If you are facing chemotherapy, you probably have a million questions on your mind, none of which you seem to remember when you get to talk to your doctor! You can find all kinds of information on the web, and in your doctor’s office, about what chemicals you are being treated with and what they might do to you. Even with plenty of preparation, chemotherapy is a journey into the unknown for each of us. When I was treated for Inflammatory Breast Cancer in 2007, I was terrified of chemotherapy. I was afraid of what it would do to my body, and I wanted to minimize the long term effects and stay in balance as much as possible.
As I got into the treatment protocol, I discovered that balance was not the way to look at it. Balance would not be possible. Chemotherapy is poison, poison to cancer cells and healthy cells alike. It is poison with a purpose. The goal is to knock the cancer out and minimize the damage. Your own body cells will recover, and the goal is to make sure that the cancer cells don’t. A paradigm shift was needed to get the most out of chemotherapy with my body intact.
Chemotherapy is a wild, crazy wave, and my job was to ride the crest of it until it broke. Certainly I wanted to protect my healthy cells, but I wanted those chemicals to knock the %*@!! out of the cancer that was threatening my life. It was a battle for control of my body. It was a game of chicken between a menace that had gained a foothold in my body and some serious chemicals that could do a lot of collateral damage. My body was the stage for this drama. Never mind balance, that didn’t apply here!
I understood that uninterrupted treatment was the key to my survival. By the fourth infusion, I finally understood that to stay on that wave I had to be as comfortable as possible. I received steroids with the infusion, I took Ativan at night for nausea and to sleep. Pain killers, anti nausea medicine, laxatives, stool softeners, all my normal bodily functions had to be slapped around to keep me on that wave. I had a vicious cancer, and one delayed treatment for whatever reason would give it a chance to bounce back.
When I finally understood that this was the way of it, my strategy became very clear. Stay on the crest of that wave, don’t fall off, support my body under the onslaught, and let every ounce of energy I had be harnessed to assist the treatment.
The first big breakthrough was, pain and discomfort leads to stress, which weakens the body more. By the fourth infusion I was taking all the medications I was given, at the first hint that I might need them. The more comfortable I was, the more my body could use the energy I had to fight the beast.
I conserved my energy for the same reason. I did things I loved, like walking, comedy improvisation class, reading, puttering outside. Things that were an energy drain I declined, and people who were toxic to me I kept out of my space, sometimes with help from others.
I developed the habit of saying “yes” consistently. When people wanted to pray, bring food, take care of my children, or tidy my home, I welcomed it all. I also said no, just as consistently, to anything that would use my precious, limited energy for something that was not important to me. Saying yes opened my heart. Saying no taught me to trust myself.
I used complementary therapies to minimize side effects, and to protect my healthy cells as much as I could. I used imagery to protect my heart, to watch the tumors shrink, to build white blood cells and hemoglobin. I never had to miss a treatment because of low blood counts.
My oncologist told me to “eat what looks good to you” and I did that. I also developed my once a day nutrition shake to make sure all the bases were covered.
I took advantage of every resource. My colleagues at the hospital massage therapy department gave me massage weekly (I remain so grateful for this!), I received acupuncture, and I had a Healing Partner who provided Healing Touch for me every week for 6 months.
I wanted to be sure I was really showing up for all this. I wanted my whole being to know that I was engaged in my life, that I was passionate about it. I took advantage of the counseling that was available at Healing with Hope. I blogged like mad at Caringbridge, and celebrated life. I painted my room purple.
Do you have to do all this to weather the chemo storm? No, that was the way I did it.
Do it the way you do it. Just keep three things in mind, if they seem good to you.
1. Use all the medications they give you to be comfortable. This is not the time to be stoic! A comfortable body heals better and faster.
2. Do the things you really love with the energy you have. That way you actually get some.
3. Let people help. It blesses them just as much as it blesses you, if not even more.
If this is you right now, know that my thoughts are with you, and you will get through it!
More from Elizabeth Danu:
Herbs and Chemotherapy: Approach With Caution
My Wild Guided Imagery Cancer Adventure
Understanding the Treatment Protocol for Inflammatory Breast Cancer