Boobies Go ByeBye

I check the fluids on mom’s IV pole—Lactated Ringers, or breakfast in a bag, as we nurses call it. “That’s your morning omelet and coffee,” I tell my mom. She grunts from hunger, since she has not being allowed to eat since midnight last night. 

As she lies on the gurney, her light blue surgical cap gradually slides down her forehead, eventually covering her eyebrows. She wears no makeup, except the outlines of red lips on either cheek, where my aunt and I gave her kisses.

Covered in blankets, she’s still cold. Aunt Janice and I rub her feet to keep her warm. 

It’s now noon, and she’s already had a long day.  At 8:30 this morning she “checked in” in multiple locations, seemingly getting a tour of the entire Cedars Sinai Medical Center. Then radioisotope, a blue dye, was injected into the area of the two tumors of her left breast. After a couple hours, the dye is supposed to be carried by her lymphatic system to the sentinel lymph node so the surgeons can remove and biopsy it to see if the cancer has spread, in which case they would remove all lymph nodes in and around the armpit.

In the main OR pre-op room at this time of the day, most surgeries have already been completed, and we, the cheerleaders—my dad, aunt, uncle, and myself—fill the nearly empty pre-op area with laughter. The waiting room receptionist, whom we profusely bribed with smiles and kind words, allowed all four of us back to visit Mom, exceeding the two-at-a-time policy. 

I had been worried that Mom would be nervous, but as she explained last night, she had done all her grieving in the first week, and now she’s cracking jokes, taking everything in stride.  

At 12:15pm a tall, handsome nurse pulls the curtains and shyly introduces himself. “He must be new,” I think, remembering being that sheepish as a new nurse. Going through the final checklist and instructions, he tells us that we will see my mom in six to nine hours in the recovery room, after which she would be admitted to the hospital for two to three days. 

Dad (sad face) cops one last feel Dad, ever the comical historian, reenacts my great grandfather’s goodbye to my great-grandmother before she went in for her mastectomy, some 30 years ago. “Can I cop one last feel?” he whispers, the classic Timmons smirk on his face. She sweetly smiles and kisses him. We all say our goodbyes, and silently watch as Mr. Cute Nurse wheels her down the hall and rounds the corner.   

Now out of sight, we still stand there in the stark hall for a moment, staring at the empty floor where she was just a second ago. “Don’t do that, Aunt Janice, or I’ll start too,” I say. She daubs her pretty hazel eyes and we walk to the cafeteria, hoping they’re still serving breakfast. 

Just after devouring our meal in the hospital cafeteria, Mr. Cute calls from the OR, as promised, to notify us that everything is right on schedule. “We will continue to keep you posted every hour and a half to two hours.” We all take a deep breath and go back to the waiting room. None of us want to leave the hospital.

Back in the OR waiting room, we settle in to padded chairs, which remind me of the rows of connected chairs in airport terminals. I find the only free outlet in the area, which is in the hall, next to the men’s restroom. It’s quieter here, and I can focus on taking notes. 

Hours later, the surgery is finished without complications, and the nurse lets me in to see Mom. I see her from across the recovery room, still as a rock. As I approach, I notice an orange stain on her skin, from her mouth and down, all over her neck as if she’d spilt curry and let it dry. It’s Betadine, a surgical solution used to sterilize the skin surrounding the operative site. 

Ever the nurse, I quickly scan all the monitors, making sure her vital signs are within the normal limits. Looking down, I notice her flat chest. Interesting, how breasts automatically give women an older appearance. She’s always looked young, but lying here now, without makeup, flat chest, mom resembles a teenager.

Mom Post-op with barf bagShe’s dizzy from all the anesthesia and pain meds and gingerly greets me. I kiss her forehead, as she asks for ice chips. The PCA (patient controlled analgesia) pump, which delivers Dilaudid (6X stronger than Morphine) every time she pushes the button up to a certain maximum mg per minute, will keep her pain at bay. 

She drifts in and out of sleep as I massage her feet. “They have a foam pit here,” she softly says, sounding like a little girl. “Really?” I ask. “Yep,” her eyes still closed, “So people can jump in and play.” 

“Where are we?” I ask, testing her to see if she’s oriented. She slowly cracks open her eyes as if it’s painful, blinks slowly a few times, then whispers. “Oh, we’re in the hospital,” sounding confused. Apparently every time she closes her eyes, she sees “an empty warehouse,” describing Sky High Sports in Woodland Hills, an indoor trampoline park, where I recently took she and my dad. It must have made quite an impression on her, to be recalling it in such a way now. It’s normal to go into a dream-like state while on IV pain meds like this.     

About an hour later, the nurse permits Dad to come it to see her too. Now that she’s more awake, and he sees that she’s doing well, his playful side shows, and he props her blue barf bag on her head and takes a picture. Mom is not amused.

Once she’s admitted to a room and we’re all settled in, the long night begins. As I expected, I don’t get any sleep, from the constant monitoring from the night nurses. Taking vitals, checking incision sites, drain output, catheter output, vitals, and pain level, the nurses check in about every hour on the first night of post-op. But I’m happy to be there, and feel more secure with her having me in the room the whole time. 

The next day I pamper her with a sponge bath, leg and foot massage, and clip and paint her toenails. She’s making progress faster than anyone expected. Immediately after breakfast her foley catheter is ordered to be removed, she walks for the first time and does great, and the PCA pump is removed.    

Post-op PedicureThe next few days fly by. My dad takes the second night in the hospital, and as the doctors make their rounds, the surgeons appear amazed at her progress. The resident even tells her she’s recovered faster than any other mastectomy patient he’d ever seen. 

It’s now a week out, and she has a follow-up with her breast surgeon and plastic surgeon. Great news from the breast surgeon: Lymph nodes were officially negative, tumors were only stage one and removed with clean borders; so no more chemo required; just an anti-hormone pill for five years.

Her plastic surgeon removes two of her four drains; the rest will go in another week. I’ve been emptying and measuring them twice a day, and she’s glad to have that much bulk removed from her abdomen (the drains are pinned to her bra, looking like grenades attached to her waist). 

It’s now 6 months after the “Big Double M,” and Mom reports feeling like she’s got a new lease on life. She’s cancer-free and more energetic and inspired than ever. She jumps on road trip opportunities, is a regular at the gym, is back into making her famous veggie smoothies, and is planning a summer vacation cruise. She’s only got two more surgeries, and we’re glad to put the “C” word behind us, but it hasn’t been an easy road. 

Getting fills has been the most painful part of reconstruction, far worse than the actual surgery recovery, according to Mom. In the mastectomy surgery, the surgeons placed expanders between the pectoral muscles and the ribs, as temporary implants, and they’re basically thick, empty plastic bags. A “fill” means slowly adding saline to the expanders, until they are the desired size, at which time they are surgically replaced with permanent implants. Every two to three weeks she gets 50-100 mL of saline added, to give the skin time to stretch slowly. 

The process is very uncomfortable and causes major muscle spasms in her chest and all down her back, which take up to a week to dissipate. Valium and Vicodin help, but leave her drowsy for days, pinning her to the couch and keeping her from enjoying life. 

Along with going for fills and modifying her workout regimen, she has a strict routine of weekly physical therapy, where she jokes that she should take her female physical therapist out to dinner or offer her a cigarette after each one of her boob massages. These often painful but intimate massages help increase blood circulation to the skin and manipulating it to stretch more.  She’s also expected to do three-times-a-day Vitamin E baths, where she lathers her skin surrounding the surgical site with E oil to help the skin recover faster. 

Now we wait for the last act, the final surgery where the expanders will be replaced for permanent implants, still three months off, then a smaller procedure after that where nipples are made and areola are tattooed on. Mom wants her life back, and the clock isn’t getting her there fast enough.

To see what the author is up to these days, check out her greeting cards for cancer patients, at LumpyCards.com

28 Ways to Show You Care

Your friend, family member, or co-worker has cancer, so now it’s time to put yourself aside and focus on her. You’re up to bat!

Cancer either makes relationships grow or fall apart, and if you can’t connect, you’re out of the game. If you’re scared too, and don’t know how to help or what to say, I’ve got ya covered. For the sake of time and clarity, I will refer to your loved one as a female, but most of these tips apply to both sexes, so read on regardless:

  1. It’s not about you. No amount of heartache, broken bones, drama, or health issues of your own matter anymore. No matter at what stage your friend’s cancer is, assume that in her mind, nothing else is as scary.
  2. No one else’s cancer matters but hers. Resist the temptation to report your grandma’s, uncle’s, and best friend’s mom’s cancer story. This only reinforces fear.
  3. Don’t say nothing or not call just because you don’t know what to say. The worst thing you can do is send a card with nothing in it, or not call just to ask how it’s going. If you know the situation is bad and you’re scared too, you can’t let that show. She’s got enough to deal with already, with all her own fear, and she shouldn’t have to process yours as well. Remember, you’re her cheerleader, her rock, her coach, not her feeble friend. You believe with all your soul that no matter what her prognosis, she’s in great hands, and she will come out of this happily and healthfully.
  4. Bring up cancer without bringing up cancer. If you talk to your friend daily, you don’t want cancer to be the main focus, but you don’t want to ignore it either. Everyone copes differently, and some people are going to need encouragement to get it all out, but you don’t want to be obvious.
  5. Cancer is not a bad word! Avoid using the phrase “The Big C,” as this makes cancer sound big, bad and ugly—which it most certainly is, but it’s not unbeatable. You don’t want to add weight to the anchor of fear that the word cancer has. Be mindful of how you use the word, and try to observe your own emotions when you say it. Refer to it as a medical diagnosis, not a death sentence. Be matter of fact about it, not fear based.
  6.  Help her vent. Everyone copes differently, and you’ll find that your friend might handle cancer differently than you thought. Follow her lead! If she cries all the time, be her shoulder, but if she acts like nothing’s wrong, that’s a red flag. Your friend may be pushing down fear. Help her gently face it by asking questions, easy ones at first. Read more about different cancer coping styles in my blog, The Blessings and Bother of Cancer Support.
  7. Chemo is not poison! Even if that’s yours or your friend’s belief, it just so happens to be saving her life, so cut that out of your vocabulary. Substitute other descriptives such as toxic chemicals with words like medicinedrugs, and cures, which all reflect a more positive perspective.
  8. Mutilate the myths! Some old wives tales still survive, and even though they’ve been debunked, some dusty stories still have some patients worried. For example, some believe that surgery or needle biopsies make cancer spread. If your friend just had surgery to remove a tumor or lymph node, resist reminding her of these myths.
  9. Piggyback on the placebo effect. Regardless of whether any treatment is successful, there’s much to be said about self-fulfilling prophecy, and statistics show that a patient’s belief that a pill or treatment is going to work really does improve results. Reinforce it: your friend’s treatment is working just as it was designed.
  10. Don’t just sign and send! Although your handpicked card may have the perfect verbiage to make your friend laugh or say, “Awwwwwe,” it’s not enough! Your words in your handwriting show true heart. Be yourself. Don’t get some clichéd poem or line off the net. If you’re a jokester, write something funny. If you’re compassionate or silly, write something in character. Compliment her on whatever. And always, unless you live in Timbuktu, hand-deliver the card.
  11. Listen, no matter how many times she repeats herself, she’s processing a lot of emotion and information, so sit there and pretend it’s the first time you’ve ever heard it. This is where your precious therapeutic communication skills come in. You are not there to fix her problems. You are there to ask questions and hold the emotional space for her.
  12. Whoopee cushion galore! Make her laugh! After she vents and gets all the yucky stuff out, you gotta replace that spent energy with positive thoughts and feelings.  Read more in my blog post, The Power of Laughter.
  13. Focus on the positive. If your friend’s coping style is hysteria, set your conversational compass on the positive: “I noticed your blood counts are going up a little. That’s great!” or “It looks like you have more energy today. Are you feeling better?” Even if she continues in her habitual negative direction, over time, she may trim her course toward the true north of hope.
  14. You’re not a hero; you’re just doing your job. As a nurse, I’ve seen some friends crowd in with a “To the Rescue” attitude when they accompany their friend to treatment. Remember that you are not saving anyone. You are not being this loving to get some kind of reward or title. You are supporting this person in a selfless way, regardless of whether you get any acknowledgment.
  15. Starbucks anyone? Whether it’s coffee or tea, or just the yummy pastries you’re after, taking your friend to Starbucks may help create the feeling of normalcy in her life. If her treatment is pretty heavy, she may be too tired or sick to work or “go out” most of the time. If you offer that she get dressed and accompany you for a quick coffee break (or bring it to her if she doesn’t feel well enough to go), she’ll feel loved, as if she weren’t a “patient” for a little bit. You’ll show that you just want her company, and you miss how it used to be.
  16. Date Night. If you know your friend’s treatment schedule, plan a date when she can expect to have the fewest side effects. Whether it’s a girls night out, or a dinner for two, it’s important your friend gets to dress up and feel sexy and youthful every once in a while. This can be a healthy distraction.
  17. Cancer-Free Days. On days when your friend is feeling great, she may want to avoid the topic all together, and that’s OK. I can remember on my mom’s good days, when I’d bring up the topic, she’d say, “Oh, today I don’t have cancer.” Be sensitive to these times, as it feels good to have a break, when your entire life doesn’t revolve around cancer. This would be a good time to talk about what’s been going on in your life, and distract her with things you used to talk about before her diagnosis.
  18. What’s up, doc? Once someone is diagnosed, her calendar fills up with doctor and lab appointments and scans, and then of course the chemo and radiation appointments. This can be daunting, and often lonely if her spouse can’t accompany her to every one. Offer to join her. “What if I work full time?” you might ask. Well, this is when you sacrifice a day of work, get a babysitter if you have to, and go pick her up from her house (yes even if it’s across town and in the opposite direction of the cancer center) and take her to her appointment. This will be a great opportunity for you to learn what’s really going on with her treatment.
  19. Bring food! Folks, you don’t have to Wolfgang Puck your way through an eight-course meal to make her happy. Something simple and healthy is enough to show that you understand that treatment leaves her too tired to cook. Just make sure you’re aware about the dietary restrictions with certain chemos. Read my blog, Food (or lack thereof) and Cancer to learn more.
  20. Speak the lingo! You’ll notice your friend has earned her degree in medical terminology seemingly overnight, and if you want to follow the thread, you better pick it up. Understanding her diagnosis, prognosis, chemo regimen, lab results, and side effects will really show you have an interest in her health. If the diagnosis is fairly new, there’s a steep learning curve, and having two sets of ears at the appointments helps to not miss anything. A lot of my patients have admitted that they haven’t heard a word the doctor was saying in their follow up because they were still in shock that all this was really happening. That said, don’t be so much of an expert that you try to educate her, give her advice, or assert your opinion, unless she asks for it. Never answer for your friend with a doctor or nurse. Your job is to be a fly on the wall and be supportive.
  21. Get physical! Nothing shows love more than touch. Hold her hand during treatment, give more hugs than usual, and most importantly, offer massages! If you suck at back rubs or have a foot phobia, take her to go get a professional massage and then you both get treated!
  22. Buzz it, baby! The majority of female patients I’ve cared for have reported that even if their other side effects were horrible, such as painful mouth sores and vomiting for two days straight, they admitted that shaving their heads was hands down the most traumatic experience in their entire treatment. So much of a woman’s identity is in her hair. Even women like my mom, who swore she didn’t care about losing her hair, eventually break down when it starts falling out in patches with a gentle stroke of the finger. Shaving it at the first sign of losing it will prevent a prolonged heartache. Support her by going with her. (Don’t forget to donate any hair that’s at least 10 inches and hasn’t been bleached!)
  23. Wigs aren’t just for costumes! Some women prefer beautiful scarves and hats, and still look gorgeous in them, but others prefer wigs. My mom always said that scarves made her feel more like a patient, whereas her wig looked so real she felt normal when she went out. People who didn’t know she had cancer would compliment her on her sexy new haircut. Joining your friend to pick out a wig can be fun. Make it a playful experience and try on wigs with her, making sure to try the crazy ones too. Wigs can be very expensive depending on the length and whether the hair is real, but having more than one can be great to mix and match with different outfits, and she’ll get to feel like someone else for a day. Remember some insurances will cover the cost of one wig; it’s called a scalp prosthesis.
  24. Taxi, taxi! Running her errands on occasion shows you understand how she often doesn’t have the energy to run her own life. Don’t just offer and hope she’ll decline. Instead ask, “When can I pick up the  kids? What groceries do you need right now? Can I drop something off at the post office?” Some women are used to being superwoman and won’t feel comfortable delegating their To-Do’s to you or anyone else. But be persistent; healing should be her priority, not errands.
  25. Donate some elbow grease. When you’re in the middle of a barf-a-thon, the work-a-day stuff like vacuuming the house, doing laundry, or cleaning up after kids is an impossible task. Like my mom always said, every mother’s favorite words are “How can I help?” This is true for anyone going through cancer treatment.
  26. Everybody loves goody-bags. Soft blankets, pillows, ginger candies for nausea, relaxing music, a journal, hats, scarves, and gloves or hand warmers for peripheral neuropathy are always a nice surprise. Gifts don’t have to be expensive, but these items become sacred during treatment.
  27. Hold her hair—or wig! Remind you of college? Tossing cookies is no longer a thing of the past, and emotional support is important now more than ever. The simple act of being there, or putting a cool washcloth on her forehead will mean the world to her. You don’t want to be the friend who just shows up when things are pretty. You want to be there through the nitty gritty. If you’re squeamish, bring gloves or plug your nose. Chemo comes with a variety of lovely side effects, ranging from vomiting and explosive diarrhea, to constipation and more.
  28. Cards are not just for special occasions! Bring a card almost every time you see your friend (of course I’m going to recommend a LumpyCard here!). Try to abstain from sympathy cards, as you don’t want to feel sorry for her. You want to encourage her, make her laugh. What you write in your card she will read long after your gone, and she will set it out to remind her of your love, and lift her up when she needs it most.

Launch Time for LumpyCards!

greeting cards for cancer patients, lumpy cards, happy birthday, merry christmas, get well, lumpycards,

Hey everyone!

In my last post I shared with you that I’m starting my own greeting card business specifically for cancer patients. Well I’m excited to tell you that I’m ready to launch!

In order to get exposure and do some crowd-funding, I just launched a 30-day Indiegogo campaign. If you’re unfamiliar with Indiegogo, it’s a great online funding platform with a global community of people raising awareness about their projects — everything from non-profit start-ups, to jewelry-makers, to upcoming authors, and more.

When people contribute, they chose from a variety of “perks,” that the project owner lists, which get mailed to them upon the completion of the campaign. My perks, for example, start with two printable cards for $10, then a 5-pack of my greeting cards for $25, a 10-pack for $50, two 10-packs for $100, putting a card you designed or something inspired by you in my collection is $250, bulk orders for cancer centers are $1,000, and a customized bulk order, complete with the organization’s logo, quantity of 1,000 is $1,500.

Check out my gallery on Indiegogo, where you can see all the cards I’ve designed, so you know which ones you’d like to order.  Be warned: many of my cards are very crude, not appropriate for all audiences!

 

 

With your help, I can reach my goal of $6,000. Contributions will go towards printing costs, paying my amazing artists for card illustrations, marketing, and start-up costs of the company. My dreams are BIG! My vision is to sell wholesale to cancer centers and hospitals all across America, and retail on my website, or other online retailers, like Etsy.

To make it more accessible for people of all cultures, I will have the website, videos and all the cards in Spanish, and possibly another language of your choice (part of my stretch goals). I’ll have add-on’s like T-shirts, totes, mugs, hats, and posters if I meet my funding goal.

If you don’t have a loved one who has cancer, and you can’t find a use for my cards, or can’t afford to contribute, help spread the word about my campaign by commenting on it, sharing the campaign link, liking the LumpyCards Facebook page, following LumpyCards on Twitter, Pinterest, connecting with me on LinkedIn, or sharing my website with someone you think might benefit from it.

Thank you all so much for your love and continued support! I couldn’t have done it without you!

The Power of Laughter

Well hello there, readers! It’s been a while, but I’ve been working on something that I know you’ll really like. Many of you follow my blog because you or someone you know has been affected by cancer, and I’ve posted lots of stuff about cancer and holistic health.

 

As I’ve chronicled part of my journey with you, you know that I’m an oncology nurse and my mom recently went through the breast cancer battle. I say now with all the joy in my heart, that she gracefully won that battle, is now done with five months of chemo, 6½ weeks of daily radiation, and is completely cancer-free. Her hair is growing back, she’s regaining her energy, and she’s a more inspired, happy woman now than I’ve ever seen her before.

 

During her treatment, and through many of the those that I watched my patients go though, I searched for ways of sending them light to raise their mood a little. Companies like Hallmark have greeting card lines that are cancer specific, but I found them clichéd and saccharine.

 

So I am pleased to announce, that I will be starting my own greeting card line, specifically designed for cancer patients. Most of my cards are playful and witty, some are congratulatory for when patients finish treatment, and others are seasonal.

 

I’ve had so much fun designing these cards, and cannot wait to get them out to the public! The business is moving quickly and my website will soon be finished, complete with a catalog, price sheets, and a PayPal button. I’ll also have a Facebook and Twitter page, and my first bulk order of cards will be printed soon.

 

Since cancer is a word that has quite possibly the deepest anchor of fear in the the English language, we don’t need to be reinforcing that fear by sending sympathy cards. The most healing thing you can do for someone who is feeling sick is to make them laugh, especially if they can laugh at their own situation, which puts things in a new, not-so-scary perspective.

 

Consider the customary card: pleasant pastel artwork with a syrupy message written in a font intended to look like handwriting. Although there is a time and place for such cards, I feel they lack a very important factor- humor! Now consider this card type: blazing colors of a comical photo or art with a come-on-in message on the front, and a surprise, makes-you-want to-belly-laugh-message inside.

 

Laughter is one of the most therapeutic things we can provide. When a stimulus triggers amusement, something magical happens. The brain activates a chemical cascade: releases endorphins, sends signals to dilate blood vessels, and down-regulates the production of the stress hormones, cortisol and epinephrine, followed by the involuntary rhythmic contraction of stomach muscle and diaphragm, also known as laughter. A cathartic exercise, it releases built-up tension and trapped emotions.

 

So if you know someone with cancer, and you want a way to make them smile, send them one of my cards. And of course, my readers will be the first to know when it’s all launched. Until then, go see a comedy show, tickle a friend, watch a funny movie, play with your pet, or put a whoopee cushion under someone in public!

 

 

Food (or lack thereof) and Cancer

A lot of patients ask me what to eat while they’re on chemo, and I never feel like I have enough time give them a complete answer.

Chemotherapy, by definition, kills cells that divide rapidly, which includes all the cells lining the digestive tract, making patients sensitive to certain foods. The cancer experience in general is very individual, and no two people will go through the same thing, but as a general rule, I recommend that patients avoid foods that are acidic, greasy, or spicy. If nausea is a big problem, bland foods like plain oatmeal and bananas are safest. That’s right, no more Panda Express!

Every chemo affects the body slightly differently, and therefore different regimens call for slightly different diets (i.e. some require avoiding caffeine, others don’t). My friend, Carolyn Katzin, a Certified Nutrition Specialist, has been helping cancer patients develop personalized nutrition plans for more than 25 years. She’s also written a book that includes a list of all the chemotherapies, and what to eat and what to avoid for each drug. You can check it out here.

When I asked my favorite cancer patient of all (my mom) how her food tolerance has been, she says it varies. Bland foods are definitely safer, but one day she will be able to drink a fruit smoothie, and the next day that same smoothie will send her running to the bathroom with immediate diarrhea. (Isn’t she sweet for allowing me to share that with you?)

What about no food at all? I know, I know, not exactly a popular idea.

There is evidence that fasting before chemo may reduce its toxicity. Based on the research of gerontologist Valter Longo, Ph.D, director of the Longevity Institute and professor of gerontology and biological sciences at the USC Davis School of Gerontology, fasting causes normal cells to enter a hibernation state, while cancer cells do not. “The cancer cell tries to compensate for the lack of all these things missing in the blood after fasting,” Longo says. “It may be trying to replace them, but it can’t.” This makes the cancer cells more vulnerable to the following chemotherapy.

A clinical trial is currently being conducted at the USC Norris Cancer Hospital based on Longo’s research. By the end of the study researchers hope to determine the safety and effectiveness of fasting before chemo, and if it really does reduce side effects like nausea. According to USC Norris Cancer Report in the fall of 2012, several of their patients have already had promising results.

But what if you’re not on chemo and you want to kill or prevent cancer? Complimentary medicine offers several “diets” that claim to do exactly that.

In the early 1900’s Dr. Max Gerson began treating cancer patients based on the principle that the body knows how to heal itself; we just have to help it eliminate toxins. He would prescribe large amounts of fresh raw juices with specific combinations of fruit and vegetables, along with coffee enemas to help your liver detoxify itself. I’ll bet you never imagined having that kind of relationship with your morning Starbucks, did you?

And then there’s the ever-so-popular juice cleanse. It provides you with an avalanche of vitamins and minerals from the array of veggies and fruits, which, along with plenty of water, is said to flush out toxins. Since it takes the average person about 18 hours to completely eliminate one meal, the idea is to juice for 3-5 days to help your body clear out all the, ah-hem… crap. If a cleanse is not compatible with your lifestyle, willpower, or medical condition (always ask a doctor before trying this kind of stuff), then adding a juice a day is an easy way to increase your veggie intake.

So whether you have cancer, or just want to prevent it, there are a million diets out there. Everything from apricot kernels to the Dr Budwig protocol, which calls for flax oil and cottage cheese, just make sure you do your research, and get more than one doctor’s opinion.

Disclaimer: I’m a chemo nurse, not a doctor. Nothing I say in my blog is intended to diagnose or treat disease. If you need help, seek professional medical attention.

 

Visualization for Cancer?

Visualization.

What comes to your mind when you hear that word? Maybe you think of the Law of Attraction, that it’s a bunch of hocus pocus?

It’s useful for more than just goal achievement strategies. In fact, it’s well known now, that our brains can’t tell the difference if an action is real or imagined. For example, when you visualize yourself doing squats and how the motion actually feels, the same regions of your brain are stimulated as if you were actually bending your knees under your weight.

Recently, visualization has even been effectively used to increase brain blood flow in recovering mobility for stroke patients. They would have normally been told by their doctors that their affected limbs would never be mobile again.

So what does that mean for cancer? Can we really visualize our cancer away?

Maybe.

Bernie Siegel, MD, a surgeon from New Haven, Connecticut, believes miracles happen to exceptional patients every day. Many patients like the idea of the war on cancer and use terms like cancer warrior, survivor, and destroy the cancer cells. Siegel believes this empowers the “enemy” and encourages patients to change their image to something more loving.

“The body knows how to heal.   All you need to do is give it the message that you believe in your inner strength both physically and emotionally.”

Last November, when a Melanoma patient who was having a hard time visualizing lymphatic drainage after having all the lymph nodes from his groin removed, Siegel offered some ideas.

“Try an image like replacing the nodes and lymphatics with a set of new ‘pipes.’  See the image as new streams that, when meeting any obstruction, flow around it easily.  This image comes from an ancient Taoist saying—Water goes around obstacles, it ‘resists not.”

As effective as visualization is, it works better when you involve your emotions in the mix, since they are tied to our endocrine system. When you have certain emotions, whether they are anger or joy, corresponding chemicals are released into you blood stream, reinforcing the connection of the image with your body.

Repetition is key. By visiting our healing images over and over throughout the day, making sure to “feel” the image physically and emotionally, we are creating new neuro networks of brain cells.

My mom is brilliant. She has created several visualizations that are healing for her. Here’s what she does for anger-based stress:

“When I have negative energy, my gut literally tightens,” she says. “So whether I’m at a stoplight, or in my kitchen, I visualize myself pulling out thick black spaghetti-like stuff from my abdomen, but I actually physically move my arms and hands as if it were real. Then I ball it up and throw it as far away from me as I can, and I keep doing this until I feel better. When I’ve done it 6 or 7 times I feel like that anger or depression is gone.”

White light healing is a common visualization, as it creates a sense of divine love and purification. Here is my mom’s version:

“I stand with my legs and arms spread out, smiling up at the sky, saying, “I’m yours” (she tears up now as she talks), with white light pouring over me, and I have thousands of tiny holes all over my body where the white light shoots through me horizontally. Then the light changes, and engulfs me like a cocoon, warm and soothing. It makes me feel so good, like something greater than me is in control and is going to take care of me.”

My friend Wendy Robinson, CPC , gave me two visualizations that I use daily. She’s a huge fan of rose quartz, for it’s beauty and properties of love. If you know you’ll be in the presence of difficult people or situations, she recommends you visualize your entire body in a tube of soft pink rose quartz, breathing in bright, warm love, and breathing out bright, warm love. Imagine that once you’re in this tube, it stays up around you and protects you. Any negative energy aimed at you will fail against your shield and will be returned to them with love.

Some people are more sensitive to other people’s energy, and may have difficulty shaking off their negativity. Robinson’s second visualization helps you shed the ties that keep you connected to them. When you leave their presence, imagine you have giant rope-like cords attached to your core, and you’re physically chopping them off, watching them wither on the ground. Then meditate for a moment on your own energy, visualizing it expanding from your center until it fills the room.

If you’re new to visualization, and you want to see how it makes you feel, you can start by searching ”white light healing” on YouTube.

What are your visualizations?

 

The Blessings and Bother of Cancer Support

The other day I was infusing chemo for an attractive middle-aged women wearing a brunet wig, and I knew that like all the other patients I had been giving chemo to, she would be going home to friends and family with questions and expressions of support, some of it indispensable, some of it unwelcome.

 

After caring for so many cancer patients at work, I’ve noticed that everyone prefers a very different type of emotional support. Some want to be left alone, some want to be showered with attention. But what they don’t want is dismissive expressions like “everything will be ok,” or “It’s all in God’s hands.”

 

To gain more perspective, I interviewed several women with breast cancer on their experiences and needs for help. I was amazed at how different their stories were.

 

I think most people I encounter with cancer share my aunt’s feelings about support. She says she always felt more supported when people called, visited or sent cards. As soon as she got diagnosed she told everyone. She had friends she didn’t expect to hear from offer to accompany her to doctor’s appointments, surgeries, or just dinner or tea. She says that she always wanted to hear from friends and family except in one particular point in her treatment, when she had to make the decision of a single or double mastectomy and what kind of reconstruction to get. My aunt, who’s husband was a career Naval officer, also felt that the support groups and psychologist at the Navy hospital were helpful and encouraging.

 

An acquaintance from my hometown who survived breast cancer twice, had the opposite opinion. She says support is a tricky thing. People can say the wrong things and mean well, and they can also say the right things and not be genuine. It was hard for her to open herself up to people because she was sensitive to their intention. She believes support is essential, but she was picky about whom she told.

 

“I developed a radar for who was asking questions because they cared and who just wanted information. I had to draw that line because it was life-threatening for me. I knew they didn’t have hope for me.”

 

Abrupt, invasive questions often came from neighbors. She felt they wanted to know all the details, but they didn’t expect her to live because she had a more aggressive cancer.

 

She felt like people in support groups couldn’t relate to her because at the time of her first diagnosis, she was very young and had a much more aggressive form of cancer than the other women in the group.

 

When I asked my mom how she felt when family and friends called, visited, or offered help, she explained how support can be, well, a drag.

 

“In the beginning it’s overwhelming to have people call because you’re dealing with the idea that you have cancer, and just that thought alone is overwhelming,” said my mom. “Cards, texts, and emails are nice, but it’s hard when you feel like people expect you to get back to them. It’s too much to worry about their shock. There were days I didn’t even want to think about it, so when people who just found out would ask me about it I didn’t even want to call them back. Later it feels better, and I felt more cared for and loved.

 

“You want to move on, and you don’t want people to treat you like you’re going to die, but you don’t want them to ignore you either. It’s bigger than having a bad day. It’s a weird mix. When I’m with family, and they don’t ask what the latest is, it makes me feel bad.”

 

A family friend who practices law in the San Francisco Bay Area, endured the gamut, from caring to meddling.

 

“It was burdensome to have to deal with other peoples’ anxiety about my breast cancer,” she said. “Even though they meant well, they knew some hot-shot doctor somewhere, and they wanted me to send them my test results. I felt resentful that my breast cancer was turning into a vehicle for them to stroke their ego.”

 

She chose not to do chemotherapy, and just do radiation and natural healing like a hard-core, non-fat diet. This was very hard for family and friends to accept. She felt overwhelmed when they tried to give advice or doubted if her medical team and treatment decisions were adequate. “They wanted to fix things,” she said. She feels that for people who have cancer and are not asking for advice or help, then the best way to be show you care is to be supportive of their decisions whether you agree or not. She felt most loved when people offered to come over to have tea or take her out to lunch. It let her know that they enjoyed her company and valued her as a person.

 

She was reluctant to reveal her diagnosis at work because she was afraid that other people in the professional community would write her off and think that she was toast.

 

“I’m a lawyer, for goodness sake. I’m middle aged, but I’m at the peak of my career. People are relying on me, looking to me for strength and hope. I’m supposed to be vibrant. I felt self-conscious about living up to that when I was disrupted by health stuff.”
 

As a daughter of a cancer patient, I too have been buffeted by different types of support. I love it when people ask how my mom is doing, how I’m handling everything, and then just listen and say one or two simple supporting comments. And that’s it.

 

But lately my patience for not-so-therapeutic listening has vanished. I find myself getting angry when my mom comes up in conversation, and people just want to tell me about their grandma, brother, friend, pastor who had cancer and survived and how, or died. “It’s not about you!” I want to yell. Every cancer is so different. What makes them think my mom’s journey will be anything like theirs?

 

What I hate the most is the the comment “Everything will be OK.” Even if that were the case, the whole experience is extremely frightening.

 

The best support you can give a cancer patient is to ask how she’s doing—and to ask like you care—and then just listen. You’re not a fixer; you’re not a cheerleader; you’re not a wise one. You’re a listener.

 

That’s support.