Cancer can change your life, however, the changes cancer brings can have very positive effects on your lifestyle. Very soon, you’ll have a team of professionals at your side helping you navigate this medical maze. These medical professionals will have all the latest, up-to-the-minute information about your diagnosis so let’s let the experts work with you on the medical side of the house. This article will take a closer look at the personal side of having cancer and some of the steps you can take to make this new journey as positive as possible.
Any time your life has to change, time is needed to take it all in. Your mind will reel with questions you won’t have answers for right away. This is when learning or using techniques to quiet your mind becomes invaluable. Healthy foods and gentle movement-oriented techniques such as yoga and tai chi help support your body through the rough spots and any spiritually based disciplines or daily practices uphold your spirit when the need arises.
It takes time to absorb this kind of news. Be gentle and kind with yourself and others as everyone handles change a bit differently. Lots of patience, hugs and long chats will keep your family moving forward together on the journey through cancer.
SUPPORTING YOUR MIND
Your Personal Support System
The upset of the initial diagnosis will leave you wondering how you will take care of yourself. Eventually, the natural progression of this feeling is “how will I take care of the ones I love throughout this process?”
One of the most important things you can do for yourself now is have someone in your life to lean on who is knowledgeable, reliable and makes you feel stronger. This person might be a cancer survivor, a health care
professional, or a faith-based individual.Self-care will be paramount in the upcoming months and having someone there for you means you can stay strong and be there for your loved ones when they’re not feeling so strong.
You are not alone in this journey. For some individuals, being with others going through the same experiences helps them understand that their fears and feelings are valid, real and common amongst individuals with cancer. The Canadian Cancer Society’s website, www.cancer.ca, lists by province and locality the peer support programs in your area. These programs vary between group programs, telephone support and one-to-one support if a personal setting is what you prefer and are more comfortable with. Group support programs provide assistance to people living with cancer and their caregivers.
Your Cancer and Your Children
Your cancer diagnosis has a profound impact on your entire family. There is new information to learn. There are treatment decisions to make. And if you have children, you’re probably also concerned about how much to tell them about your diagnosis and what you are going through.
According to CancerCare, a New York-based nonprofit organization that provides free, professional support services to anyone affected by cancer, the best thing you can do for your children during this difficult time is to talk to them about cancer and help them with their feelings. For a complete brochure on this topic, CLICK HERE. For CancerCare’s complete booklet entitled “Helping Children When A Family Member Has Cancer”, CLICK HERE.
Learning New Techniques
Coping with cancer actually means managing the problem and finding ways to take control back in your life. You may not be able to control the cancer but you can control how you react to, and live with, it. When your mind races and refuses to allow you time to be still, you might want to use some of the techniques listed below.
Meditation is a tool for the re-discovery of body’s own inner intelligence. Practiced for thousands of years, it’s not about forcing the mind to be quiet, it’s finding the silence that’s already there and making it a part of your life. Practicing meditation on a daily basis allows you to weave silence and stillness into your mind and body. 1
Hundreds of studies have been performed and they indicate the following:
- Meditation creates a unique hypometabolic state, in which the metabolism is in an even deeper state of rest than during sleep. During sleep, oxygen consumption drops by 8%, but during meditation, it drops by 10 to 20%.
- Meditation is the only activity that reduces blood lactate, a marker of stress and anxiety.
- The calming hormones melatonin and serotonin are increased by mediation, and the stress hormone cortisol is decreased.
- Meditation has a profound effect upon three key indicators of aging: hearing ability, blood pressure, and vision of close objects.
- Long-term meditators experience 80% less heart disease and 50% less cancer than nonmeditators.
- Meditators secrete more of the youth-related hormone DHEA as they age than nonmeditators. Meditating 45-year-old males have an average of 23% more DHEA than nonmeditators, and meditating females have an average of 47% more. This helps decrease stress, heighten memory, preserve sexual function and control weight.
- 75% of insomniacs were able to sleep normally when they meditated.
- 34% of people with chronic pain significantly reduced medication when they began meditating.2
You can significantly reduce stress with something enormously powerful: your imagination. The practice of positive thinking in the treatment of physical symptoms was popularized by Emil Coué, a French pharmacist, around the turn of the century. He believed that the power of the imagination far exceeds that of the will. It is hard to will yourself into a relaxed state, but you can imagine relaxation spreading through your body, and you can visualize yourself in a safe and beautiful retreat.
Coué asserted that all of your thoughts become reality – you are what you think you are. For example, if you think sad thoughts, you feel unhappy. If you think anxious thoughts you become tense. In order to overcome the feeling of unhappiness or tension, you can refocus your mind on positive, healing images. Coué found that organic disease such as fibrous tumors, tuberculosis, hemorrhages, and constipation are often worsened when you focus on them. He recommended to his patients that they repeat to themselves on waking, twenty times, the now-famous phrase, “Every day in every way I am getting better and better.”
Visualization is effective in treating many stress-related and physical illnesses, including headaches, muscle spasms, chronic pain, and general or situation-specific anxiety. 3
There are many books and tapes that teach visualization. Just for fun, here is an example of one type of visualization…remember, there are innumerable more out there for you to pick and choose from. Find that one that resonates with you and your needs at the time.
Relax on your chair and close your eyes and imagine that you are on a
small ship at sea, at night. A storm is raging, and the rain beats down on the deck.
The ship is rolling and pitching. All around you is darkness.
Feel the rolling and pitching of the ship and experience
the fatigue in your muscles as you wrestle with the wheel.
Now, in the distance, you can see a dazzling light shining.
Its source is a lighthouse. Its steady, radiant beam guides you through the night.
You welcome this guidance with relief. Now you know where to steer.
Concentrate on the lighthouse, and visualize its light radiating in all
directions to help people who have lost their way, to give guidance to all who need it.
The storm is raging, the wind howling, the rain falling, the night pitch-black.
But the lighthouse stands solid and shining. Nothing can shake it.
After a time, let the visualization gradually subside,
yet keep within you this sense of SHINING STRENGTH. 4
Hold on to the feeling of strength you garner from this visualization and use it in your daily life when you feel the need arise.
Keep track of your feelings and record them in a journal. You may want to add poems, pictures, photographs or a reference to a song or painting to your entries as well. It’s amazing how getting your thoughts down in black and white in front of you brings clarity to what you are feeling. And, in the future, you can turn back the pages to when your journey started and feel better about how far you’ve come and how strong your self-realizations have made you.
SUPPORTING YOUR BODY
Nutrition and Cancer
Eating well when you have cancer probably won’t be the first thing on your mind, but it can, and should, be done. This is a time when your body needs all the nutritional support you can bring to it so it can fight the good fight against the cancer and the chemotherapy.
Good nutrition means eating a variety of foods so your body gets the nutrients it needs including protein, carbohydrates, fats, water, vitamins and minerals to keep you physically and psychologically fit. No single food can provide all the nutrients you need so it’s important to eat a wide variety, even when you don’t feel you can. Consulting Canada’s Food Guide and your team of health professionals can help you plan for times when your appetite isn’t what it could be.
The nutritional needs of people with cancer are different for each person however, a balanced diet can help you:
- feel better
- improve and maintain your strength and energy
- stay at a healthy weight
- keep a good supply of nutrients in your body
- manage the side effects of your treatment
- decrease your risk of infection
- heal and recover quickly
Since herb-drug interactions aren’t predictable, and are possible, especially if you’re taking a range of prescriptions and herbal remedies, you should consult with your health care professionals before taking herbal remedies. Even if a product is considered “natural”, there could be considerations to take into account. Following are a few interactions known to exist:
Dong Quai: taken for menopausal symptom control. Do not mix Dong Quai with Warfarin (anticoagulants), St John’s Wort and some antibiotics such as sulfonamides, quinolones.
Echinacea: mostly taken as an immune boost to prevent cold and flu. Do not mix Echinacea with some heart medications, antifungal medications, HIV medications and anti-anxiety medications.
Feverfew: taken to reduce the severity of migraines. Do not take with other migraine medications, as, it may raise heart rate and blood pressure. Feverfew has the potential to react with Warfarin and anti-coagulants, increasing the thinning of blood.
Ginkgo: increases blood flow and circulation throughout the body, can also help improve memory. May interact with anti-coagulant medications such as Aspirin, Coumadin, Heparin and Warfarin, causing the blood to thin too much, and provoking a serious bleeding disorder.
Ginseng: used to help reduce stress, boost energy and improve stamina, and may also help lower cholesterol. Can cause nervousness and excitation, and overuse can lead to headaches, insomnia and heart palpitations. Can increase blood pressure. Should not be used if you are taking prescriptions for high blood pressure or Coumadin (Warfarin).
Kava: is used to treat anxiety. It’s also used to relieve insomnia and nervousness. Do not take Kava if you have a history of liver problems. Also do not mix with antidepressants, sedatives, and do not mix Kava with alcohol.
St. John’s Wort: a natural anti-depressant for mild to moderate depression. Do not take with other anti-depressants, HIV medications, oral contraceptives, some heart/blood thinning medications and Tamoxifen.
Valerian: a mild sedative with hypnotic effects, used to promote sleep, Should not be taken with alcohol or Valium.5
Natural Supplements for Cancer Patients
Many supplements have proven effective and safe for cancer patients. As always, talk with your team of health care professionals before taking any type of supplementation. The following outlines just a few options you may wish to consider:
Two studies showed that cancer patients have lower levels of Coenzyme Q10. In addition, a small human trial in Denmark involving 32 breast cancer patients investigated the efficacy of CoQ10 as an adjunct therapy (adjunct = supplements + conventional cancer treatment). The results showed that all patients in the trial reported that they used fewer painkillers and did not lose weight during cancer treatment. In addition, 6 patients showed signs of remission i.e. tumor regression. Furthermore, some anecdotal reports also recorded that adjunctive CoQ10 supplementation has increased the survival of patients with cancers of the pancreas, lung, colon, rectum, and prostate cancer.
Many studies showed that the organic ingredient of garlic, allyl sulfur, another active ingredient in garlic, are effective in inhibiting or preventing cancer development. Many observational studies in human being also investigated the association of using garlic and allyl sulfur and cancer. Out of the 37 studies, 28 studies showed evidence that garlic can prevent cancer. The evidence is particularly strong in prevention of prostate and stomach cancers. This particular study looking at the risk of stomach cancer was especially interesting. This study was conducted in China. Researchers found that smokers with high garlic intake have a relatively lower stomach cancer risk than smokers with low garlic intake.A large-scale epidemiological Iowa Women’s Health Study looked at the garlic consumption in 41,000 middle-aged women. Results showed that women who regularly consumed garlic had 35% lower risk of developing colon cancer.It is thought that the allyl sulfur compounds in garlic prevent cancer by slowing or preventing the growth of the cancer tumor cells.
Green or Black Tea
Numerous studies have demonstrated the anti-cancer properties of antioxidant polyphenols. Some studies have suggested that tea’s polyphenols may reduce the risk of gastric, esophageal and skin cancers, if one consumes 4 to 6 cups daily. Another study showed that just 2 cups of tea may lower the risk of ovarian cancer by 46 percent in women. Other studies have found that polyphenols help prevent blood clotting and lower cholesterol levels. One Japanese study found that green tea lowers death rates from heart disease.
Herbal tea is not derived from the leaves of the Camellia plant and so does not have the particular health-promoting properties. Indeed, most herbal teas in the market are NOT tea at all. They are only infusions made with herbs, flowers, roots, spices or other parts of some plants. The proper term for this type of beverage is “tisane.”
The recently popular South African red Rooibos tea also falls within the herbal tea or tisane category. “Red Rooibos tea is not really tea as it is not derived from the Camellia plant,” Dr. Balentine said. They may not contain the same beneficial flavonoid compounds as found in black and green teas. In fact, Dr. Balentine said that “no scientific evidence yet has shown the health benefits of red Rooibos tea.”
Although tisane does not contain as any polyphenols, it does promote other various health qualities such as relaxation and calming effects. 6
Yoga, Tai Chi and Other Gentle Exercises
If at all possible, some gentle exercise can help you stay feeling strong and balanced. Physically, gentle movement helps move your lymph fluids, draining toxins from your body, and keeps your muscles toned and bones strong and in good repair.
Yoga is aimed at harmonizing the body, mind, and spirit. It is considered therapeutic and helps you become more aware of your body’s posture, alignment, and patterns of movement. Yoga postures are attained and held slowly and gently. Energetically speaking, breathing into a yoga posture helps you feel where “energetic knots” might be hiding in your body and allows for their disentanglement. You don’t have to be a rubber pretzel to practice yoga as there are many different types and levels to choose from and you are encouraged to practice at your own speed. Many of the postures have alternate, more gentle, ways of achieving them if you are a beginner.
The practice of yoga also helps you remember to relax and breathe in the midst of a stressful event.
The graceful images of people gliding through dance-like poses as they practice tai chi (TIE-chee) are compelling. Simply watching them is relaxing. Tai chi, in fact, is often described as “meditation in motion” because it promotes serenity through gentle movements — connecting the mind and body. Tai chi, sometimes called tai chi chuan, is a noncompetitive, self-paced system of gentle physical exercise and stretching. To do tai chi, you perform a series of postures or movements in a slow, graceful manner. Each posture flows into the next without pausing.
Anyone, regardless of age or physical ability, can practice tai chi. It doesn’t take physical prowess. Rather, tai chi emphasizes technique over strength.
Tai chi is used to:
- Reduce stress
- Increase flexibility
- Improve muscle strength and definition
- Increase energy, stamina and agility
- Increase feelings of well-being
Tai chi has more than 100 possible movements and positions. You can find several that you like and stick with those, or explore the full range. The intensity of tai chi varies somewhat depending on the form or style practiced. Some forms of tai chi are more fast-paced than others, for instance. However, most forms are gentle and suitable for everyone. And they all include rhythmic patterns of movement that are coordinated with breathing.
Despite its ancient history, tai chi has been studied scientifically only in recent years. And that research is suggesting that tai chi may offer numerous other benefits beyond stress reduction, including:
- Reducing anxiety and depression
- Improving balance and coordination
- Reducing the number of falls
- Improving sleep quality, such as staying asleep longer at night and feeling more alert during the day
- Slowing bone loss in women after menopause
- Lowering blood pressure
- Improving cardiovascular fitness
- Relieving chronic pain
- Improving everyday physical functioning 7
SUPPORTING YOUR SPIRIT
When you or a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, you might find yourself turning to your spiritual side more often to help you cope. Or, you may begin to question your faith. Both of these reactions are normal.
Whether you are in the process of strengthening or reevaluating your spiritual beliefs, you might want to try the following:
- Take time to meditate or pray regularly. This can bring a sense of calm and stability during difficult times.
- Read spiritual writings such as the Bible, the Koran, the Book of Psalms, Bhagavad Gita, or other faith-based texts. Delving into sacred texts can put you in touch with ancient traditions of wisdom and give you a sense of connection with a more divine reality.
- Seek the help of others. You might begin an ongoing dialogue with your clergy or counselor, or join a group for meditation, prayer, and support.
- Retreat to spiritual spaces, natural settings, or concerts and museums to cultivate a spiritual sense of peace.
- Keep a journal to express your feelings, thoughts, and memories. It can contribute to your process of self-discovery and spiritual development.
A diagnosis of cancer can start a process of looking inward for a stronger connection to what is more meaningful and sacred in your life. Out of the turmoil of this crisis, you may find strength and deeper meaning in your life. 8
Any one or a number of daily disciplines can help provide a sense of clarity and perspective. Morning prayers, meditations, walks, lighting a candle, or something you’ve made up yourself that is meaningful to you, done every day, will bring the positive to the forefront before your day begins.
Or, maybe it feels more appropriate to conduct your practice in the evening. An evening clearing of emotions and feelings that have accumulated throughout the day can make for a more restful night’s sleep. An evening ritual, conducted before bedtime, can help you release the day’s tensions and prevent you from taking them with you into the next day.
The point is, anything meaningful done on a daily basis, keeps your heart and mind in the here and now and off of future worries that may never happen. As my grandmother used to say, “Don’t make a habit of meeting trouble half way.”
Positive motivation is the best way to remain in the moment. Small steps bring encouraging results and help you feel capable, competent, and in control. Let the experts do their part; your part is to remain positive. Stay interested, active, take action, read everything you can and find someone to talk with about what you’re going through. When you hit a wall, make these suggestions the rungs in your ladder that enables and empowers you to make it over the top.
For more information, please visit the Canadian Cancer Society’s website at www.cancer.ca. This is one of the most extensive and well-researched sites available online for those newly diagnosed, or people currently living, with cancer. This site also contains a “Cancer – Fact or Fiction Quiz”, a “Personalized Checkup Checklist” and an extensive, in-depth cancer encyclopedia. There is information for cancer patients, caregivers, and the families of those diagnosed with cancer.
Carol Roy is a Natural Health Practitioner who received her diploma from the Alternative Medicine College of Canada in Montreal, Quebec. With 12 years experience in her area of expertise, natural health and wellness, Carol has also trained to become a fully qualified Reiki Master, Quantum Touch Practitioner, and Reflexologist.
The suggestions by Nutter’s Bulk & Natural Foods and the contents of this article
are recommendations only and not a substitute for any medical advice or a
replacement for any prescriptions. Seek medical advice for any health concerns.
Consult your health care provider before using any recommendations herein.
1. From What Is Meditation, The Chopra Center, Deepak Chopra
2. Meditation As Medicine, Activate The Power Of Your Natural Healing Force
by Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D. and Cameron Stauth
3. The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook, Fifth Edition,
Martha Davis, Ph.D., Elizabeth Robbins Eshelman, M.S.W., Matthew McKay, Ph.D.
4. Introduction On How Visualization and Meditation Works
5. HealthCastle.com – Herb Drug Interactions
7. MayoClinic.com – Tai Chi
8. Coping With Cancer: Tools To Help You Live