Pausing, Slowing Down & Reducing the Noise

87WSyMSm

As featured on curetoday.com

In his book “Information Anxiety” (1989), Richard Wurman claims that the weekday edition of The New York Times contains more information than the average person in 17th-century England was likely to come across in a lifetime. I am curious how that statement would change given the speed of information and life in 2017. Of course, I am so grateful for the significant impact this surge of information has created in the cancer world. However, the biggest downside of the increased velocity is a world with so much noise.  Add cancer to this equation and it’s no wonder anxiety accompanies the disease.

Gandhi said, “There’s more to life than increasing it’s speed,” and it took a cancer diagnosis in September 2014 for me to understand the meaning of this quote. Information overload and busyness has become a chronic disease in our society. It seems as though everyone wants to move through life as fast as possible and news pours on us before we can formulate our own thoughts. I think it’s quite sad. None of us will be on our deathbed wishing we moved through this world more rapidly. Everybody and everything wants our time and attention, which are two of the most precious commodities for a cancer survivor.

Illness did not just force me to slow down – there was a chunk of time where it pretty much stopped me in my tracks. I went from endurance athlete to bed ridden in a matter of months, which was humbling and an experience filled with valuable lessons. As a result, I learned that the slower I go, the more I can actually accomplish well. Slowing down allows me to live with quality, in the moment.  And most importantly, decreasing my pace has made me acutely aware of the outside noise that distracts us from the life’s most important things, which aren’t things at all. They are our relationships and health.

I am very fortunate that I did not have (or want) to jump back into a busy life after going through active treatment. My life gives me the option to say, “no,” which I do often. When I’m in a particularly noisy period, I don’t just slow down the intake of information and activities, but do my best to pause all together in order to put all my time and attention into my personal self-care. I give myself the time and space to do my favorite things which include writing, yoga, reading, sleeping 8-9 hours, taking naps, meditating daily, writing my prayer and gratitude list, taking walks (gasp) without a device and reduce my time on the internet.

Whether you’re a cancer survivor or not, EVERYONE could benefit from slowing down, pausing and reducing the noise to enjoy the only guarantee any of us have, which is the present moment we are in.

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8 Tips from a Professional Surgery Recoverer

87WSyMSm

As featured on curetoday.com

I’m becoming a professional surgery recoverer. It seems like for the last three autumns, I’ve had surgery and spend the season looking at the leaves change through a hospital window or on my slow, prescribed daily walks. I recently read in each person’s life, they will start over many times and I believe whoever came up with this probably had several surgeries.

In my previous life before cancer, I was a marathoner, triathlete and was always trying to push myself to the next level. Going from running 26.2 miles to not being able to walk down a hallway has been a humbling experience.

In September 2014, I had a distal pancreatomy and splenectomy to remove a tumor on my pancreas. In October 2015, I had a liver resection and cholecystectomy to remove tumors in my liver. Then this October was the surprise surgery – a bowel obstruction, which is considered a complication from my liver operation. Something about the body not liking open spaces and my small intestine moving into that space.

Strangely and fortunately, my body seems to recover quite well from these surgeries. Youth and being physically fit are on my side, but I believe more so, it’s the determination and figurative steps I take after each procedure. So, here are a few tips from a professional recoverer on abdominal surgery.

  1. Ask a thousand preoperative questions. What can I expect from my incision? What kind of physical difficulties do patients experience? What should I expect when I wake up? Will there be drains, IVs, tubes? What will we do to manage pain? Will I be closed up with staples or glue? In my experience, surgeries are so routine for surgeons they don’t realize we don’t know these things. Waking up with an unexpected tube up your nose or a larger incision than you thought can be upsetting. Therefore, ask every question that comes to mind. I’ve found connecting with others who have been through the surgery to gather questions can be helpful too.
  2. Lean on your nurses. Can we just take a moment to recognize the awesomeness of nurses? They are the foot soldiers and we and doctors could not do it without them. Most nurses will go to bat for you. If something isn’t working, ask them to advocate to the doctors on your behalf or ask what they recommend. After my first surgery, a nurse recommended a trapeze when I expressed how hard it was getting in and out of bed after having my abdominal muscles cut through.
  3. Walk…..a lot. This is a tough one, but critical on getting yourself discharged. Set some goals. The day after surgery my goal was to walk to the end of the hall and back three times throughout the day. I only made it twice, but the next day I did it four times. I’ve found activity trackers are helpful. I’d set an alarm and try to do a bit more each day. Also, walking is useful in getting your digestive system moving when it’s been put to sleep by pain meds, anaesthesia, surgery and the change in diet.
  4. At Home.  Being confined to a hospital room makes me crazy.  I know I’m not alone when I say how wonderful it is to get home after a stay.  However,  coming home presents a new set of challenges. After getting used to a moveable hospital bed, my stationary bed was tricky. I actually found the couch to be more comfortable. Some people find it easier to sleep in a recliner or gravity chair. Also, if you’ve been sent home with drains, my thoughts are with you. They are annoying. I always safety pinned them to my shirt. Recently, a friend and breast cancer survivor shared a zip up hoody with interior drain pockets. What a revolutionary idea. If something is bothering you at home, don’t just accept it, a quick Google search or call to a nurse could change your world.
  5. Keep walking….a lot.  Your walks are not over now you’ve left the hospital. In fact, this is where you really need to increase your daily steps, endurance and strength now you’re no longer confined to a hallway. Again, the activity tracker is great. The day I came home from the hospital, my goal was to do 1,000 steps. The next day, I went to 1,500. Some days it would take me several outings. A month from surgery, I finally made it to 10,000 steps. Now, I’m working on increasing my endurance by walking for longer stretches of time.
  6. Don’t ignore the mental and emotional.  This is also a hard one. After every procedure, I find myself struggling to regain my ingrained positive attitude. I’ve come to realize a pattern of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) after I come home from a surgery. Recognizing this, I’m sure to combat it with extra sessions with my therapist, making plans with friends and planning daily trips out of the house. It’s easy to stay in a mental slump when you’re alone and confined all day, so as painful as it might be, just do don’t do it.
  7. Go to physical therapy. I feel doctors don’t recommend this enough. I went to PT after my first surgery and recovered fast. With my second, I decided to forgo physical therapy. Months post op, I wasn’t as strong and my endurance was nonexistent. I finally submitted to PT and within a few weeks I was back on track. This go around, I cringe at the idea of spending so much time at the therapist’s office, but know it’s the way back. This is also the safest way to regain strength. Attempting on your own could result in hurting yourself with a hernia and what you don’t need after surgery is another surgery. Thanks to physical therapy, 6 months after I completed treatment, I hiked 250 miles across Spain with a backpack. If that’s not a testimonial, I don’t know what is.
  8. Practice gratitude, patience and mindfulness. No matter how major or minor the operation, I notice how much quicker I recover when I give myself a break.  I do this by mentally listing ten things I’m grateful for each day.

So, here I am, a couple months post-op and doing pretty good. I walk for an hour everyday and start physical therapy in the new year. After I get the green light from my therapist, I plan to work my way back up to daily yoga and sign up for a half marathon in the spring. There are survivors out there defying the odds by running marathons, completing ironmans, climbing mountains and biking across countries. These acts inspire people and are proof our bodies are capable of much more than we can even imagine. I’d rather strive to be these people than submit to cancers quest to stop me.

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2017: Overcoming Addiction & Being Present

It seems like many people were happy to bid adieu to 2016. As for me, not even the disappointment of a surprise surgery, putting my dog to sleep and the election outcome could trump the train wreck of my 2015, so I’m going to declare the year pretty darn awesome.  I travelled to the Dominican Republic, Mexico, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Holland and Spain where I walked 258 miles to fulfill a dream of completing the Camino de Santiago.  In April, I preformed at the Bluebird Cafe in a production called My 2nd Act: Survivor Stories from the Stage. In July, I spent the month in Michigan completing 200 hours of yoga teacher training.  Then in September, I went to California and learned to surf with fifteen other cancer survivors through an organization called First Descents.  And in between all those adventures, I published several blogs, articles and wrote nearly everyday.  So, yes, I’d say 2016 was not so bad.

 

Of course, I’d like to continue and increase the adventures in 2017, so I spent some time thinking about my goals for this year.  I realized setting and accomplishing SMART* goals has always come easy for me, but what I want more than anything is something not so measurable.

Somewhere around when I got an iPhone, I developed an obsession to anything connected to my device.  The internet, social media, streaming TV, etc.  Then while I was going through treatment my addiction intensified because I would spend my days in bed watching the iPad. Now that I’m well, I can see the addiction has gotten out of control.

What bothers me most about my problem is how it distracts me from the activities and people I truly care about. It eats at precious time I could spend writing, doing yoga, reading, hiking, running, etc. and it steals my attention from my husband, friends and surroundings. Ultimately, I hope addressing this addiction will allow me to be more fully present in my own life, which is what I want more than any check box next to a goal.

One of the many life lessons cancer taught me is the only guarantee we have is the present moment – the one we are in right now.  I’ve realized in addition to my device addiction, I spend a lot of precious time reliving traumas of the past and the “what ifs” of the future.

This morning I came across a perfect passage in the book, The Artist’s Way:

“In times of pain, when the future is too terrifying to contemplate and the past too painful to remember, I have learned to pay attention to right now. The precise moment I was in was always the only safe place for me. Each moment, taken alone was always bearable. In the exact now, we are all, always, all right.”

And there it is again – being present in my life as a method for coping with trauma of the past and uncertainty of the future.

I wish you all health, wealth, strength and whatever else you need to accomplish your measurable and immeasurable goals of 2017.  Also, I’d like to take this time to thank you for reading my blog. If someone you know has been affected by cancer and/or chronic illness, please feel free to share my site with them, or better yet, have them send me a message.  Below you’ll find my most popular blogs from 2016:

Waiting for Hair: The Toll of Chemotherapy – The fact that this was the number one post of the year doesn’t surprise me. When I was going through hair loss, I wasn’t able to find a lot of info on what the growing out process was like. I also did a follow-up to this post, One Year of Hair After Cancer. That has been a few months and I’m happy to report I have a ton of hair. It’s in a bit of an awkward stage right now, but whatevs, I’m happy to have hair.

Living Universal Truths on My Cancerversary – I really love this post and the seven universal truths.

Cancer Camp – Details on my week surfing with First Descents, an organization that takes young, adult cancer survivors on adventure trips.

 

*Specific Measurable Achievable Realistic Time-Based