When life takes you down the rabbit hole…

I’d like to begin by saying WOW and Thank you! I never thought what I wrote would resonate with so many and I want to sincerely thank all of you for all the wonderful comments, encouragement, and for subscribing. I also thought I’d share the results of #BellLetsTalk Day with you.

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You can see here where the funds will be directed.

Besides from being truly humbled by your overwhelming response, it really made me pause and think. There are so many people out there that might be going through a tough or stressful time. I mean life can be really crazy, with or without cancer.

We spend so much of our time rushing around. From our jobs, or school, the grocery store, or carting our kids off here and there that life just becomes so overwhelming and maddening.

Rush…Rush…Rushscreen-shot-2017-01-29-at-5-43-57-am

I promised myself one thing after my first round with cancer, that I would never be complacent in my life again.

For a time, I was hyper aware of all the beauty life had to offer. I know this will sound silly, but it was small miracles like funny cloud patterns or the way my dog would snore, to the way the city was reflected in puddles. I noticed everything. After a while screen-shot-2017-01-29-at-5-47-34-amthough, life began infiltrating these moments and I found myself falling back into old habits. I found myself complaining about the weather (as Canadians will do), feeling my blood boil when I was stuck in traffic, the stars were dimmer, and then I stopped noticing.

I had fallen back into my former life cycle.

Wake up – shower – grab breakfast – grab purse – get in car- eat breakfast – get to work – get a coffee –start the day – work – grab purse – get back in car – drive back home – dinner – marking/planning – pack up for next day – bed. Wash – rinse – repeat.screen-shot-2017-01-29-at-5-52-03-am

Monotony took over and I began living life in autopilot, the thing I swore I wouldn’t do. Maybe before cancer, it was acceptable to just settle in, but not now. I had worked hard to have that life, get that job and build my career. Cancer changed everything. The goals I wanted before, even the ones I had worked so hard for changed, there was no room for being frazzled and stressed, living in a monotonous life.

So upon the recommendation of my psychologist I enrolled in a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)* course. I was hesitant initially, because really who has time, but I did it. Now you may think MBSR is hokey and all kumbaya, but its one of the only meditation modalities being studied scientifically, and used in hospitals. It was hands down one of the best things I have ever done for myself and my mental health.

screen-shot-2017-01-29-at-5-57-05-amIt isn’t for the feint of heart, because of the time commitment (8 Weeks + home practice), but I swear it is worth it. Each week I would meet with a small group of stressed out over worked harried individuals and we would learn a specific practice or a few. Then we were tasked with homework. Typically it was an exercise in attention, some sort of meditation, and a very short “journal”. Initially it was a challenge fitting it in, but somehow if you are committed, you do find time.

That was 5 years ago. I can tell you that the skills I learned in those 8-weeks saved me a few times. Like the day they told me my cancer had come back, and that there wasn’t much they could do (at that time). I had meditated while waiting for my oncologist, so I was calm and able to be rational and breathe. It allowed me to be clear headed and coherent enough to ask questions, something I likely wouldn’t have been able to do had I been extremely emotional.

As with anything, you need to practice or your skills get rusty. I have to admit that over the years, my practice hasn’t been what it used to be and once again life got in the way (dating, marriage, dogs, house, travel), so last year in September, I took the course again, this time a very willing participant. I will tell you, my mental health has been better since. I won’t lie, I don’t practice everyday (although I should), but I use it when I need it.screen-shot-2017-01-29-at-6-02-08-am

What I was thinking is, there are some online resources that are open-sources, so I thought that if anyone was willing, I would start with this post, and then the next 7 to “lead” a very rudimentary Mindfulness Group, by posting what each weeks lesson is, the practices and leave it up to you to try it out.

There is no right or wrong way, it is about learning to notice, becoming aware, and taking a moment to breathe. If you are game, Week 1 Resources will be posted below.

AM

*In 1979 Jon Kabat-Zinn founded MBSR at the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts and nearly twenty years later the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine. Both these institutions supported the growth and implementation of MBSR into research and hospitals worldwide.

 

Mindfulness is the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally, to things as they are.

– Williams, Teasdale, Segal, and Kabat-Zinn (2007)

 

Week 1 Mindfulness: Awareness & Automatic Pilot

  • When we are on Autopilot, we are more likely to become annoyed or have our “buttons pressed”.
  • Becoming more aware of our thoughts, feelings, and body sensations, we can choose not to go down “the rabbit hole” or mental ruts.
  • The aim of MBSR is to increase awareness so that we have more choices when we respond to situations, rather than react automatically.
  • To achieve this, we practice becoming more aware of where our attention is and deliberately changing the focus over and over.

Activity 1: Raisins

Take a raisin, or any small edible item. On a piece of paper, write down your immediate thoughts about that item. Next, use each sense to examine the item. Eyes, ears, fingers, mouth. Do each for a good minute. Now write down what you notice.

Meditation 1: Body Scan

Begin with a 45-minute body scan (see below). I suggest a quiet place where you can either sit or lay down. Its ok if you fall asleep. I did.

Home Work:

  • Do the body scan 6x for week one
  • Record what you notice each time you do the practice.
  • Choose one routine activity (washing your face, brushing your teeth, lacing your shoe, etc.) and make it deliberate, just like the raisin activity.
  • Eat one meal mindfully (i.e. Like the raisin activity)

Meditations:

www.guilford.com/MBCT_audio (Requires creating a user account)

https://health.ucsd.edu/specialties/mindfulness/programs/mbsr/Documents/MP3/01%2045%20Min%20Body%20Scan%2007.mp3

Suggestions/Tips:

  • Learning suggestions
  • Dress comfortably in loose-fitting clothing (sweats or yoga-type clothing work well).
  • Use a mat or pad that you can lie on the floor with.
  • If the temperature varies the room you are using you might want to dress in layers.
  • Choose a quiet spot or time when others will not be interrupting.
  • Download meditations to an iPod or other listening device for easy listening.
  • Good Luck

 

Scanxiety and my irrational mind

I sit here on this gloomy day waiting for all my appointments to be over. I have been here since 8 am, it’s now quarter to 5 and I’m still here. It has been an unsatisfactory day. I was hoping for the results of my last CT, I’m here to do an MRI, the anticipation is killing me. Outwardly I am calm, cool, and collected, but I’m good at hiding my anxiety. Ask anyone close to me and they will tell you they had no idea I was worried, but I have been hoping for an NED for a while now. I’m still waiting and I’m worried.

I thought I’d be a super responder like I had been on Crizotinib. I was NED within 6 weeks, until I progressed almost 5 years later. The bar was set impossibly high. I’m on cycle 6 of Lorlatinib and I’m impatiently waiting for what may never come. Don’t get me wrong, I am responding, things are shrinking. I am happy about that, where my disappointment lays is in the fact that things are still present or at least they have been.

I got used to clean scans and the complacency they brought. I got lulled into a false sense of security. I took comfort in being unremarkable. I can tell you I am no longer complacent or secure. I am in fact very very insecure. 

I need to say I don’t do well with uncertainty. I am a confessed Type-A so me and uncertainty don’t like to dance, and lately we’ve been dancing far too often and uncertainty has been stepping on my feet. 

In my rational mind I tell myself, “Self things are going very well, they are moving in the right direction, be happy. Remember, you can’t control anything except the way you react. Be happy.” My rational mind is wise, my problem is my irrational mind is what’s been talking to me lately and that conversation doesn’t go as well!

My irrational mind is full of fear and brings me to all sorts of dark and worrying places. Places I don’t want to think about when I’m dealing with the unknown. It reminds me of the first time I felt this way, way back in 2011 when I wasn’t sure my cancer had come back. I had to know. Knowing meant I could gear myself up for a fight, or to deal with sadness/anger/relief, but not knowing. Not knowing was torture! 

Back then I was terrified that I would have a recurrence. It was the worst possible thing that could happen, or so I thought. Then it happened. I realized it wasn’t the end of the world. It changed things, a lot of things, but my world didn’t end. Actually it allowed me to realize and accept that my life would always be different. That was a good thing. Now I feel different. The stakes are higher. I’m not affraid of recurrence, recurrence is my reality, what I’m affraid of is running out of options and running out of time. NED means so much more now that it isn’t just me. 

NED means I get to garden in the spring. It means I get to keep coming home to two ecstatic dogs and a loving husband. NED mean I can keep advocating. It means I can appreciate growing older, my gray hairs and wrinkles. NED means I get exponentially more moments of small joys. That’s all I want. Until then, I will be a bundle of nerves. I will have an ache in my stomach and knots in my back. I will feel the elephant on my chest. I will try to breathe, I will try to remain calm, but until I read NED on my reports, nothing will quell my anxiety.

AM