19. Slow Burn Resilience

I’m feeling much better this week.  Take a deep breath with me and let’s revel in that for a moment.  It felt hard there for a second.

I have a question for you: Do you ever go through an emotional experience, or an introspective period and when you come out the other end you can recognize that you’re not the same person you were even a short period of time ago?  The last two weeks have been like that for me.  And I also realized the day after my last post that I’ve been subconsciously affected by sad anniversaries: my mother’s passing, my favorite Grandmother’s birthday, mother’s day… and it just wasn’t on my radar.  It’s a “down period” for me every year, and it was almost humorous in hindsight to realize what was going on.  I completely forgot, and I don’t think I can blame chemo brain!  It was a Homer Simpson “d’oh!” moment, and highlighted how deep-seated emotions can operate in the background whether or not you’re actively aware of them.   

On Tuesday I started radiation therapy on my left hip, so I have a few sessions under my belt -- get it?!  The significant pain spike of a week ago that compelled me to take pain meds that I hadn’t taken since surgery has largely abated, but it was a physical indication that the cancer there has indeed grown, however unfortunate that is.  My body is telling me that radiation therapy is the route to go for now, so go we will for 20 sessions, five days a week.  The appointments are short, close to home and the hospital staff I interact with are just gorgeous.  So… so far, so good.   

For some reason, I’ve had it in mind that radiation is so much worse than chemotherapy, which isn’t necessarily true.  Starting radiation has freed up the bandwidth I’d been using to think and mull about whether or not to do it.  Hopefully, I’ll still be able to bypass radiation on my brain -- as it is the central nervous system for this physical vessel -- but in my hip it should resolve the cancer there and offer pain relief.  And that’s a good thing.  In that mental space that’s been created, I’ve continued to research the cancer ketogenic diet and intermittent-fasting.  I’ve started a “rebuilding” workout program though Stanford’s Cancer Care program at the local YMCA.

I’m coming to realize that my path to being cancer-free will likely be a slow burn.  The disappointment at the last scans not yet reflecting complete remission has emphasized the importance of long-term resilience, energy maintenance and patience.  An ability to keep moving forward, despite the fact that healing isn’t linear, the wherewithal to keep picking myself up and dusting myself off, no matter what.  And that resilience does take energy, and my energy does need to be managed.

I struggle with resilience when I’m weary.  There have definitely been times where I get side-tracked with a sense that I’m racing the clock, although intuitively I know that I have all the time I need.  In that tiredness, it’s sometimes hard to remember to remind myself of that fact.  And it’s the fatigue that spurs those feeling of needing to hurry, to use my time “wisely,” manifesting in a low-level anxiety that is often compounded when I’m holding pain, and especially with that weird coupling of sadness with pain.  Energy management is indeed the foundation of my resilience.  I'll continue to use Anita Moorjani’s motto: “Keep moving forward.  When you’re tired, rest. When you’re not tired, keep moving forward.”

I’ve been listening to the Hay House World Summit, an online health and wellness event.  One of the talks I liked was Joan Borysenko’s, who’s a trained cell biologist and licensed psychologist come expert on stress, spirituality, and the mind/body connection.  Her thoughts on resilience are interesting.  As we’re in transition all the time, there is a need for patience with the unknown, in what she calls “that time between no longer and not yet.”  Here are some of the ways she suggested to invest and grow your emotional and cognitive resilience that resonated with me:

  1. Optimize Realism -- Realists vs. Optimists: I’m looking at this situation, what could go wrong?  How do I make the best of this situation now?  Plan for the long game, which includes infinitely more than optimism and hope
  2. Maintain Faith: Figure out how to modulate emotions and enjoy life, right where you are.  Deeply know that you’ll be able to overcome, to prevail despite current circumstances
  3. Develop Your Sense of Humor: Seeing the absurdity in things allows you to not take yourself or your situation so seriously
  4. Allow Help: Friendship is so much more important than pride.  Surround yourself with those that support you
  5. Radical Creativity: Mind your mind to create the space to be able to be innovative
    1. Completely unplug and recharge at least one day a week
    2. Meditation: 20 minutes, five days a week is ideal, in whatever way works
    3. Live and let live
    4. Don’t expect applause

Perhaps I also need to invest a little more time too into my radical creativity component… to mind my mind a bit more gently so that I have more space to be radically creative, which I feel is a necessary component to kicking cancer.   

It reminds me of that fun[ny] meditation quote: “You should sit in mediation for 20 minutes every day, unless you’re too busy; then you should meditate for an hour.”

Gregg Braden, an author who bridges the gap between science and spirituality when talking of deep resilience says that “mourning what was” is very important before moving forward into a new reality.  He says, “the world of the past no longer exists,” and that we can’t expect to thrive by clinging to the old and fighting the existing reality.  I haven’t taken the time to honestly acknowledge the things that I miss since diagnosis, those things that so dramatically changed after the trip to the ER.  I just shifted my focus, pulled on my boots and got on the trail and left those things in the dust.  This week, I’m going to be mindful to make some room for that acknowledgement, to look back for a moment before readjusting my gaze forward again.

Like the tortoise, slow and steady can win the race.  Wish me luck!