This is a concept that you may have or will become acquainted with as time lengthens from the time of diagnosis and along the road when you are well into healing mode or beyond.
We like to think that we will remember all the lessons we learned from our cancer diagnosis. The slowing down, the better nutrition, the exercise – all the lifestyle changes we made in order to be well. However, in the real world of living, as we get better and feel better, resolve slackens. You may find yourself easing off and being less attentive to what was working.
I know. This happens to me. It’s been over 25 years since my diagnosis. In that time, I have gone through this process a few times to say the least. Each year out, I loosen up the reins on staying on path and slip into comfort areas.
Is this harmful?
I don’t think so. I actually think it is good and more importantly, realistic. In the periods when I am not staying on track, my body and life lead me back eventually to what creates health. It gives me time to realize that I made all these changes for a reason. They worked. My body liked them. My lifestyle ran smoother. It then becomes a no-brainer that I need to go back to basics.
One thing I’ve found interesting as I’ve traveled this road of recovery, is the change in the basics. Somehow or other, as my body and lifestyle have adjusted to new routines and nutrients, my healthier body needs different elements. I can work a little longer than I used to right after treatment and even in the years close to treatment. I am able to push a little harder to achieve goals. I can ‘cheat’ a little on foods that taste good but may not be something I want in my daily diet. I can recover faster from nights when I don’t sleep well.
However, just like anything, there are limits. This is the process of discovering new limits to the basics. It’s trial and error. For sure, your body will tell you when you have gone beyond.
How do you know?
For me, I start to lose energy. My thinking becomes foggy. I lose interest in activities and projects that I normally totally enjoy. In other words, life becomes a slug.
This can happen when I go one too many nights with poor sleep. This poor sleep can originate from too many things on the go which for me creates an overactive mind that won’t turn off when I go to bed. I’ve taken on too much. Then I have to start saying NO and be more realistic about what I truly can manage.
Food is another area where your body will rebel if you go too far astray from what it needs. I have tried many different approaches to food and supplements. Sometimes they work for a while then gradually they either become less effective or too difficult to maintain. This is when I start listening to my body and figuring out what my body needs and will tolerate. This may not be exactly in line with any particular concept, but an individualized adjustment to my body. And, we all need room for treats or the odd indulgence for foods and/or activities that bring us joy.
For me, ice cream is a big one. I love good ice cream. It brings back wonderful memories of my childhood when my Dad would take us for a drive on a Sunday afternoon. We’d end the trip with a stop of our favorite dairy for a big ice cream cone. There was also a favorite hangout in my hometown of Kitchener, Ontario. An ice cream parlor where they served homemade ice cream. It was absolutely delicious and has spoiled me. I cannot tolerate the run of the mill ice cream sold in the stores. It has to be the real deal – Hagen Daaz or Ben & Jerry’s. There is a limit though to how much ice cream I will eat. It stays a treat, not a regular dessert.
Exercise is another big one. If I don’t get my regular exercise – an hour walk plus my dance classes that I teach, my body tells me. Not only my body feels off, but my whole emotional well-being is off kilter. I still remember my Mom forcing me to my dance classes during study week at school. She always said that I functioned better when I took my classes instead of taking the time off to study. The truth is, I studied better if I was taking my classes. Plus my Mom would probably say I was easier to have around the house.
We all know what works for us. It’s another thing to make sure that we pay attention and do those things all the time. It’s human nature to relax and just enjoy. After all, life needs to be enjoyed. It can’t all be strict discipline.
The important lesson here, the one I’ve learned, is that it is okay to venture into comfort zone. However, we need to be aware when we have strayed too far so that we can pull back to our healthy space and routine. Sometimes it takes longer to realize this timing than others. That’s okay, as long as we know where we need to be in order to stay healthy.
As we’ve talked about before, it is all a matter of defining our path of recovery. Once we know what it looks like, we can always find our way back. It may change a little in direction from time to time, but generally, it will be similar and fairly true. This is the process of discovery – the discovery of who we are and what works for us as individuals, not a collective.
To you and your unique healing path,