Tomorrow marks two weeks since my last infusion. My energy levels are good, I’ve been exercising, socialising, working and feeling better each day. On this stormy Easter weekend, I wanted to reflect on some of the things I learnt and experienced. Reflecting has helped me remember and maybe some of the information will help someone else. Of course no one size fits all and different drugs, combinations, doses, bodies, sensitivities, this is only my own journey.
Following the initial fog of nausea and low energy, I’ve tried to get my body moving within 4-5 days of treatment. Many say that exercise is good for fighting side effects. For me, going for a run or discovering the rowing machine in my local gym on days where running was too much, didn’t just help me regain my energy levels but also helped clear my mind and lift my mood.
We get bombarded with advice on nutrition. From recommendations of becoming a vegan to cutting out sugar completely to x-portions of greens per day, etc. I have always considered myself to be a healthy eater but when I was first diagnosed, I cut out a lot of foods from my diet including dairy, sugar and red meats. I remember feeling quite limited and that I had essentially built my own food prison. I then moved to a stage where I became more aware of my food and avoided mainly processed and sugary foods. Once I started chemo treatments, all plans and healthy eating fell by the wayside. With a strange taste in my mouth, I craved junk food (mainly pizzas) and foods that had intense flavours like Thai food. This typically lasted about a week before I returned to eating healthy again. I think the experience has made me even more body-aware than before so I tend to listen to my body as best I can while adding more fruit and vege to my daily diet.
I was terrified of losing my hair. You hear ‘don’t worry it’ll grow back’ and ‘it’s only temporary’. While true of course, this never helped me. For me keeping my hair had nothing to do with vanity but everything with strength. I wanted to both look and feel as strong as possible throughout the process. Also, while I have of course shared my experience with people close to me, I wanted to choose whom I tell rather than have people know just by looking at me. I used the cold cap and while it got progressively more painful to wear it throughout the treatments, I would recommend giving it a try. If you can get through the first 10 minutes, it does get easier. I stopped washing my hair as regularly and tried to only wash it with lukewarm water every 4-5 days. I also bought a silk pillow cover, having read somewhere that creates less friction throughout the night.
While docs have your best interests in mind, I’ve learnt that it’s good to be your own health advocate. You know deep down what’s best for you and what feels right or even feels wrong. I remember just how scared I felt when I first heard the news and how quickly things moved from that moment to all the processes and recommendations presented at me with what felt like an urgent timeline. I also remember reading advice from other people to take a deep breath and slow down. Slow down to do research, to have more conversations, to have second opinions and to feel satisfied that my questions had been addressed. I’ve been blessed to have both a breast surgeon and oncologist who take the time to go through all my questions, who are interested in a dialogue rather than just a process. This has allowed me to feel like I’ve taken decisions in the most informed way, rather than helpless way. And this has felt very empowering. After all, you are in charge of your body, nobody else.
Reiki has been a wonderful experience for me. A full of hour of deep relaxation in the presence of Danira who’s energy is soothing and healing. I started reiki after my surgery and continued it throughout treatments. Acupuncture has also had a similar effect. I don’t know to what extent my liver and other organs have benefited from the sessions but it has definitely helped at least emotionally. I came across Deepak Chopra’s ‘Perfect Health’ Meditation set and I still listen to some of the episodes most nights. The guided meditations have been a great way to strengthen my mind, communicate with my body and find a soothing way to fall asleep. Someone mentioned guided hypnotherapy mp3s. I listened to these religiously prior to treatment each time. I believe it has helped me receive the drugs in the best possible way and with the least resistance or fear of side effects.
Compassion and kindness
Close friends, family, loved ones have been wonderful and very supportive. I have also seen kindness come from the most unexpected places and out of the blue from friends I was no longer in touch with, friends I wasn’t close to, from clients, therapists and new people I met along the way. It has been overwhelming in some cases and I’m eternally grateful for that. Kindness has also come from people who answered my questions and exchanged their own experiences with me on the MacMillan forum.
When I was first diagnosed, I started reading like crazy. I wanted to know everything there was to know and of course quickly realized that this was never going to be achievable. The below are some of the books that were both informative but also had an impact on me and my decision-making:
Radical Remission – Kelly A Turner
The Cancer Whisperer – Sophie Sabbage
Quantum Healing – Deepak Chopra
50 Critical Cancer Answers – Contreras Francisco
Cancer Concerns – Xandria Williams
You Are the Placebo: Making Your Mind Matter – Joe Dispenza