Sleeping Your Way Out of Cancer

We all want more sleep, yet most of us are walking around deprived of this essential element our bodies need. When we haven’t gotten enough sleep, our immune system is lower and our brain function reduced. We don’t have energy for the exercise which reduces our risk. Shall I continue? I believe that there’s a high probability the day that first rogue cell entered my body, I was probably sleep deprived. If I had not been, maybe cancer would have never happened.

Sadly, sleep deprivation has become a badge of honor in our society. We all know a person who resolves, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” or brags, “I’m more productive because I only get five hours a sleep each night.” What these people don’t realize is a lack of sleep could bring death sooner rather than later and their lack of sufficient sleep actually makes them less productive. I don’t know about you, but I want to live longer and work smarter, not harder.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average adult needs seven to nine hours each night. I’m no expert, but I think adding an hour or two if you’re affected by cancer or another illness is a prudent idea. The National Sleep Foundation also states your genes begin to change when you get anything less than six hours a night. Their researchers observed up to 700 different changes that can occur after a week of sleep deprivation.

My truth is, I am preaching about sleep after realizing my own problem two months ago which developed during treatment. Like many of us, I fell into the category of being perpetually exhausted. I would spend my days and nights laying in bed with the TV blaring. Once I was healthy again, falling asleep with the TV continued to be my security blanket and hindering the quality sleep my body craved.

On a long flight home after the holidays, I stumbled along a podcast where the Huffington Post’s Arianna Huffington was interviewed about her book, The Sleep Revolution. She explained how the majority of us are sleep deprived and as a result, not living up to our full potential. Her recommendation was to create a bedtime routine as we do for our children, who wake up with superhuman energy. Yes, some of this has to do with youth, but some of it has to do with the quality and quantity of sleep they get each night.

Taking Ariana’s advice, I began putting myself to bed. I turn on my salt lamp. I take a bath or shower. I dress myself in comfortable pajamas and not the holey, old t-shirt I used to sleep in. I take my pills. I rub some lavender oil behind my ears. I write a list of everything I’m grateful for. I read a book for enjoyment until I start to nod off. I turn the lamp off and fall asleep until the birds are chirping. There’s no cell phone in the room, no TV and no iPad. The verdict – I am sleeping nine hours a night and waking up more refreshed than ever. It’s been two months and I haven’t napped during the day once, which used to be a regular occurrence.

While undergoing treatment, most patients complain about either not having the energy to get out of bed or not being able to sleep at all. I get it and I say, during treatment, you need to do what works for you and addresses the immediate need. If you’re too tired, drag yourself out for 20 minutes of exercise and then back to bed if you’re still exhausted – if you can. If you can’t sleep, try putting yourself to bed like mom did when you were a kid. And when all else fails, talk to your doctor. Let them know how you’re sleeping and any challenges you’re having around the subject. I can guarantee you’re not the only patient who’s ever encountered this problem, so chances are, you’re doctor has a solution for improving the situation. And like everything, be persistent. Especially if you have a history of cancer. One of the best healing mechanisms of the body is triggered by sleep and don’t you want all those mechanisms working at their full capacity?

I can see some of your faces. You might be a parent, someone with a demanding job and/or that person who has never been a good sleeper. I’m here to politely acknowledge your challenge, but then Arianna Huffington, the National Sleep Foundation and I are here to tell you, it’s imperative you prioritize sleep. Put your mask on first before assisting others. Prioritize it above everything else and you’ll be so much better at everything else. And most important, you’ll be healthier and increase your odds of overcoming and avoiding disease.

Check out the National Sleep Foundation’s site, sleep.org for some interesting articles, statistics and recommendations on getting better sleep.

Read my other Cure articles here.

Advocating for NETs

I’m excited to share, as of last week, I have been appointed a Patient Representative with the Food and Drug Administration to represent the Neuroendocrine Tumor community.

This means, I’ll be involved in the official government process of evaluating new drugs and treatments intended to help those affected by Neuroendocrine Tumors. This entails speaking on behalf of Neuroendocrine Tumor patients during clinical trial phases and in public hearings. It’s hard to say when these opportunities to participate will come forth since it depends on what is in the FDA pipeline, but those of us who follow closely could take a couple guesses for 2017.

The FDA has only one Representative per disease, so I feel honored to be the person representing the Neuroendocrine Tumor community and thank the Carcinoid Cancer Foundation for their recommendation.

To learn a bit more about the Patient Representative Network, here is a blog from the FDA’s Acting Commissioner, Robert Califf, MD.

Cancer and Minimalism

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As featured on curetoday.com

After a lot of thought in December, I decided that what I wanted most out of 2017 is to be more present in my life, something that has been a problem for many years, especially since my cancer diagnosis in 2014. I spend days worrying about the future and reliving the trauma of treatment in my head, which only creates anxiety. For me, I’ve found the best way to cope with this anxiety is to focus on how I feel in the present moment because 99.9 percent of the time, I’m feeling great. I remind myself the moment we are in, right now, is all any of us are guaranteed. As the famous Bill Keane quote goes, “Yesterday is history, tomorrows is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.”

Once I resolved to be more present, I started thinking about the tools that would aid me in being successful. One of the to-dos I jotted down on my list was to watch a movie on Netflix called Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things. The title intrigued me. I thought you could replace the word minimalism with cancer since the moment you’re told that you or a loved one has the disease, your whole thought process of what is important changes. The Netflix description reads, “People dedicated to rejecting the American ideal that things bring happiness are interviewed in this documentary showing the virtues of less is more.” Cancer survivors know this, but in theory, how much are we focusing on the important aspects of our lives instead of things? None of us will be on our death beds saying, “I sure wish I would’ve gotten the iPhone 7 when it came out.” We’ll be saying things like, “I wish I spent more time with my brother” or “I should have taken that trip to Africa.”

So, what is minimalism? The film’s website describes it as, “a lifestyle that helps people question what things add value to their lives. By clearing the clutter from life’s path, we can all make room for the most important aspects of life: health, relationships, passion, growth and contribution.”

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A clean, organized book worthy space

If you’re like me and most Americans, you have too much stuff. Inspired by the film, I resolved to declutter. I made a list of the areas in my house I wanted to go through and set my timer for 20 minutes each day. Often, once I got started, I’d spend way more than 20 minutes. Within a few weeks, I decluttered my entire house, donated several bags to charity and remodeled my writing space. While my intention was to organize, I didn’t expect to experience the same radical transformation as the two subjects in the film.

I find myself much happier and living my resolution of being present with ease. Because I am not surrounded with stuff, I can breathe a bit easier. I have less general anxiety, all because my home and life are clean and organized.

Minimalism has also transformed my cancer journey, by making my life more fulfilling. A cancer survivor’s hottest commodity is time, and working towards minimalism has not just resulted in more hours in each day, but has given me quality time I can spend with my husband, friends and chasing pursuits I love, such as writing and yoga.

It has only been a month, so I’m hoping I can continue the lifestyle. My next steps are to reduce my social media presence, tackle digital clutter, comb the house again and unplug the internet one day a week – an idea that might be a hard sell to my husband.

If you’re interested in reducing anxiety, increased quality time with loved ones and pursuing your passions, I encourage you to check out www.theminimalists.com where you’ll find details about the documentary, their podcast, books and social media pages.

To read all my articles with Cure, click here.