer in 2012-13. The annual scan in May 2015 was clear. Uneventful. Over. Relief. Thank you for praying and reading. Click.