Healing Cancer


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I found myself thinking about pain yesterday. Not the mental and emotional pain that comes with our journey, but the physical stuff. The pressure of tumours on areas they shouldn’t be, the pain of recovery after surgery, the pain that can sometimes be ongoing. I remember once imploring my tumour to stop hurting so that I could get some sleep. It use to burn and throb in my breast. And to my surprise it did just that. It’s an incredible thing how much control we actually have over the way experience our pain, isn’t it.

In hospital recently, the morning nurse greeted me with ‘oh you’re the one who doesn’t take anything’. Well, not quite true. A bit of mild paracetamol works wonders in taking the edge off. But if I can, I’d rather find another way than the codeine that binds you up making life a little unpleasant, let alone the harder morphine derivatives. And so I get through most of what I need to get through using everything I know about managing pain in other ways. Having a great doctor certainly helps reduce the need for pain relief. And sometimes the deeper breathing helps. Because it’s hard to feel pain when you’re relaxed, isn’t it. Sometimes it’s in distracting myself with things that make me feel good. A hobby, a funny movie, a relaxation CD, anything really. I’ve read that Norman Cousins found that just ten minutes of laughter gave him two hours of pain-free sleep. Again, it’s about the choices we make isn’t it. Do we want to watch a funny movie that will help our healing, or do we want to watch the latest NCIS with it’s gruesome storyline? I deliberately chose to watch ‘Are You Being Served’ a few hours post surgery, and I’m sure this helped reduce my pain. I was too busy laughing to notice.

Sometimes it can just be in the reframing of the pain that I find it easier to manage. If I resist it, I just seem to tense up and it gets worse, but if I step back and observe it, notice it, where it is in my body, how it feels, what it looks like, what colour it is, it somehow seems to diffuse it. I remember hearing someone say that at least if they are in pain they know they’re alive. And I guess I’ve learnt to look at the positives of post surgery discomfort – at least I’ve still got some sensation in the areas I want to be sensitive!

But of course there are days I can’t do it all myself and I am happy to have a little bit of help. A good massage last week, took the burning out of the muscles of my shoulder that are learning to work differently. It’s also brilliant for breaking up adhesions. Physio exercises when I am disciplined to do them also help to rehabilitate. And I remember once, a few years ago, my body just couldn’t take the stress anymore. I bent over and locked up and the pain just kept ramping up until I was vomiting. I’ve never experienced anything like it. And this is when I am most grateful for my husband’s knowledge and training. After watching me for 20 minutes or so, he simply gave me just one adjustment and the whole thing shut down. I went straight to sleep and when I woke up, the pain was gone. I’ve never experienced anything so powerful. An open mind opens up a whole world of options, doesn’t it.

And probably for me the most healing has been the healing of painful emotions which has brought me such physical relief. In healing my feelings, I am no longer pouring these inflammatory chemicals through my system, minute to minute, day to day. And so my body copes with things so much better. Because, what I’ve learnt most about the management of pain, is that if I can take the physical, mental and emotional stress out of my body, no matter which path I take to do this, everything just relaxes and the pain just seems to melt away…

How many people get to live their dream life? Today I realised once again how perfect my life is, just as it is. Sure there are a few little things I might wish were different, but all in all, I wouldn’t change a thing. I was standing at the bus stop this afternoon waiting for my girls, watching the sheep with their lambs in the paddock across the road, and that deep sense of knowing that I am living my dream came over me. There are so many little things that fill me with such joy. The morning light that illuminates the spiders webs in the paddocks that have been spun during the night. It’s an incredible sight. I didn’t realise what I was looking at the first time I saw it. The white frost that sparkles as the sun hits it. The new born calves, the filly born on Melbourne Cup day. The old church across the road in the middle of nowhere, where the dogs chase the rabbits. My neighbour who turns up on my doorstep with the regular gift of two dozen freshly laid eggs. Our beautiful bus driver that cares enough to bring flowers the day I finished radiation treatment. That my life is full of people I love and work that fulfils me.

Years ago I could only dream of this life. But it seems it has now found me. And I feel with every ounce of my being that this is my special, healing place. It is such a gift to live here, waking up to this life everyday. While I was going through surgery and chemo, it helped me to know that even though things were a bit crazy around me, I had my safe place to retreat to. It would be the same beautiful place regardless of what was happening with me. And it blows my mind that seven years ago, I described the very home that I am now living in. An old rambling farmhouse on a hundred acres, big open rooms with small cosy nooks, surrounded by mountains, snow sometimes. Well it’s all come to pass. It’s snowed twice in the last two weeks, reminding me I am exactly where I am meant to be. I was like a kid in a snowdome. It was beautiful. I put it out there and this special place found me, the very year I said it would. Many people don’t realise we all have a special part of us that seeks out what we set our hearts and minds on. And it’s happened so many times in my life, I’m now very conscious of where I put my focus. And I encourage others to do the same.

Because it’s so important to surround ourselves with things we love as a part of our healing, isn’t it. I wonder how many people realise that when we feel good, we release healing chemicals into our body. Our own drugstore, the pharmacy we carry within us. Not something we want to take lightly, is it. Because our feelings are actually some of the most important biochemicals in our healing. And the wonder of our minds is that even when we can’t physically be in our special place or with those we love, when we choose to focus on the people or places or things that fill us with joy, those healing feelings are released anyway…

 

If the sight of blue skies fills you with joy

If a blade of grass springing up in the fields has the power to move you

If the simplest things of nature have a message that you understand

Rejoice

For your soul is alive

http://www.affirmations.com.au

I am reading Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s book at the moment, Man’s Search For Meaning. Heavy reading? I guess it is, in one way. But I am so inspired by people’s stories that speak of greatness. Because they can teach us so much, can’t they. This book is Dr Frankl’s autobiographical account of his imprisonment during World War II. And he talks about how life in a concentration camp could be called a ‘provisional existence’. With no known end date to their imprisonment, some prisoners were unable to hold on to future goals. They simply stopped living for the future. And without a future and without a goal, the decay set in. In mind and body. And what struck me is how similar this experience can be to the experience of cancer. Because sometimes it feels like there is no end, doesn’t it. Treading water. An uncertain future. Life on hold.

I woke the other night thinking about how hard it can be to keep living with a dark shadow hanging overhead. And there are days it can be tough, I know. In the struggle to survive, Dr Frankl describes how  easy it became to overlook the opportunities to make something positive of camp life, ‘opportunities which really did exist’. Pretty amazing, huh! That the horror of a concentration camp could secretly hold opportunities for something better. But it happens all the time, doesn’t it. Strangely, it seems that in these most difficult of circumstances, we often find the opportunity to grow. Because it’s only when things are tough that we can realise how strong we really are, isn’t it. The difficult stuff gives us the chance to develop our inner strength. And that is an incredible feeling, isn’t it. To know how strong and capable we really are. It dawned on me we’d be a bunch of wusses if life were always easy.

So thank God, they finally say ‘living with cancer’. Because that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it. Living. Living with a challenge, yes. But living all the same. And it seems that when we acknowledge and accept the possibilities – all of them – and remind ourselves that we are okay, right here, right now, it somehow frees us to truly keep on living. And it’s important to keep living, isn’t it. To resist the urge to put life on hold ‘for next year’. Because this is the only life we’ve got. And it’s only when we define this as ‘bad’ that we run the risk of putting our life on hold. Because if we step back and look from another angle, it just may be that the experience of cancer can be a wake up call to do something different for ourselves. To finally give ourselves permission to do those things we have always wanted to do. To live for ourselves for a time, rather than for others. To heal our lives. An opportunity to do something special for ourselves, just for us…

I am so deliciously peaceful. A few hours past surgery and I feel good. And excited. My breathing is deep and restful and my hands are warm. And I am basking in this moment. I now officially have two bumps. And though new and raw, I treasure them. Dr David managed to do my expansion while I was under. I was never huge. There is a quietness in how blessed I feel. And the special people around me. The love of family and friends and people I’ve only just met flowing to me and through me. My body is responding beautifully. Just a mild pressure, nothing more. I woke as I asked myself to do so. Comfortable and peaceful. I am so in awe of how special we are.  The special abilities we all have inside. How that deeper part of us responds to our gentle directions when we allow it to do so.

Miracles. Yes. They are possible. And they often come in the most beautiful and unexpected ways…

This morning I made a better choice. I awoke full of busy thoughts competing for attention. Things I wanted to do, things I needed to do, things I’d rather do… A restless mind and I felt agitated. So much so, I almost got up to feed that driven part of me who wants to get everything done now. But something stopped me. A little voice calling out for a much needed rest. My body begging me to go gently. To respect its needs. And so I decided to just lie there and breathe. Gently in, gently out. Deep rhythmic breathing, using all of my lungs. And within 10 minutes, perhaps less, I noticed the change. My mind stopped racing, my body relaxed and I made the decision to nurture myself for the rest of the day. Sure I had things to do, but I chose to do them second to giving myself a much needed rest, rather than the other way round. Propped up on the lounge reading, despite having three kids at home on school holidays. Declining to answer the phone when it demanded attention. A day off from the computer, the mobile, the internet. By the afternoon, I actually felt rested. And the important things had all still been attended to. I just hadn’t pushed.

Isn’t it incredible how our priorities can change just through the simple act of breathing. In slowing down we can better assess what is necessary and what can wait. Because to heal we need to do this, don’t we. Prioritise. Look after ourselves. Make better choices.

Most people don’t realise that the simple act of breathing can switch our bodies from stress into healing. Rapid shallow breathing stimulates the flight or fight response while deep, rhythmic breathing returns our bodies to a state in which we can rest and repair. Just breathing, it costs nothing, and it can change our biochemistry in the blink of an eye. Why aren’t we taught how to use the breath to heal? Most people don’t even think about how they are breathing, caught in the habit of rapid shallow breathing without even realising it. ‘Practise makes permanent’ my friend Peter says and so I make the conscious choice to practise deep breathing at every opportunity. To form a better habit.  Because we are what we practise, aren’t we. Once again it’s all about the choices we make. To be able to say no to demands that compromise our healing. To love ourselves enough to make the right choices that keep us on the healing path…

 With every breath we have a choice – Dr Richard Aplin DC

Surreal. That’s how it felt the day I found out I had cancer. And even though it was expected, a sort of dreamlike state seemed to envelop me as my doctor uttered those dreaded words. I guess that’s what shock feels like. Detached. Not quite real. I was stoic as I left, but collapsed into despair in the car. My husband, Steve, wanted to scream. I remember we drove to see a friend, who calmed me down a little with his words and his confidence that I would heal. I remember sitting in the park watching my children play, thinking it’s not every day you get diagnosed with cancer. I remember taking my kids out for dinner that night and looking around at the other families, thinking to myself, they have no idea of what’s just happened. Nothing seemed real.

And as the minutes turned into hours and the hours into days, I found the fear and indecision took hold. What best to do? Everyone had a different opinion. Would I live or would I die? Would I survive the treatment let alone the cancer? I felt lost. And there were those days that it all became too much, and I’d scream or cry inconsolably at the injustice of it all and the thought of having my breast cut off. I was fortunate at those times to have my friends who would calm me with their words. Helping me to find some inner peace amidst the chaos and pain through their impromptu relaxations. I wasn’t good at meditating. Too hard to calm myself with all the stress inside my head. I was so grateful they were there to guide me, to carry me when I needed it most.

After I had healed I thanked them for the love they had shown in my darkest times. ‘Pay it forward’ said Peter. And so this is so much a part of what I do. Sharing with others the tools that helped me.

And their words of comfort? I bottled them so to speak. Today I recorded a guided relaxation to help people cope with the distress of diagnosis. Any diagnosis. Any difficult news really. Just as I was helped. And I’ve called it A Safe Place.

Because there’s no where to hide when you get the diagnosis, is there? There isn’t much on offer when you hear that news? You’re kind of left to your own devices, leaving the doctor’s office in a sort of daze. And there is no going back.  No turning back of time. The only path is forward. And it can be difficult to know what to do.

And I feel good about this relaxation. Knowing the path, it’s my way of helping people through the madness that seems to descend with those dreaded words. Anywhere, anytime feelings of overwhelm set in. To help counteract those feelings of being disconnected as people seem to talk at you. And you’re not really there. Not quite taking it all in. Not quite sure what to do.

It is my hope that in time the hospitals will embrace this CD. Offer it in the chemo suites to calm and relax people while the chemo is going in. And in calming people it may even help to reduce the side effects. A big call I know, but I know the value of this work. I’m fortunate to have lived it first-hand. Because I know that even when the pain is great, you can always find a safe place within yourself. A place of peace and calm which can give you the strength to get through. A place where you can feel safe as you leave the world and it’s worries behind…

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