Friday, August 28, 2009

Cancer and Happiness

I received a message from CarePages today with an article titled “Instant happiness? Even for people with cancer?”

A friend recently said to me that I should write a book about how I’ve managed to remain positive since being diagnosed with advanced cancer. The truth is, I haven’t remained positive: I’ve definitely had my dark days, and even my down-and-dirty this-fucking-sucks days.

But I’ve also had absolutely joyful, unbelievably blissful, brilliant days. Thankfully, those days have been more plentiful than the dark days.

I guess I could write a book about it, but I have one problem: I’m not sure why or how I've managed to cope so well. No one is more surprised than me that I have continued to appreciate my life and am, overall, happier than I ever was when I was younger and healthier.

In the ‘Instant happiness?” article, the author references “7 steps to instant happiness”. I believe the steps are meant for people in general and not necessarily for those of dealing with a cancer diagnosis, so here are my more cancer-specific comments on each of the steps.

Be positive
I’ve written in previous posts that I’m not a fan of this step. “Be positive” is advice that is just too simplistic for me and it’s too easy to feel like a failure on the days when you need to grieve and lick your wounds. Embracing my ‘dark side’ has helped me to come to terms with the reality of my illness and move on to a more positive state.

Be brave
Yet another piece of advice that makes me want to gag. No disrespect to the author, but there’s nothing wrong with a good cry and even some whimpering and sniveling. Getting out of bed was about as much bravery as I could muster some days. That said, I have a great role model in Mary that showed me how to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward, even participating in physical activities during treatments. Mary doesn’t let the emotional idea of ‘being sick’ keep her from doing the things that she wants to do, while being respectful of her limits.

"Meditation helps us better manage our reactions to stress and recover more quickly from disturbing events.” This is a step that I think does apply to people with cancer. I don’t do it enough (why?) but I definitely experience the benefits when I make the time. During my meditation I mentally visit each one of my organs and express gratitude to them for getting me this far. I thank my lungs for remaining strong in the face of the cancer. I visit the cancer cells and ask them to rest and remain passive; to calmly find a way to exit my body. I force myself to smile during my meditation, even if I don’t feel like it. I imagine joy filling each one of my organs and moving through my limbs to my fingers and my toes. I have never done this exercise without feeling calm, and sometimes even joyful, by the time I’m finished the meditation.

Be kind to yourself
I have spent the last year being kinder to myself than I’ve ever been in my life. For me that means: protecting myself from stress, eating healthy, focusing on the beauty of the moment, spending time outdoors in nature, being with friends that are good for my soul, and getting regular exercise. Most importantly, self kindness includes forgiving myself on days when I did none of this.

Use your pessimism
I see it more as realism than pessimism, but I have spent time thinking about the worst case scenario. I’ve thought a lot about what I would do if/when the cancer progresses further and plan to stay in control of what I can, when I can. The rest is out of my hands and I’m learning to let it go. ‘Let it go’ is a mantra that I sometimes use while meditating, saying it over and over until I really feel it.

Find a calling
I don’t think it’s my ‘calling’, but writing my thoughts in this blog has given me a vehicle for working through my fears and expressing my thoughts. My real calling right now is self-care and doing exactly what I want to do every day, without guilt or obligation.

Act happy
This one doesn’t work for me. I wear my heart on my sleeve and people can see through the act when I’m not feeling happy. As an introvert, I personally find it best to spend time on my own when I’m feeling down, without the pressure of having to pretend and put on a face for others. Then I can let it go and feel good about the time that I spend with the people that I care about.

I’m adding a 8th step: Give love and receive love
I’m fortunate to have lots of people in my life that I love and who love me back. Having Katey the Wonder Dog come into my life has brought a component of unconditional love that has truly added to my happiness. She’s there when I wake up, wagging her tail and smiling (yes, she really does). When I come home, she’s at the door and more excited to see me than any human could ever be. She makes me smile and laugh every day and has truly been a blessing in my life. (And that’s big for someone who has never really been a ‘dog person’!)

1 comment:

POD said...

I could not agree more with those steps and love the one you added too.