As you may know, I am an integrative physician who has recently undergone two cancer-related surgeries. At the age of 50, following my first colonoscopy, I was diagnosed with early-stage colorectal cancer. I pursued genetic testing, which not only revealed a high-risk gene that predisposes to breast cancer, but led to my second early-stage diagnosis. In each of these instances, my medical team was a group of competent, trusted individuals who provided me with all that I needed for curative care, but I took it upon myself to put together a regimen that would better prepare me for the physical and mental rigors of the surgery and recovery processes. This is the final piece in a series.
After receiving my initial cancer diagnosis, I became acutely aware of making my day-to-day life more manageable, both mentally and tangibly. I feel very grateful for the advice and discoveries that helped to navigate my experience as a cancer patient and to live intentionally.
Over the years I have read quite a bit about the benefits of guided imagery, an ancient visualization practice that helps with surgery preparation and post-surgery issues such as sleeplessness and pain. Studies around guided imagery are small but impressive, and show that as little as five sessions of listening to a guided imagery CD can make a difference in surgical outcomes, reduce anxiety and side effects associated with surgery and reinforce motivation for healthy behavior.
After I received my colon cancer diagnosis, I began listening to a highly-regarded guided imagery CD from Health Journeys, and continued when I returned home from surgery. This CD, which was clinically-studied at the Cleveland Clinic, proved to be an invaluable tool and again played a major role in my routine before and after my recent breast cancer surgery. Now that the surgery is behind me, I feel that the practice of listening to the guided imagery CD each night, and sometimes twice daily, helped me through the process the most, as it offered an ongoing opportunity to visualize the best possible outcome of my surgery and recovery, and provided a sense of confidence and calm. I recall my doctors commenting that I seemed to be in deep meditation. I was.
Asking for–and Accepting–Help
I am the first to admit that, like many busy women, it is not in my nature to ask for help. We try to do it all, don’t we? Well, this time was different. Not only would I be away from my children during surgery, but I’d be restricted, physically, when I returned home, and I certainly didn’t want my family to feel the stress of added responsibilities in my absence or while I recovered.
So, I made my condition public to friends and asked for help. Shortly thereafter, a spreadsheet arrived detailing a continuous arrival of meals, coordination of rides for my teens, whatever we needed. This schedule alleviated an immense amount of stress and not only allowed my family the space to heal, but helped me to focus fully on my recovery. The lesson I learned is this: don’t be afraid to ask for help.
I also contacted the Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester, an organization that took the time to speak with me about what I was going through and offered a multitude of support and advice. We are so lucky to have this amazing resource in Rochester!
Preparing and Surrendering
Perhaps one of the most difficult prospects for many of us (especially me!) to achieve is to surrender. Not in a self-defeating manner, but rather in feeling at peace and grateful. Receiving a cancer diagnosis meant preparing for the immediate future by researching and finding a treatment team — oncologist, radiologist, psychologist, etc. — that I fully trusted so I could feel completely confident moving forward with the treatment recommendations made and the surgery that followed. Realizing that the physicians I would be working with had my best interests in mind allowed me to surrender to their expertise and feel grateful that I was in good hands.
Being confident in my treatment team also helped me sleep well. A good night’s sleep is important to our health, work, and daily life, but it’s difficult to relax our minds when we are riddled with anxiety of the unknown. Once I knew the physicians I would be working with and the eventual plan for my cancer diagnosis, I could relinquish control, sleep well, think clearly and function properly. I recommend talking with someone about sleep deprivation and getting the help you need to sleep soundly.
Finally, something no one wants to discuss but, once complete, it will entirely ease your mind: make a will and tackle other pertinent paperwork. Knowing that your financial and family-related arrangements are in order frees you to focus on your health.
I would like to end this series by noting that while everyone’s health journey is individual, what we share in common is the ability to tell our stories and, ultimately, help others. I was and am truly uplifted by the personal accounts and well wishes that arrived from my community and feel that this positivity enriched my recovery. I encourage you to listen to others for inspiration, accept support and positive thoughts from those around you, share your unique story, and seek and embrace gratefulness.