November 9, 2018

taking care of myself during cancer

When I was first diagnosed with cancer and I had to go in for my second biopsy, I sat down with a nurse and the radiologist afterwards. They were very aware of my overwhelm about my cancer diagnosis (my tears and anxiety were a pretty dead giveaway). They were wonderful and patient and supportive. They explained all sorts of resources and groups and how helpful it might be for me to reach out to other women, young moms my age, for some support. I’m certain I had heard this before from other doctors, but the sweet radiologist urged me to focus on getting myself better and taking time for me right now. A big part of me wanted to roll my eyes at her, just like I felt like doing when I heard that before, and yell "But do you realize I have FIVE kids--a son with special needs, teenagers, and young baby we are fostering and hoping to adopt soon?! How in the heck do you think I am going to focus on myself right now??" However, it was the first time that I also knew in many ways there was truth to that. I felt a whispering that yes, in order to be here healthy and happy for my kids next year, in 5 years, in 20 years, I needed to make sure I was allowing myself to focus on my health--on getting better. That this would be a period in my life I would have to learn to tame the mom guilt and think carefully about what I needed for my own mental and physical health.

A buzz phrase right now is “self love.” You hear it everywhere. And it drives me nuts a little. Because I think people sometimes use it as an excuse to rationalize selfishness,  self-centeredness, and pride. Because the best things in life also take a huge amount of sacrifice, humility, and selflessness! And I think it is so important that we don’t forgot that! It’s ok to live a hard life and make sacrifices for others and the greater good. God can use us for good and that brings great, deep joy.

But I do think it is important to find a balance between taking care of yourself and sacrificing to your complete destruction. It’s ok to say no to someone. And it’s ok to say yes even though you’re not sure you want to. It’s ok to miss one baseball game out of ten and go to a girls night. It’s ok to miss a baby shower because you need to be at your sons concert. It’s ok to leave your house a mess and take your kids to the park and the library. And it’s ok to skip the living room fort building and clean and scrub and make everyone do chores all morning. I think we just have to find the balance that works for us. We can’t always say yes and we can’t always so no when it’s not appealing. Sure, we can think about what “serves” us, but we can also do something that we don’t want to do because it serves someone else. I think everyone needs to think and pray about the balance that is right for them. Sacrifice truly brings forth the blessings of heaven! I have seen that in my life. But not if we are in the hospital for a nervous breakdown or seeking escape through addictions...

So I knew that cancer would be a time in my life that I would often have to put myself first. In order to heal physically and to cope emotionally, I knew I would have to ask for help, accept help, stay in tune with my mental state, and not be afraid to speak up about what I need or couldn’t do. Which means that Eric has had to step up and fulfill a lot of roles around the house and with the children that I used to do (lunches, and bedtime routines, etc). Because sometimes I need my sleep or I just need time by myself. Eric is amazing. My kids are so lucky to have such a special father and I am grateful that they can bond with each other even more right now. (Though I definitely think that Eric will be ready for a vacation by himself when my cancer treatments are over! Haha).

I also have a new motto “Accept help.” When someone offers to help, I graciously accept. I used to be quick to say no, but now I try to think about what would be helpful and I let them know. It is a new way of living for me, but I know I couldn’t get through this time without accepting help. Many hands make light work. And I think you develop a stronger connection with someone when you allow them to help you.

We hired a house cleaner. Holy moly, that is a life saver right now. I’m grateful that we were able to work out our budget to make that happen because knowing that someone is coming to scrub the bathrooms frees up my time and limited energy to focus on the laundry, picking up, spending time with my family, and resting. 

I make it a priority to get out with friends for lunch, yoga, play dates, and date nights. Staying social has truly helped me get through this. It means that sometimes my house is messy or Eric puts the kids to bed one night and then I do the same when he goes out another night. But friendships have helped me get through this time.

When I’m feeling overwhelmed on my bad days, I let Eric know that I need a break or I can’t handle it right then. I have to remind myself that today I might feel this way, but in a few days I will feel better. And I always do. So I don’t feel guilty (try not to feel guilty) when I know I need time for myself. Everyone will be ok. 

I set simple goals for myself each day. I listened to a podcast by Brooke Snow and she said each day her goal is to “move her body and move her soul”. I love that. I can interpret that in so many flexible ways each day—walking, exercise, dancing, studying, serving, reading, wondering. But when I take that time for myself each day to “move my body and move my soul” I am so much happier. I, also, made a list of my top ten things I need to do each day to feel like I accomplish things and to take care of myself. I actually then turned that list into a chart. I wrote each thing on a mini sticky note and when I do it I move it from one side to the next (I don’t do the chart every day, but it hangs as a reminder and I use it when I need extra motivation). My ten things are movement (yoga, exercise, walk), sincere, specific prayers, clean/organize, study scriptures, meals for my family, connect with others, serve (my family, calling or others), writing, rest (nap, reading, show), and a hot shower. These ten things are flexible, simple, and make me feel good and happy when I do them each day. I like having a balance between goals to take care of myself and accomplishing things for myself and others (albeit simple things). 

I have a whole slew of simple things I do at different times to help me handle everything going on. I journal, listen to music, go on walks, and have long talks with Eric about life. I focus on what I am learning. I reach out to others when I can. I eat out more. I listen to podcasts and watch shows. 

I know this post isn’t very polished (I’m totally chemo brained from my last chemo today!). Maybe when my mind is clear next week I will do some editing (or wonder why I wrote all this! Ha!). But I think it’s imprtant to understand that sometimes in our lives, like cancer, we need to take a little extra care for ourselves. Hopefully, by doing so I am allowing myself to heal properly and cope with all of this crazy all consuming cancer stuff. But I think we also need to always be thinking about and finding the balance between self-care and sacrifice.