Finding That Silver Lining …

Believe it or not, there are silver linings that come with having a Chronic illness. You may not readily spot them, upon onset of your disease. It may take a while. But, rest assured, they are there. For me, personally, it came through enduring five years and eight months of chemotherapy. Even now, just typing the sentence gives me pause. Five years and eight months? Yes, I freaking did that!

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The old me, or pre-chemo me, was a driven perfectionist. I had to be the best, at literally everything, i.e. writer, mother, wife, daughter, neighbor, etc. I had to do better. I pushed myself physically, emotionally and professionally. Each morning began at 4 a.m., even on vacation. I would cycle 5-10 miles. Next, I made breakfast & got the rest of the house going. With them out the door on time, I took a shower and sat down in my home office. There was research to do … rough drafts … final drafts … queries … phone calls, etc. And heaven forbid, if I suffered a little writer’s block. If that wasn’t demanding enough, I had to volunteer. I had to cook and bake like a master chef. I had to have the perfect garden bursting with blooms. Looking back, I wonder how my poor husband maintained his sanity. It had to, occasionally, drive him a little crazy. Yet, he never complained. He was as laid-back and relaxed as I was tightly wired. But change was coming.

Two days after my 50th birthday, I was smacked with reality. Or should I say my diagnosis? While still sitting in the exam room, trying to grasp the situation, my doctor began to talk about immediately starting chemo. It was surreal — like a bad dream. Yet, it was happening. My life, health, everything was turned upside down, in that moment. For those who have experienced it, you know what I mean.

Chemotherapy, no matter what you are being treated for, is a brutal journey. The drugs used can do harm as well as good. And the side-effects — OMG! For me, the nausea and vomiting was intense. At times, it took my husband and son to hold me up. Then, the fatigue would hit — days of it. By the time this subsided, it was time for another treatment. I lived in my pajamas and rarely left the house. My hair became thin and half of my eyebrows fell out. My body became sensitive to hot weather and cold. I began sleeping with a heating-pad, even in the summer. I couldn’t do research, or write. I didn’t even have the strength to sit at my desk, let alone be productive. Every ounce of me was fighting something bigger and stronger. And survival became my sole focus. I lived one day at a time. There were no lofty ambitions, no grand dreams, or fanciful plans. 

Yet, in that painful and mundane existence, I found my silver lining … a new perspective. One that is kinder and gentler. Dare I say it? More reasonable. One that makes living more worthwhile.

The new, or post-chemo, me is motivated by joy. I don’t sweat the small stuff, anymore. It’s a waste of time and energy. The new me is content to simply do her best, whether it’s perfect or not. I now realize what is most important is my happiness. I have become even more trusting of my faith. I am more compassionate and more understanding. I’m a blogger and speaker, because it allows me to write about and support issues that truly interest me. Those that can be helpful to others. The kind that stir passion. Perhaps, inspire? I even returned to the business-sector where I work part-time, for an international company. A change in scenery and/or pace never hurts. It can be pretty interesting … even exciting … without a corner-office. The ability to work is gratifying in itself. I don’t need to climb the ladder of success to be content. I end most days, with the zen of Tai Chi. I volunteer, if and when I can. If I can’t, I don’t beat myself up about it. Believe it or not, saying, “No” can be very therapeutic. The result is a more fulfilling life with less demands and less stress. More family time. More me-time. More smiles and laughter. I love myself and who I am.

In our deepest adversities, we actually grow — mentally and emotionally. It doesn’t take a PhD to realize this. Eventually, it dawns on you. We discover things about ourselves that we never knew. We conquer problems that we never imagined possible. We manage our illnesses and we live. And, in the midst of it all, we find a silver lining. I know that I have.

God Bless …

 

Reference Links:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/chemotherapy/about/pac-20385033

*Photo by Jason Kocheran on Unsplash

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Where Is Freedom?

Or, perhaps, I should ask what is it? Often times, we associate freedom with politics. But, for a moment, let’s consider another form. Many Chronic illnesses infringe upon the patient’s freedom or mobility. They feel chained to oxygen, wheel-chairs, catheters, insulin, etc. They feel a loss of freedom. I understand how they feel and their frustration. I have been there. Occasionally, I allow myself to ponder the subject even now. But it’s nothing like the torment that it once was. Today, it’s more of a reflection. Cathartic. Dare I say it? A celebration of my ability and perseverance. How? My faith. The Spirit of the Lord is truly freedom. Nothing accentuates that fact like doing battle with Chronic illness.

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“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”  — 2 Corinthians 3:17 (NIV)

There are skeptics, I’m sure. To them, I can only add that spirituality or faith has shown medical results. Consider those findings. I’m certainly not here to debate His divine existence with you. Faith is a freedom in itself — a personal journey. I know my experience. I’m more than happy to share it. But I can’t make such decisions for someone else.

If you or a loved one are struggling with a Chronic illness (and millions are), take a moment to reflect upon your battle. Consider turning to your faith, for strength and solace. Or, perhaps, finding it? Take a breath. And embrace the fact that God doesn’t create junk. He creates beauty, intelligence, strength, etc. He created you and I — just as we are — for a reason. There are no perfect human beings.

Your illness is only as enslaving as you allow it to be. That may sound too good to be true, but our mental health effects our overall well-being. Things like stress, anxiety and depression only complicate things. They don’t help. But a strengthened mind can lead to a strengthened body. When you think beyond your condition, you can break the chains that are holding you back. You can find ways to regain that precious freedom. You can discover new talents, hobbies, even careers. And you can live … fully … happily. You can even thrive! 

May God Bless!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.cdc.gov/workplacehealthpromotion/tools-resources/pdfs/issue-brief-no-2-mental-health-and-chronic-disease.pdf

https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(11)62799-7/fulltext#cesec230

https://spiritualityandhealth.duke.edu/index.php/the-link-between-religion-and-health

Sharing Mayo Clinic: Eight Lessons on “Compassion in Health Care”

*Photo by Ryan Moreno on Unsplash

Friendship, Health & Healing

Friendships can be a mysterious thing. I’m not talking about those on social media. I’m talking about real friendships that involve shared life experiences. Some can, well … not be the best of choices. We’ve all had at least one of those. And they should be tossed like bad fruit from the fridge. But most friendships are wonderful, enriching relationships. So much so, that they are literally beneficial to our health and well-being!

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               “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.”                                   — Proverbs 17:17 (NIV)

Friendships have a way of lifting us up, inspiring us and keeping us sane. That’s not my opinion. That’s medical fact. Friends provide social support, during difficult times. Talking with a friend is a way of coping, though we may not see it as such. That alone makes us more self-sufficient, resilient, etc. We are more hopeful — happier. Less lonely. Less stressed by whatever drama is unfolding in our lives. And that leads to less anxiety, less depression. We have better feelings of self-worth, purpose, etc. Overall, better mental health.

Friends can encourage us to live healthier. Friends share things like exercise, hobbies, even diets with us. Friends know our weaknesses. They understand our strengths. We understand theirs. We all benefit from a healthier lifestyle, i.e. weight loss, lower blood-pressure, more energy, better mobility, etc. If your Chronic illness is effected by one of these (and many are), imagine how much better you’ll feel. Friendships have this ability. The Journal of Oncology even published a study of women with breast cancer. Those who had 10 or more close friends were four times more likely to survive their illness than those who did not. Wow!

As we age, friendships become even more vital. Research tells us that seniors with an abundant social life are more likely to live longer. Being socially connected even protects the brain from developing dementia. That translates to a better quality of life — a healthier one.

So, stay in-touch. Re-connect with old friends. Get out and meet new ones. The effort is well worth it. And remember … quality friendships are more valuable than quantity. This isn’t a sports competition. If your “meeting skills” are a bit rusty, try these options:

  • Look for groups/clubs that have an interest or hobby you share. These groups are often listed in the newspaper or on community bulletin boards.
  • Volunteer at your place of worship, museums, community centers, charities, or other organizations. We can build strong connections when working with people who share our interests.
  • Invite a friend/acquaintance to have coffee, or go to lunch. They will usually return the favor. Accept invitations to social functions.
  • Start a new hobby, exercise, take a college class, etc. It’s a great way to meet people.
  • Go for a walk. Take your pet to a dog park. It allows you to interact with others and make new friends.

It’s never too late in life for friendships. In fact, their fun and rewarding. And, as we now know, they’re also downright healthy. So, go for it!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/friendships/art-20044860

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/nourish/201003/the-healing-power-friendship

https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-12905/why-friendship-is-great-for-your-brain-a-neuroscientist-explains.html

https://www.anxiety.org/friendship-can-improve-mental-health

https://www.integrativenutrition.com/blog/2019/02/friendships-can-improve-your-health

https://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/social-ties-16/rm-quiz-health-benefits-friendship

*Photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash

 

Are You Packing?

OMG! It’s June! How did that happen? Time can really fly when you’re busy. And before you know it, vacation is upon you. Most people enjoy traveling. It doesn’t matter if it’s a weekend get-away, or a longer excursion, we are all-in. Eager. Ecstatic. Ready to go. Or are we? If you live with a Chronic illness, a vacation can offer a lot of healthy benefits. But it can also be stressful. To avoid the latter, requires planning. After all, you want to enjoy your vacation!

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By now, you have probably selected a location, i.e. beach, mountains, cruise, etc. No doubt, you have booked your reservations. And if you need to obtain a passport, you’ve most likely taken those steps. So, for a moment, let’s focus on that last month before your departure. If you are traveling abroad, this is a good time to talk to your doctor. You should also discuss your destination, in case specific vaccines and/or medications are needed. Check with your health insurance. Some plans do not cover you abroad. If yours doesn’t, now is the time to buy additional coverage. If you are traveling with oxygen or a CPAP machine, notify the airlines in advance. Some may ask for a letter from your doctor. The TSA can provide more information on their helpline (toll-free at 855-787-2227). They can also give you the details on the screening process, regarding specific disabilities or medical conditions. 

As the days pass, don’t wait until the last minute and stress yourself out. Make a list of things you need to do and check them off, one by one. Are you boarding your pet/s? Confirm that. Confirm your own reservations, i.e. hotel, flight, cruise-line, etc. Think about what you pack. The bikini isn’t your priority item. A Travel Kit is. This kit should include things like over-the-counter meds, prescription meds, your health insurance card, etc. Be sure to pack your kit in carry-on luggage. Nobody needs the hassle of losing their clothes and medications. Your medicines should always be in their actual pill bottles. And if you can, carry copies of your original prescriptions. Pack enough for your trip, plus a couple of days more (just in case there’s a delay). If you don’t regularly wear a Medical Alert bracelet, please add a card that details your medical condition to your kit. In the event of an emergency, it’s a godsend.

Remember the little extras that make managing your condition possible. Do you sometimes need a heating-pad? A neck-pillow? Compression socks? A sweater (even in warm weather)? Make sure to pack these things. You are on vacation. Your chronic illness isn’t. 

Only one week to go. You are almost ready. Stop your mail, if you haven’t already done so. Notify your bank and/or credit card companies that you are traveling. Be sure to make a family-member or friend aware of your itinerary, especially if you are traveling alone.

Finally, it’s time to leave. YEA!!! Vacation has arrived. Enjoy each and every moment. Take your medications as prescribed. Don’t pack too much activity into any single day. Continue to pace yourself. And, by all means, have a safe trip! 

 

Reference Links: 

https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/chronic-illnesses

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/traveling-with-chronic-conditions

https://www.americanmedical-id.com/extra/all-medical-id-bracelets.html?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIgpWv793S4gIVzJ6zCh2gwQPPEAAYAiAAEgIfUPD_BwE

Rare Parenting: Traveling with Chronic Illness and Children

*Photo by Deanna Ritchie on Unsplash

When All Else Fails, Pray …

Often times, we wait until our situation is in dire straits before we pray. Why is that? Scripture doesn’t teach us to reserve prayer for such times. It encourages us to do just the opposite — continual prayer. So, why our hesitation? No doubt, the reasons are varied. Yet, prayer has proven time and again to be the answer. It’s even caught the eye of those in the medical community. In fact, research on the subject has nearly doubled in the last decade. And their results may surprise you!

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“Pray without ceasing.”      — 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (KJ21)

When a person engages in prayer, the body and mind change gears. Consider, for a moment, meditation (the Buddhist form of prayer). During meditation, the patient is in deep concentration. This triggers activity in the brain’s parietal lobe circuits — ones that control a person’s orientation of self and world. A relaxation envelopes the person. The limbic system is activated. This controls relaxation, the nervous system, heart rate and blood pressure. As a result, the person’s brain registers everything as emotionally significant. They are more relaxed. Strengthened. They feel better — inspired even. Prayer, no matter the religion, has similar effects on the body. Perhaps, it is our God-given ability to heal? And perhaps, it’s why Scripture encourages us to pray often?

Research tells us that traditional religious beliefs play a positive role in our health. Over 1,200 studies conducted on the effects of prayer, reveal that religious individuals lead healthier lives. These people are less likely to abuse alcohol, to smoke, etc. Other interesting study statistics include: 

  • The non-religious have an average hospital-stay that is three times longer than those who worship regularly.
  • Non-religious heart patients were 14 times more likely to die after surgery.
  • In Israel, the religious had a 40% lower death rate from cardiovascular disease and cancer.
  • People who are religious are less likely to suffer from depression. And when they do become depressed, they recover more quickly.

Today, some in the medical community consider prayer a part of CAM (Contemporary and Alternative Medicine). This is a combination of natural products, mind and body practices, etc. In easier terms, think dietary supplements, herbal remedies, prayer, meditation, relaxation and art therapies, chiropractic, massage, etc. But many remain skeptics. Research is still in its infancy, on the subject of prayer and healing. We have a lot to learn.

In my life, I have prayed for my own health as well as the health of others. I’ve witnessed amazing results and those that seemed slow to come. And I have never been disappointed. I’ve asked, “Why?” Who hasn’t? Sometimes, the unknown is the most frustrating aspect to deal with. Still, I know the Lord has been very good to me. Along the way, prayer has taught me many things. I’ve embraced humility. I’ve learned patience and experienced a deeper relationship with the Almighty. All positive. All helpful. Once, following a critical health situation, I actually had a doctor tell me to “Thank the man upstairs”. Little did he know, I already had. And I continue to do so.

Prayer may not sound like the answer. But, in our most desperate times, do we really know what is? Or do we simply want to be heard? Healed? Relieved? To a few, it may sound downright silly. To believers, it makes perfect sense. When we struggle with our worst fears, I think we are like a lost lamb … scared … crying out … in need. And, thankfully, the Good Shepherd can hear us. He answers our call.

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.webmd.com/balance/features/can-prayer-heal#1

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/in-depth/alternative-medicine/art-20045267

https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2007/186/10/prayer-medicine-how-much-have-we-learned

https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/5/6/e007345

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/05/07/power-of-prayer/70943182/

*Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

 

 

This Little Light Of Mine …

When I think back to my early childhood, I remember learning this song in Vacation Bible School. I was all of three or four years old. I still remember singing it in front of the congregation. Our teacher had instructed us to hold up our “pretend candles” aka one finger, as we sang. And at 59, I still find this simple little tune to be incredibly uplifting. I think most Christians can relate, which is why I chose it to discuss living with Chronic illness. Sometimes, we allow our diseases to distract us … hold us back … even consume us. If you live with one, you know what I mean. It happens all too often. But, for a moment, let’s focus on making the most of every day … every week … every year. Let’s consider living our lives to the fullest and letting our light really shine!

 

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  “In the same way, let your light shine before others …” — Matthew 5:16 (NIV)

First, accept that change is inevitable. It isn’t your fault that you’re sick. You didn’t ask for it to happen, or want it. But here you are. Your willingness to help yourself is your choice. Making changes to your lifestyle is also your choice. No one can do it for you. And, I know — it’s hard enough just living with your disease. The beauty here is that making changes allows you to feel a measure of control, in what often feels like an uncontrollable situation. And no matter what it specifically entails, change isn’t a bad thing. It’s just different. Healthier even. So, consider what you need to change in order to manage your disease. You might even want to make a list, or keep a journal. Then, take action. Perhaps, you are adding a form of therapy? Maybe, exercise? Or a diet? Your schedule may need some adjustments. You may need to ask for help. By all means, do so. That’s what support systems are for. Talk to your doctor. Stay realistic. Change won’t happen overnight. And patience is a necessity with any Chronic illness. But, slowly, make those changes at a pace that is comfortable for you. Think of it as laying the foundation for your future.

Second, don’t be afraid to set goals or dream. Yes, you have a Chronic illness. But you also have a life. It isn’t over. It’s changing; remember? Despite your diagnosis, you still have interests … pursuits of happiness. We all do. There are things that are gratifying like our careers. And others that we have longed to experience. Perhaps, you’d like to learn a new hobby? Enter a golf tournament? Get more involved in your community or an organization? Maybe, there’s a promotion that you’d like to accept? Or a destination calling your name? While the sky may not be the limit, there are a lot of options available. So, talk to your doctor. A well-managed Chronic illness will allow you to live life to the fullest. You’ll be happier, healthier, more productive, etc. Now, you’re building on that foundation.

Third, stay optimistic. I know it isn’t always easy. Some are naturally pessimistic. Thankfully, optimism can be learned. And, to be honest, it should be. This is one habit that we all can benefit from. Studies have proven, time and again, that optimism plays a positive role on our physical and mental health. Here are a few easy ways to be more optimistic:

  • Stop comparing yourself to others in a competitive way. We’re all unique.
  • Think positive thoughts.
  • Look for the good, even in difficult situations. Silver linings do exist.
  • Focus on positive outcomes. Don’t face a challenge expecting defeat.
  • Consider your own beliefs. What is your definition of purpose? Of life?
  • Strive to improve your health. When you feel better, you are more optimistic.
  • Challenge your mind every day, by learning something new. It helps to provide personal satisfaction.

Last but not least … I can attest that every change that I’ve made, either to my lifestyle or surroundings, has yielded positive results. This includes a couple of things that I was initially very skeptical about. While there are no guarantees in life, not mine or yours, there are options. Live fully and let your light shine!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/turning-straw-gold/201509/20-tips-living-well-chronic-pain-and-illness

Intensive lifestyle change: It works, and it’s more than diet and exercise

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ServicesAndSupport/managing-long-term-illness-and-chronic-conditions

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/21st-century-aging/201212/keeping-positive-outlook-when-dealing-chronic-illness

https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=1&contentid=4511

*Photo by Frank McKenna on Unsplash

Smile: It’s Good For You

Sometimes, we overthink things. This is often true with Chronic illness. We overlook the simple, yet effective ways to help us feel better. Why is that? Are we looking for more difficulty? More expense? More drama? Surely, not. I think, just maybe, we are skeptical of simplicity. In this modernized society, we have somehow conditioned ourselves to believe that we need all the latest gadgets, gizmos, treatments and meds. We tell ourselves that if it’s “new”, if it’s advertised, then it must be better. Yet, in reality, we actually benefit from very simple things … free things … easy, natural things. And the perfect example of this is a smile!

 

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When you smile, you activate neural messaging in your brain and chemicals are released, i.e. Dopamine, Endorphins and Serotonin. Your brain is basically having a party and your entire body is invited to join the fun!

Smiling wards off stress. It relaxes you, if only for a few seconds. It lifts your spirits. You are happier. You feel better. That smile also lowers your Blood-pressure and your heart-rate. It can even relieve pain. Imagine that!

Each time you smile at someone (even a stranger) and they smile back, you both have created a symbiotic relationship. And both of you reap the benefits. In that moment that you exchange smiles, each of your bodies releases those feel-good chemicals into your brain. In those few seconds, both of you feel happier … more attractive … even more confident. This actually increases the chances of living longer and leading happier lives, in both individuals. And it wasn’t difficult or time consuming. Heck, it didn’t even cost a dime!

If you can share a little laughter, the benefits are even greater. In the short-term, a smile that ripples into laughter releases more of those feel-good chemicals … fills your lungs with oxygen-rich air … stimulates your heart and your muscles … relieves stress … and just makes you feel good. But in the long-term, it can improve your immune system … relieve pain … boost your mood … and increase personal satisfaction. Remember that old cliche, “Laughter is the best medicine”? As it turns out, there’s medical proof to back it up.

Now, granted, there are times when it’s hard to smile or laugh with a Chronic illness. But did you know that even a fake smile can trick the brain into releasing these feel-good chemicals? That in turn can have the same positive results on the body and emotions. So smile, even on the bad days — reap the benefits. In the long run, you’ll be glad that you did!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/cutting-edge-leadership/201206/there-s-magic-in-your-smile

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456

https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/smiling-can-trick-your-brain-happiness-boost-your-health-ncna822591

*Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash