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Interconnected Wellness for Cancer Patients

You’re overwhelmed, stressed, scared, tired and depleted. So many other things are going on.  When I asked my sister, who is a breast cancer survivor, to describe this, she stated: “Fighting cancer sometimes brings one face-to-face with not only the big questions of life, but also more temporal questions like, ‘Am I getting the best possible care? Do I know enough about my diagnosis to make informed decisions? Will I be able to drive during my treatment? Will I be able to work? Will I need to file a claim for disability? Will I have someone to help me handle all this?’” 

Changing the body’s internal environment is the key to wellness. Stress hormones wreak havoc on the body’s systems, from reducing the immune system, to reducing proper digestion, decreasing libido, and decreasing the brain’s ability to think clearly.  

There are four areas of wellness which all intertwines and respond to each other. Doing work in one area will help the others, but sometimes you have to glean from your own body’s wisdom of how to start. If you are mentally overwhelmed, it may not be beneficial to get a massage until you release that feeling. You may not get the full benefit of the massage if, throughout the entire session, your mind is racing. Start in the mental realm, then get that massage. The benefits will be huge.  

Yet, if you’re so fatigued and sore that you can’t sleep or move without pain, taking a hot bath in Epsom salts or getting a sauna or a gentle, nurturing massage can bring an enormous flood of relaxation hormones into your system.  

The four areas are Spiritual, Mental, Emotional and Physical. I’m sure you can think of others: Financial, Interpersonal, etc. These four are at the base; everything else in our lives springs from these.  

Spiritual

Knowing that there is a greater plan is a huge help. What can my (or my loved one’s) illness be teaching me right now? Let’s say there are great life lessons to be learned that people want to check off on their ethereal bucket list: gratitude, humility, surrender, trust, selflessness, unconditional love. What can I take from this situation? What can I practice here, right now, in every moment?  

I was able to witness the work of teachers and nurses that care for children that are medically fragile, are dependent upon their caregivers and/or technology to get their basic needs met: moving, breathing, feeding, coughing. What did I see in these children? Theywere the teachers. They taught the adults, about how to give compassion, unconditional love, acceptance, nurturing. This eased my own mind when having to wrap my head and heart around seeing little children taking on so much.

Prayer, having people pray for you, meditation, mantras and positive affirmations all have been shown to work. It’s amazing to see scientific research in these areas, proving their validity and efficacy.  

Mental

Sometimes you may be so keyed up, your mind chatter is spinning out of control like a caffeinated hamster on a greased-up wheel. At this point, trying meditation or another relaxation technique could make you more frustrated. I’d suggest a strenuous physical release: kickboxing; going to a driving range and hitting golf balls really, really hard; going to a batting cage; going for a fast run. Sometimes vigorously shaking your body can do this as well. I do this when I can’t do anything else. Releasing pent up stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, takes action and movement. Move your body!

Yet, what happens if you can’t move your body? If you’re in too much pain? Talk to a loved one, write in a journal. Acknowledge that the part of you that’s in pain is scared and needs comfort. Get the worries out of your body and onto paper. It’s a great way to bear witness to your own journey as well as getting it out of your head. Rehashing and ruminating keeps stress hormones circulating, making it difficult for your body to shift into a more relaxed state.

Emotional

If sadness, worry, depression, anxiety or anger make you fearful, a great way to combat this is with laughter and gratitude. Watch a funny movie, listen to your favorite music... really loudly. Ask a friend to be your “fun inputter”, tell you a joke or bring over a movie you both love. Feeling the highly renewing emotions like love, gratitude and joy is another way to shift the body’s internal state.

Emotions are the primary drivers of our physiology. Emotions happen before thought. It’s why we are startled when we see a spider on our shirt, only to realize a split second later that it was just some fuzz. Breathe deeply for a few minutes, focusing on your breath going into and out of your belly. This calms and brings order to the nervous system. 

Physical

We need as many relaxation-response-increasers as possible. They also increase alkalinity and reduce inflammation and nausea. Essential oils like peppermint and ginger can reduce nausea; peppermint can also reduce fever. Put a drop of therapeutic-grade oils in your water or tea, under your nose or even smell it right from the bottle. Smoothies that have alkaline vegetables and fruits are a wonderful dietary supplement. 

A gentle, nurturing massage from a skilled massage therapist is a highly appropriate method to increase the body’s relaxation response. Acupuncture or reiki are also effective bodywork modalities to help the body’s energy levels. 

In conclusion, the areas of wellness are interconnected and intertwined. Helping one area will enable the others to become calm and centered. Your goal is to be present as to where you are each day, or even each hour, to be aware of what your body is needing at the time.  

Julia Gandy is a board-certified massage therapist and a Certified HeartMath Coach and Trainer at Embodying Wellness in Moorestown. For more information, call 609-634-2396, email Julia@embodyingwellnesscoach.com or visit EmbodyingWellnessCoach.com. 

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