Healing is a Personal Affair by Barbara Cunnings-Versaevel

Healing from cancer is the prime objective when diagnosed. Often this is a blank slate in the moment of diagnosis. What will the healing process look like? What will I need to do to heal and move forward to health? Where do I turn?

So many questions in the moment of sheer disbelief, shock, and fear. The word ‘cancer’ carries the image of death. This doesn’t have to be the case. More and more stories of those who have survived are coming out. I’ve survived – I can attest to the fact that a Stage 3 breast cancer diagnosis (in 1990) does not have to mean the end of life.

There are many options for healing available. Lots of books have been written on how to heal your life and heal cancer. These books cover topics such as:

  • Nutrition
  • Exercise
  • Stress Management
  • Family Relationships
  • Spirituality
  • Traditional and Complementary Therapies
  • Body/Mind/Spirit

The selection and choices can be overwhelming. I recall that time. People would share what they knew, what they believed I needed to do, what foods to eat – all meant with such caring. Their caring often fell on a mind in pause – stressed beyond belief – and totally overwhelmed.

How then does one navigate this journey?

Every individual is unique. We gravitate to what fits our belief system, our lifestyle, and our way of being. As we move forward in this healing journey, our outlook changes as new information or experiences impact our knowledge base. We become changed – a new person.

For example, my cancer buddy and I adopted very different modalities. For me, tai chi was a saving grace. Before my cancer diagnosis, I had joined a tai chi group. Yoga had never been something I felt comfortable doing. As a dancer, tai chi was more dance-like to me – a moving mediation rather than sitting still. My buddy found tai chi too slow. She preferred a brisk walk.

Another cancer buddy went on ‘bucket list’ adventures. She attended healing retreats, explored shamanism, delved into Buddhism and traditional Chinese medicine. For me, my budget was very tight. This led me to activities that fit within what I could afford.  I drank Essiac, an herbal remedy, set up a regime of vitamins, ate more vegetables, meditated for stress reduction, and walked daily to regain my energy and fitness. I explored Aryvedic medicine, went for massage, and read voraciously about life.

No one thing makes a difference

In this healing process, there is no one magic activity, herb, nutritional supplement, or exercise that will make the difference. It’s all about a combination of factors that together create the life you need to feel well, heal and move forward. Healing comes from the inside out. Knowing who you are on the inside will guide what you do on the outside. It will call you to the tools you need to facilitate this healing.

Our personalities are different.

What is relaxing for one person or less stressful is the opposite for another. Some of us are introverted, such as myself – people who need quiet time to rejuvenate. Others are extroverted. These individuals need people and activity to reenergize them. You need to know where you are on this spectrum to understand how to regain your energy.

I’m put in mind of my recent vacation with my sister. She’s an extrovert. I’m the introvert. We had one week at a cottage which I found immensely relaxing. The next week we spent at her home visiting relatives, having family over, checking out various places that I hadn’t visited for some time.
The week at the cottage was stressful and not relaxing for my sister. She needed to be more active. The week at her home for me was stressful as I craved the quiet and needed more space to regroup. I was exhausted. Over time, as we have traveled together, we have learned to compromise. For each busy day, we have a quiet day. This time it was a quiet week and a busy week.

What works for you?

The same principle works for our bodies in terms of food. No one diet or eating plan will fit everyone. I’ve learned to do muscle testing so that I can find the foods that agree with me, not what someone else says. Occasionally I forget, mostly because there are foods I like to eat which I know are not in my best health interest. Ice cream is one of them. I love ice cream, especially in the summer. However, I am allergic to milk and eggs. I pay the consequence for the treat.

I experiment with ways of eating. Sometimes one way works for awhile and then it stops being effective. I was moving in the direction of becoming vegan. The hitch for me was the use of soy (tofu, soy cheeses, soy milk, etc.) as a replacement for protein. I’m allergic to soy. This cut out a huge selection of foods and likewise made it difficult to eat in vegan restaurants or buy vegan selections from a deli. A great many of their selections had soy in them. I’ve found my own way to work around this situation bringing into my repertoire ideas from several ‘plans’. We have to find our own way of eating that works specifically for us as an individual.

What makes you want to move?

Since exercise is a huge component of the healing process, finding an activity or activities that bring you joy and are fun is essential. Otherwise, fitness becomes a chore and stressful. I love to walk, have always loved walking since I was a child. I walk fast as my friends will attest. The fresh air, except for our bitter winters, is exhilarating. Summer is better. Dancing – I trained and worked as a professional dancer. I love moving to music, performing, and using my body in full movement. Sports were never my thing. Yes, I have played tennis, squash and golf. I’ve skied. But my fall back, the one thing I do every day and absolutely love is walk. It’s fun for me. What works for you? What brings a sense of joy to your being? Is it cycling, skiing, yoga, basketball – what is it?

How do you de-stress?

What takes you to a place where you lose track of time? Is it a hobby, being with people, reading, an activity, or meditating? Although I love my quiet time, yoga and sitting for meditation once I got through my initial healing period was not for me. I’m thankful I read the book ‘Beyond the Relaxation Response’ by Dr. Herbert Benson. It made me aware that knitting, walking, reading, and even cooking were all meaningful meditative practises that bring the same level of peace as sitting in meditation – at least for me. Not everyone will agree, but I know for a fact, that I can drop into another time and place with a great book, so much so that I never notice that my dog has dropped numerous toys at my feet in an attempt to get my attention. Knitting is another activity that requires quiet contemplation. I can knit and think or knit and listen to music, or knit and just be still. Whatever my body needs in that moment is what I end up doing. Walking is the other meditation. The quiet of nature and the rhythm of the body moving, arms swinging, create a symphony of relaxation.

It really is about you.

I’m sure by now you can appreciate that we are all unique. Our bodies, our personalities, our moods, our talents, that to put us into cookie cutter programs just doesn’t work. Healing is a personal affair – an affair of your own making. The process of finding what works for you is a trip to your authentic self. It’s a trip to your healing center where miracles happen. Taking the time and enjoying the journey is a gift to yourself that will reap rewards not only for you but also for those around you. Healing is about healing a life, not just a disease. In doing so, we become our best self for however long we are here on earth.

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