Don’t you love it when the penny drops? When something finally clicks into place like a missing piece of the puzzle. Well, I had another one of those moments recently. Without me really noticing, something had obviously been ticking away quietly inside my brain and then at that precise moment, it clicked into place and became a conscious thought – one of life’s wonderful ‘aha’ moments. And finally I understood at a deeper level the many reasons why slowing down your metabolism can make chemo easier.

It all has to do with understanding how we heal. Understanding the importance of slowing down, breathing deeply and practising what Dr Herbert Benson calls the relaxation response. Our bodies have two modes if you like – one is fast – this is the stress mode and it helps to get us out of danger – and one is slower – this is the rest and digest mode where we do our healing. But in this day and age with all the time demands, and our fears and worries, it can be difficult to slow down, can’t it. Our bodies and minds are running continuously full steam ahead.

And it makes sense, doesn’t it. If we do our chemo while our bodies are running full pelt, the normal healthy cells are working much harder and faster and take up more of the chemo. But if we can slow things down as the research shows, our healthy cells will simply not absorb the same quantity of chemo. And to my way of thinking surely this would leave more chemo for the cancer cells to suck up. Seems like a good idea, doesn’t it. And there was something else I realised in that moment… that when our bodies are in rest and digest, our organs are working beautifully and it is these very organs we rely on to process the chemo toxins out of our body. Because, when we’re stressed many of our organs shut down. Not something we really want to happen when we’re relying on them to detoxify our bodies, is it? So by taking a leaf out of the tortoise’s book, it seems we could possibly get a bigger hit in exactly the right spot, and then get the chemo out quicker. I’d love to see some research done on this.

And there’s quite a few ways to slow things down, aren’t there. I’ve found research to show fasting before chemo brings your metabolism down which reduces side-effects. I checked this out when I was having chemo and my beautiful oncologist again was so supportive. Or having chemo when your body is at rest in line with your circadian rhythms has been successful too. Practising relaxation, and diaphragmatic breathing does wonders to retrain the way our bodies are working. And laughing, that full on belly laughing until your sides ache laugher, is pure magic in helping us switch over into healing mode.

I wonder, have you ever considered what the fear of chemo does to your metabolism? Your heart races, your palms sweat, your breathing becomes shallow. Because fear increases our metabolism, doesn’t it. And it’s not something we need more of. Many people don’t realise that the fear of chemo can actually exacerbate the very side-effects we seek so desperately to avoid…

The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself
– Franklin D Roosevelt

I wonder if you’ve ever realised how other people can affect us without us even noticing? And it can be in such simple ways. Sooner or later, everyone’s had the experience of seeing someone yawn and voila! – you’re suddenly yawning too. I even yawned as I was looking at pictures of people yawning to put with this blog. It just seems to plant a seed doesn’t it.

Isn’t it interesting how people can affect us at a deep subconscious level. The truth of this came home to me after Steve and I spent 14 months ‘trying’ to fall pregnant with our first child. A bit over the cycle of disappointment, we eventually decided to have a holiday overseas and look into fertility treatment on our return. So it was we booked 3 weeks away. I was 30 and had never been overseas before. I was very excited! And I guess you won’t be surprised when I tell you that a month after we got back I was pregnant.

Perhaps it was because we relaxed and stopped ‘trying’. But looking back, I now remember my father’s words – ‘make sure you go overseas before you have kids’. And I think the impact of his words are closer to the truth for me. At the time, I didn’t really give them much thought. But a part of me must have. It was as if a deeper subconscious part of me was listening and took it to heart. How easy it was then to give myself permission to fall pregnant once I’d done what Dad had suggested. No doubt the other factors probably helped too.

I noticed the same thing happen as I was going through chemo. The first cycle was easy. A bit emotional, but nonetheless, okay. My beautiful oncologist congratulated me on a job well done. ‘No side effects are compulsory’ he said. He always makes me feel so good. Whenever I visit, I’ve noticed that he waits for me to tell him if I have any concerns, rather than make suggestions as to what concerns I might have. He’s a wise man, and I am grateful for his care. But then it seems I came undone when I went for a check up with other medical staff. Have you ever noticed how some medical staff have no idea about the impact of their words? And it doesn’t help when chemo staff tell you what each drug is going to do to you as they administer it! And so despite my protests, I was asked the usual questions – did you have any side-effects? Did you feel nauseas, did you have diarrhoea? Again it seems a seed was planted. My second cycle was by far the worst I ever experienced. Nausea almost to the point of vomitting, diarrhoea. A complete wipe out. Chemo Monday I called it, the third day after chemo, and it was my lowest point throughout the whole 5 months. This time it hit me pretty hard.

But it didn’t last long. I was fortunate to have therapist friends who worked out what had happened and helped me to get the suggestion of these side effects out of my head once and for all. And I never experienced nausea or diarrhoea again. Each chemo cycle just got easier and easier. By the last cycle I was euphoric! I’d got there and I’d found resources within myself to make it easier.

So now I don’t read the side-effect lists. I pop them away, and if I have a problem I can look into them. I see no point in even entertaining the possibility. After all, how often do we imagine things to be one way, only to find out the reality is something quite different, in every other area of our lives? Each time I have a check up now the medical staff continue to be surprised by my lack of side-effects. But I’m not! And neither is my oncologist. Sure chemo is a physical thing, there’s no getting away from that. But I often wonder how many side-effects occur because a seed has been planted…