5 Things I Learned From Surviving Leukemia....and Becoming a Cancer Therapist

I recently celebrated the Anniversary of my “2nd Birthday.”  This was the day, 7 years ago, that I received a lifesaving Stem Cell Transplant for Leukemia.  Today, when I talk to people who are coping with the turmoil of their own cancer diagnosis, I have so much to tell them about what I have learned over these past 7 years from my own cancer journey and from the training I received to become a Cancer Therapist.  From diagnosis through survivorship, I always find myself telling people these same 5 things: 

1.      Find a doctor and medical team that you have complete confidence in.  Seek out the people who are experts in your disease, and who believe in you and your success.  Then, follow their directives 100%.  If you haven’t made the right connection yet, keep looking!  This will be the foundation of your healing.  I am forever grateful to the people who were on my team.  I would not be here today without them.

Who is on your team?

And....The rest is up to YOU! 

2.      Take care of your Body, Mind, and Spirit.  Make a conscious commitment to doing something every day to nurture yourself. 

 Move your Body.  Even if it means just walking down the hallway of the hospital or once around the block at your house.  Ask your medical team if there is an oncology certified massage therapist in your hospital or in your community, or treat yourself to a free Healing Touch or Reiki session with Life Spark (www.LifeSparkNow.org).  Be gentle, keep moving, and listen to your body.

What does your body need to heal?

Calm your Mind.  Take long, deep breaths.  Adopt a mantra or affirmation about your body and health that you can repeat over and over to yourself.  When you say it, it should make you sit up a little taller, open your heart a little wider, and put a smile on your face.  Some examples are, “My body is strong, healthy and vibrant.”  “Every cell in my body is healthy, balanced and in-harmony.”  “I am in Perfect Health.”

What is the vision you have for your health?

 Listen to your Spirit.  Search within yourself to find that spark of intuition that tells you, “You can do this!”  I call this your Inner Healer.  Pay attention to that intuition, to the people who show up in your life, to the books that are recommended to you, and the dreams that you have.  These are all messages from your Inner Healer that can be used to promote your healing and well-being. 

What is the message from your Inner Healer?

 3.      Make a List.  When you are not feeling good it can be surprisingly hard to remember what can get you back on track.  And even on the worst days, it can be the small, simple things that will turn your day around.  To prepare for this, write down all of the things that fill you up, lift your spirits, and keep you motivated towards health and healing.  Post your list in your hospital room or in your home where you will see it every day during your treatment and recovery, and commit to doing several of them each day.  Your list could include listening to your favorite music, cuddling with your pet, getting outside into nature or imagining yourself in your favorite spot, connecting with your best friends over the phone or on social media, savoring your favorite food, drink, or treat (even though it might not taste quite the same during chemo!), following a guided meditation, or watching a funny TV show or uplifting movie. 

What are the things in your life that fill you up?

4.      Live in the Present Moment.  After a cancer diagnosis, it is natural to spend a lot of time contemplating the past (“How did this happen?  What did I do wrong?”), and worrying about what might happen in the future (“What if I get bad side effects from the chemo?  What if the treatment doesn’t work?  What if my cancer comes back?”).  But no amount of worrying will change the future.  Worrying will only take away your peace of mind in this moment.  When you find yourself depressed about the past or anxious about the future, gently bring your attention back to the present moment.  More often than not, you will find peace!

How much of your time do you spend worrying about what is going to happen in the future, and thinking about the past?  Can you focus instead on how you feel right now in the present moment?

5.      Look for the message of Love.  I believe that there is a message for each of us in cancer, and the message is always love.  I know, that may not be how you are feeling right now, but trust me, it is there!  When you are ready, begin to examine what changes you need to make in your life in order to become the most authentic, vital, and healthy YOU.  Start to define what you want your life to look like after cancer.  (Yes!  There is life after cancer!)  The answers to these questions will guide you to not only survive, but to THRIVE:

What do you appreciate about your life?  What is missing?  Are you in touch with your life’s purpose?  What are your top 10 goals for the coming year?  How do you want to be remembered by the people you love?

If you feel stuck or are struggling to answer any of these questions, please contact me at 720.984.1582 or melanie@cocancercounseling.com.  It would be my honor to support you on your journey!