Recovery from Cancer – Four Steps to Wellness

By Barbara Cunnings-Versaevel
Having just gone through the flu and implementing recovery steps for my own return to wellness, I’m reminded of what it took to recover from cancer. Basically, I use the same steps over and over again during times when my body has lost its way. These steps help me and my body retrace their way back to wholeness -it’s a step-by-step process.
First Step – Rest
Illness is the body’s way of getting our attention and advising us to stop. There are occasions when we get a warning – a slow down. Other occasions, such as cancer – and most recently for me, the flu, the body comes to a full stop.
When this happens, rest is about the only thing that I can do. Given enough rest, the body will eventually heal itself. Sleep restores the body, fevers burn out viruses, and the mind pauses long enough to reset itself. The first two days of this flu, that’s all I did – sleep. Can’t even remember if I ate – must have had something but not sure what.
With cancer, my body didn’t come to a full stop, such as the flu, but my life sure did. One day life was moving along at a normal pace, the next day when I heard the diagnosis, it stopped. I recall feeling like I was in a bubble. The world was going on around me, but I was encased in this bubble of ‘pause’ not sure what would happen next. I couldn’t go back and I sure didn’t anticipate what going forward might entail. It was at this point that I went into ‘rest’ mode.
Second Step – Nourishment
Eventually our bodies require something other than rest in order to move forward. With the flu, it was liquids and small meals of soup or broth – something light but nourishing. It was time to rebuild energy at a cellular level.
When I was going through cancer treatment, nourishment went through many different phases. After surgery, my taste buds were still intact. I focused on what would be the best foods to help my body heal. I recall scouring health books at the public library for clues. At one point, I found a practitioner of the macrobiotic diet. It was a confusing time as there were so many different points of view. Ultimately, I chose plain healthy fruits and vegetables, lean meat, and eliminated any ‘junk’ food or non-essential food.
Once into chemotherapy and radiation, it became what I could get down, what tasted good, and what I needed to keep my weight and energy levels high. I’m not sure I ate the healthiest of meals. At the lodge in Victoria, I recall having Ensure milkshakes with ice cream. Sweets weren’t high on my list thankfully. Neither was coffee – I’d lost my taste for it. Also my go to meal about five days after chemo was a fried egg sandwich with cheese and ketchup – something I hardly ever ate. I think the grease soaked up the chemo drugs. My cancer buddy had fish and chips – same scenario – go figure!
On an amusing note, I recall years before when I would get the flu or a bad cold, in order to rebuild my body after being so depleted, I’d drink Guinness Stout. It is rich in iron and nutrients which help rebuild the blood. With special permission from the lodge nurse, my cancer buddy and I would share a bottle of stout each night before bed. Sure helped us sleep and got us through the worst of that part of the journey. A word of caution – it tastes best when it’s chilled. A solution not for everyone but it worked for us.
Step Three – Exercise
Regaining energy is a key component in any recovery plan. At the time, it may not be what you feel like doing but believe me, it is what you need to do.
This past week after the flu, I felt really weak and definitely depleted. I did know that if I sat around any longer or lay in bed, I would get weaker. The first time out, I did a short walk at a slow steady pace. The fresh air, even though it was really cold out, felt invigorating. Cleaned out the cobwebs in my brain and the movement of walking got my system flowing again.
The next time out, I did a longer walk at again a slow steady pace – definitely not my normal fast pace. I took the route with the least resistance – mostly downhill. It’s the long slow distance routine. The day after, I went the same long route and let my body pick out a quicker pace. And so it goes. My energy started to come back as my body reset itself, got oxygen into my system, and burned out the brain fog.
When going through my cancer recovery, I did the same thing. There were days right after chemotherapy when I did the short walks. As I felt better, the walks lengthen and I returned to my tai chi class. I could always gauge my energy levels by how well I managed inclines or stairs. It always took a week or so before I could do the stairs without stopping. But exercise I did – no shrinking on this one – as I knew it was my way back to health.
Movement creates lymphatic flow, flushing out the toxins that accumulate in our body. It oxygenates the blood creating a non-friendly environment for cancer cells. All systems work better when constantly being used, flushed and energized. Additionally, exercising increases the positive endorphins – the feel good ones that fight fatigue and depression.
Step Four – Contemplation
This is the phase where a major rethink on how we live our lives might be in order. Life can start to snowball without us being aware that we have fallen into unhealthy patterns of living. Stress may have crept in. Busyness can upset healthy eating routines. Lack of time can impinge on our time for exercise. This is when our immune system starts to falter and illness has the opportunity to slide in.
I can relate. Prior to the flu, I felt I was becoming overwhelmed by too many projects and commitments. My ordered life of balance was starting to tip over. I had already planned to take stock over the holidays. The flu was the push that said – stop already. Definitely, I am in reset mode and rethinking what is necessary in my life, what has meaning, and how can I simplify my life while keeping what is important.
Cancer did this for me in a major way. I used the time while I was going through treatment to do a full life reassessment. Many huge life changes followed to create the space I needed to create a healthier life without cancer.
Summary
Over the years, I have followed the above steps when I find myself drifting off my healing path that was clearly defined during my cancer recovery phase. These are times when I’ve fallen ill, find myself in uncomfortable situations, or generally know that something is ‘off’. If I go back to the above – rest, nutrition, exercise, and contemplation – I will invariably find the truth and answers in the quiet time of healing. They may not be the answers I wanted to hear, but they are the answers I know in my ‘gut’ are the ones I need to heed.
Healing and staying well takes constant surveillance and courage to be honest with yourself; then take action.
To your health and wellness,
Barbara

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