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.

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Coming Full Circle in Burgos

The bipolar days continued. From Santo Domingo to Belrado, it was a long 23km and I was whipped upon arriving to town. Then, the next day (from Belrado to Ages) was 29km and I had energy to spare.  It was the longest distance I had done, but one of the most fun days.  It went like this: 5 minutes of rain, 5 minutes of sun, 5 minutes of uphill, 5 minutes of down hill and hours of laughs between Audrey & I. At one point when we were on the mountain top we could see the rain in the distance. It was really cool. However, later that night, as I laid in bed, my legs throbbed like never before. “Why are you doing this to us?”, they begged. I responded, “You guys just need to make it through one more day.”  Yup, tomorrow we would walk Burgos and my Camino would end. Sad face.

Audrey & I mountain top in our awesomely dorky hats

But, the Camino was not going to let me get away that easy. Before the day’s end, the my experience would come full circle and make the last day almost as challenging as the first. We had added to 2 girls from Australia (Annette & Keely) to our “family” a few days back. So, as the 6 of us walked, we encountered sun, then mountains, then rain, followed by mud and a 10km walk through the industrial area.  Someone mentioned a bus, but I was decided that there was very little that could keep me from walking to my final destination of the trip. So, the team followed me in the pouring down rain as we entered Burgos. Then, when I expected to see the hostel, I saw a sign saying we were still 2.5km away. But then I looked to my left and saw a little slice of heaven – it was Domino’s Pizza. My innate Americaness ran and the group had no choice but to follow me. I ate 5 pieces of pizza and I don’t regret it.

So, after the heartburn faded and I was rested and showered, I started to become very melancholy about leaving. I knew on this journey that I would meet people, but I didn’t expect to meet so many who are amazing, wonderful, fun, friendly, successful and inspiring. Of course, in particular, my original Camino Family. So, let me tell you a little about them.

  • Jim – he’s pretty amazing. At 66 years old, he was feeling like a rock star the first week as the rest of us young-ins tended to our injuries and blisters. My favorite thing about Jim is that he was always willing to go without so someone else didn’t.  With his eyes set on making it to Santiago in 6 weeks with his daughter, Audrey, I was happy to have been temporary adopted by him for a couple of weeks (and Franz too for that matter).
  • Franz – the “38-year-old”, German hero. After not speaking English for over 20 years, he sure put himself out of his comfort zone when he teamed up with the Americans. However, one of his best qualities is that no matter how many little mistakes he made with his English, he would always laugh along with us. Like the day when he said, “I have a head ache in my legs.” or “I think there is a lot of fuck on the mountain.” He meant fog.  These little mistakes only make him more endearing.  Lover of beer (he’s German) and his home city of Munich, his heart is set on landing in Santiago on the 19th so he can see his beloved hometown football (soccer) team beat Chelsea in the Champions League Finals. Oh, and also I think he’s great because he guessed I was 23.
  • Audrey – my partner in crime. At 26 years old, she is one of the wisest souls I know. She knows herself better than a lot of people who have decades on her. Also, I’ve never met anyone more well-traveled. After working endlessly for 3 1/2 years as a ER Room nurse, she  quit her job to travel the world for 2 years. And so she has. She recently spend 2 months in Guatemala volunteering at a clinic. And before that, 6 months in South America. Next stop, Southeast Asia (queue the jealousy). However, before she jets off to Asia, there just might be a trip to Nashville. (Hint, hint)

The amazing cathedral of Burgos

So, since it was my last night, I went to the Pilgrim’s mass at, what is known, as one of the worlds most beautiful Cathedrals (I agree).  After, the fam and I went out for a small dinner.  I wanted to make my last night memorable, so at dinner, we played a game where we all wrote down our favorite quotes and then drew another’s to take with us on our journey. Here’s the one I drew:

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”   -Marcel Proust

The Original A Team

And so my Camino comes to a close. Saturday morning, I went to the bus station and bought a ticket to France on the overnight bus. To bring my experience even more full circle, I kept running into familiar faces we had not seen in days. It’s like they all came to say goodbye and I could not have been more happy to see their faces and wish them well as most of them were headed to Santiago.

One night, Audrey recommended a book to me called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.  The book is about the author, Donald Miller’s, quest to improve his life story.  In the beginning, the author talked about how he floated from day-to-day until he realized his life was pretty boring.  The goal of the book is for its readers to evaluate their own story and whether they’d be happy with its chapters when it “ends”.  As I never again, may have hours upon hours to think like I did while I was walking, I couldn’t help but wonder about my own story.  My reflections made me realize that, so far, I am totally in love with my book and this chapter specifically. The Camino has brought clarity to the fact that those free-spirited, adventurous wanderlust butterflies will never go away. They are a big part of my story with Fabien and they will be part of our children’s stories.  I also realized that I must make it a future goal to not float from day-to-day.  Finally, I will forever be grateful to El Camino for giving me one of the most treasured chapters in my story.

A photo album of the Camino’s Greatest Hits can be found here.

Also, previous blog posts have been updated with photos and maps:
4 Days to Pamplona
Getting into the Camino Groove
Camino Highs and Lows
Day 1 on the Camino

Why I’m Kicking Italy to the Curb

I couldn’t get motivated to plan my Spring Break trip to Italy. The thought of figuring out train schedules, flights, hostels, sights, etc. all made me want to take a big nap.  “What’s wrong with me? It’s Italy for God sake!”

So, I started thinking maybe this was a sign that I’m not suppose to go to Italy.   Then an idea popped in my head – “El Camino de Santiago de Compostela”. The moment it entered my brain, it would not leave and kept giving me those wanderlust butterflies.  Within a few hours I was online googling and sending a text message to my friend, Holly, who has experienced “El Camino” twice. Within a couple more hours, I was obsessed and had already looked up train schedules, maps, books, weather and rented the movie, The Way. Italy, who?

I know what your asking yourself – What the heck is “El Camino de Santiago de Compostela”?
The “El Camino de Santiago de Compostela” (known in English as “the Way of St. James” or in French as “le Chemin de St. Jacques de Compostelle”) is a group of paths, throughout Europe that people (pilgrims) have been walking for thousands of years.  These paths all lead to the amazingly beautiful cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, Spain which is dedicated to the Apostle James. The path I will be taking is conveniently called “The French Way” and starts in St. Jean Pied de Port, France, 800km (500 miles) east of Santiago de Compostela.  This particular path is also said to be the most important Christian pilgrimage in the Western world.

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

Who is St. James, anyway?
You know, it’s hard to say. Every website I found had information that didn’t match the previous. So, here’s what is consistent:

  • He was a BFF’s of Jesus and one of his first apostles.
  • James is the patron Saint of Spain, so, of course, the Spaniards adore him.
  • He was a pretty good fisherman.
  • JC himself gave St. James and his brother, John, (also an Apostle) the nickname, “Sons of Thunder”, because of their “fiery tempers”.
  • James was the first martyr in the name of Jesus. After his death his body was sent to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. There is a rumor that the body never made it, but, nonetheless, the city has a shrine (the cathedral) dedicated to him.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking, “Stacie, who are you kidding? A religious pilgrimage? You? Seriously?”
I know, I know, I know, let me explain.  The “El Camino” is not just for the religious.  Along the way, I will meet people who are walking for a variety of reasons, purposes, goals, causes and probably some people who are doing it because they feel like it.  The only requirement for the El Camino de Santiago de Compostela is a purpose.

So, really, what does this mean?

The French Way

Each day, I plan to walk, approximately a half marathon, more or less, through the mountains, farmlands and villages of Northern Spain. Unfortunately, it normally takes about a month to complete the entire path and I only have 15 days to spare. So, I will start in St. Jean Pied de Port with a goal of making it to Burgos, which is a little more than 1/3 of the way.   At some point in my life, I would like to return to Burgos and finish in Santiago de Compostela, but we’ll see.  Remember the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, “Life’s a journey, not a destination.”

I will follow the shells throughout Spain.

I will carry my clothes, sleeping gear, toiletries, etc. in my backpack (weighing no more than 14lbs). In St. Jean Pied de Port, I will be given a “Pilgrim Passport” which allows me to sleep, eat and shower in the (mostly Church run) pilgrim only hostels. The path is indicated by little arrows and shells throughout the Spanish countryside.  I know.  This might be the smartest, coolest and/or stupidest thing I’ve ever done.

Note to Mom: I’ll have a cell phone for emergency purposes and also plan to update this blog along the way (internet connection permitting).

And most important, the purpose
I’m not sure when I’ll have the opportunity for something like this in the near future. A voyage like the “El Camino” seems (nearly) impossible with a job and kids. So, I’m taking this last opportunity to be a bit of a free spirit, unplanned, adventurous and to hopefully satisfy (or tame) those little wanderlust butterflies that are constantly floating around in my tummy.

And for your viewing pleasure, here is the trailer to the film, The Way, which takes place on the El Camino de Santiago de Compostela.

A final note to Mom: Don’t pay any attention to that part about the kid dying. They did that for dramatic effect.