Feelings of helplessness or disengagement are common among cancer patients, but there are things we can do to become a proactive participant throughout our cancer experience. Simple things. Science-based things.
Gosh, I can hardly believe Cancer Survivor’s Day has just passed. As a survivor or three different cancers, I’m thrilled to have been here for it! And thrilled to have shared it with you!
It’s been twenty years since my first diagnosis and one thing I’ve learned is that the cancer process – like life itself – is not linear. It’s a fluid and ever-changing journey. One of the most difficult aspects of this journey is feeling that we have no control over the processor the outcome.
But we do! There are some very simple things we can do every day to actively participate in our survival. And they’re all science-based. So, let’s get to it.
1. Drink Water
Why? Water is the most abundant chemical compound in every living human cell. It accounts for roughly 70 percent of our entire body. Water carries nutrients to our cells and flushes accumulated toxins. It feeds our muscles maximizing every physical endeavor. It boosts our mood and improves brain function and memory. And, it decreases anxiety and physical and mental fatigue. Plain H2O. Never underestimate it.
2. Eat Wisely
Similarly, diet has an impact on our body chemistry and brain. Illness creates stress. Stress triggers a ‘fight or flight’ response in the body, which begins to break down important proteins. Foods containing omega-3 fatty acids and magnesium like salmon and bananas reduce cortisol, the body’s stress hormone. Protein from dairy products, lean meats and nuts also help decrease our cortisol and restore the body’s protein levels. Green leafy vegetables and whole grains help fight cancer-related depression. Proper nutrition regulates our blood sugar and our sense of well-being. And – yippee – a bite of dark chocolate daily will stimulate our brain to produce more “feel good” chemicals like serotonin and dopamine.
This isn’t about weight loss, tight buns or toned abs. This is about the mental clarity we gain from moderate exercise in times of stress and illness. Exercise
helps reverse the detrimental effects of stress and increases our serotonin and dopamine. Simple movement helps repair the neurons in our brain that have been damaged by depression. Just a few stretches or a leisurely walk can help keep our brain fit, our self-image positive and our mood elevated.>
In the throes of cancer, just smile. Even if you have to force yourself. The simple act of smiling – forced or natural – tricks your brain into thinking you’re happy. Smiling lowers our cortisol. It helps build new neural pathways in the brain stabilizing our mood and calming our nervous system. Facial muscles in a smile response increase our serotonin and dopamine providing us with energy, feelings of joy and confidence. Plus, pain-relieving endorphins kick into high gear, creating mild euphoria and heightened self-esteem.
Now – to the power of the spoken word. Speech is energy. It affects our emotions and the way our brain works. So, speak positively
. When feeling ill say, “I am strong. I am healthy.” When frightened say, “I am fearless. I am courageous.” Such declarations will literally stop your brain in its “woe is me” tracks. It will force your thoughts down new neural pathways so they begin to reflect your spoken word. Each day speak your words out loud – firmly – in the present tense. And find that in time, you’ll be feeling everything you declare.
There are many forms of meditation
. But most simply require one to sit comfortably with the eyes closed. We don’t talk to anyone, we don’t answer phones, we just sit quietly for a few minutes and focus softly on our body and perhaps our breathing. In this mindful and gentle way our nervous system begins to relax. Our blood pressure decreases. And as our levels of serotonin and dopamine increase, our feelings of mental peace and physical well-being take over. Ahhh . . .
And, there we are. Six things we should all do every day. May they help you enjoy and celebrate countless Cancer Survivor’s Days
for many years to come!
Do you have a regiment for fighting cancer on a daily basis? Share your strategies for survival in the comments below!
Photo courtesy of Priscilla Westra