Health, well-being and cancer: caring for yourself during the fight

October 20, 2021  |  by WesleyLife

When you're in the fight of your life, self-care might not be the first thing that comes to mind ... but being mindful of your own health and well-being is never more important than when you're in the midst of a battle.

During this National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we're featuring a series of blog posts about Janet Simpson, Vice President of Network Operations for WesleyLife. Janet is being treated for breast cancer, and today, she talks about ways she cares for herself as she undergoes chemotherapy. "Pet the dog, drink the coffee, enjoy the sunshine!" Janet advises. 

Below, in her own words, Janet talks about self-care as part of the cancer journey.

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"Having cancer is not an easy journey." Janet says. "Chemo is not an easy journey. Sometimes, treatment that is designed to get you feeling better makes you feel worse, and the chemo drugs mess with your emotions. The fluctuation of your hormones also can add to the 'teeter totter' of feelings.

"A few things that can add to your anxiety: others having to pick up some of the slack for you at work on some days. How the cancer is impacting your children, even if they're adults; how are they really processing it? Then: Is the treatment working? Will the cancer spread? How will the next treatment make me feel? What about the side effects? There are so many unknowns.

"If you're like me, you also question things you can't possibly find answers to. Why did I get cancer? Did I not eat healthily enough? Did I not manage my stress well enough? Why did my body 'turn' on me this way? And the big one, for those who have faith: Why did God let me get cancer? What is He trying to show me, and how is He trying to use me through this?

"Then, there's the ongoing physical stuff: When you're going through chemo, the steroids make you hyper and the Benadryl makes you sleepy and sluggish. The nausea meds can give you rebound headaches. The list can go on and on!" 

A Time to be Selfish 

"With all the things going on, I have found it helpful to just be me, and to try to be a little selfish! For this period in your life, it has to be about you, and about taking care of yourself -- which can be easier said than done when it has to happen day-in and day-out. I would advise anyone going through this to pet the dog, drink the coffee, enjoy the sunshine -- and put yourself first.

"I've found that taking it one day at a time is the best thing I can do. Live in the moment, eat for that moment, manage the symptoms in that moment and don't try to worry about or predict what's going to happen because you just don’t know. Your body may respond differently to each treatment, even though the medications are the same; you can tolerate some foods one time, but the next time you try them, they taste awful.

"Try your best to just manage each day. If I don’t feel like company, I don't have company. If I feel like lying down, I have to lie down. If I feel like Cheetos for breakfast, I eat Cheetos as nothing may sound good the entire rest of the day, and you have to force yourself to at least eat something.

"This is not a time to focus on being perfect. The steroids will make me talk more some days than others as I am slightly hyper -- and I just have to deal with it! Other days, I don't feel like talking as much, or sharing. You just have to go with the flow more than ever.

"I think often of a song I sang in a high-school concert: 'One day at a time, sweet Jesus.'  That song is such a good reminder to me now!"

The WesleyLife Core 4, Even Now!

Janet race"The WesleyLife Core 4 -- move naturally, eat wisely, have the right outlook, and be connected -- have never been as important to me as they are right now. Here are some ways I'm making them work for me:

"Move naturally -- whoa, yes! Staying physically active is one of the hardest things to do right now, but also so important. I've gone from being very, very active to having to adapt to walking, meditating, and just enjoying the sunshine on my deck.

"Early on, I was still going to Farrell's in Waukee and doing what I could on days I could. Then, crowds became an issue from a COVID and health perspective, so switched to nights when there were fewer people. Then the cardio became too tiring, so now I've switched to walking when I can. I've always walked and enjoyed it — but now, I don't push to get the 3 to 5 miles I'd normally do. I just concentrate on moving to get fresh air and sunshine, and to move my muscles.

"I've never been a great yoga or meditation person; I've done both off and on, but now I rely on them to relieve tension and stress and to help me sleep, as the steroids impact that. I use the Abide app, which is spiritual sessions, two-, five-, and 15-minute devotions, and also relaxation exercises. The app has been great whether I'm driving to work or trying to go to sleep. It's something that I started using before my diagnosis, and it's become much more important to me.

"Having the right outlook is always something I try to practice in my own life. It can help ensure you keep things in perspective. Continuing to laugh, live, and take the 'things could be so much worse' attitude has served me well throughout many past negative experiences, and it continues to be good for me today. Life is too short, and I don’t want to spend it grumbling or complaining; I know there are many who have been dealt a worse hand.

"So whatever helps you have the right outlook, go for it -- whether that's reading books, being with friends and family, being part of a church group -- take part in whatever keeps you grounded and moving forward and upbeat, and stick with it!"

Coloring, Disney, and More! 

Janet coloring"I have always loved to color; who can be stressed when coloring? It's always given me the right outlook. And now, with all the adult coloring books, it's so easy to just pick up an intricate design and relax and color away. Same with watching a Disney movie; I love how they have messages and just really take you away to another world and a time when you were more carefree. I also love reading books that take me away from my current circumstances -- sci-fi, fantasy, magic, and sorcery are some of my favorites, and I can devour a book in a few days.

"Also, I get so much comfort from petting my neighbor's dog, Cookie! She brightens my day and just lays there waiting for me to come back for a walk so I can pet her. Pets are so important, and we don't have one right now, so she means a lot to me.

"It's important to also know that having the right outlook also means allowing yourself to cry when you need to, and feel down in the dumps on occasion. I just try not to dwell or live there. There are days I am tired, blue, worried, and just need a good cry. Or I need to let go and just wallow in the fact that I have cancer and there is not a darn thing I can do about it except accept it and move forward!

"Know there are some days that will be worse than others. Saturdays are mine; when my chemo recovery is the worst, I just know I am going to have a good cry, longer than normal, and for no particular reason. Maybe I haven't talked to my son, or nothing sounds good ... or even just thinking about something sends me to tears. And that's OK! It has to be.

"Then I pick myself up and get back at it—with the understanding and knowledge that I have great doctors, a great family, great friends, and a great work environment supporting me."

The Human Touch 

"Being connected is so critical. As hard as it sometimes is in this crazy world,  actually connecting with friends or family by phone -- not by email, not on Facebook, but by talking on the phone -- can be great for the soul! My advice would be to talk to people you haven’t talked to in a while. Being connected, or reconnected, to those around me and allowing others in a bit more has been helpful to me. I have found I enjoy sending postcards or notecards to those who have helped me along the journey in some small way. It keeps me feeling connected to them, and maybe I can brighten their day like they have brightened mine."

And finally ...

"Seeking and drawing comfort from the right kind of support group is critical. I talked last week about the August 21'ers, a group that has become so important to me. We were all diagnosed at the same time and are going through the same kinds of treatment, and it's so important for all of us to know we're not alone in something that is unknown and can be scary.

"Social media can be wonderful; after all, the August 21'ers got together on social media! But if you want to find support on social media, be careful to find the support group that is the best fit for you. Some of the really large groups can be scary because there can be hundreds of people, all with different experiences, and you might allow yourself to be terrified by something that isn't even relevant to your situation.

"If you're dealing with an illness or a challenge of some kind, it's not helpful to let social media drag you down into areas where you don't need to go. So choose carefully. And if you can't find the right support group -- create your own!" 

Next week, we’ll bring Janet's series to a close with some additional words of wisdom and positivity. We're glad you've been a part of her journey! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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