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    And for Linda, and for Pat, and others who have asked. It’s so hard to know where to start with Complementary Therapies! My first thought when I was diagnosed was that I would use all the big guns my oncologist recommended, and all the big guns from the Complementary Therapies arsenal. At the time I was diagnosed, I had been a full time professional Massage Therapist for nearly 20 years. I knew all about complementary therapies, but I had been neglecting myself, badly. I wasn’t just a wounded healer. I had been limping for a long time. I had just emerged from an awful divorce, huge work stress (the hospital where I worked was downsizing, and the pressure was on!), and my children were suffering. They were 7 and 9. I knew something had to give, but I didn’t really know how to get out of the quicksand I was in.

    When I got the diagnosis, I knew I had to fight and fight hard. I decided that I had an opportunity to heal my whole life, and that embracing that task would give me the best chance to survive. I sought healing of body, mind and spirit, and most importantly to mend the rifts between them. The word “congruence” was my operative word, and still is. So, my take on complementary therapies is really an approach rather than just a list of modalities. having said that, I pretty much used them all!

    My practices for myself:
    1. Say “yes” when anyone offered help. Accept with gratitude. Believe that I deserved the help and that giving it was a blessing to the ones who offered.
    2. Put myself first, for the first time ever in my life, no matter who it upset. I was fighting for my life, and I knew it. A total stranger told me to do this, and I believed her.
    3. Actively and deliberately sought my own happiness. It took awhile to figure out what that looked like.
    4. Made a decision to stop beating myself up, period. Nothing was gained by my perfectionism, and I was beating myself down. Now I question my tendency to self blame, and if I find something that needs to change, I take note and move on.

    I had to rely on #1 a lot, because I was not in a financial position to pay for everything I received. Still, I accepted it, and it all helped, more than the sum of it’s parts. Here’s my list:

    1. Massage Therapy. I received a massage once a week while I was receiving chemotherapy. My colleagues at the hospital did this for me voluntarily, on their own time. I will always be deeply grateful for this.

    2. Healing Touch. I received this through a Stanford University study called Healing Partners. I received one session per week for six months.

    3. Acupuncture. My mom offered to pay for this because she knew it would help. I was a struggling single mom when I went on this journey so I did not have the funds to do this. I received acupuncture once every two weeks.

    4. Guided Imagery. I believe this had a huge impact on my treatment. I used it to keep my blood cell counts up, to maximize the effectiveness of my treatments, and for healing after the treatments were over. I’ve already written a short article about that on the pages for Complementary Therapies. Excellent Guided Imagery CD’s and MP3 downloads are available from Health Journeys.

    5. Support: I went to an Art and Imagery support group. This was a combination of Guided Imagery and using art therapeutically. It was very helpful. That program closed at the hospital and I really miss it. I also found my Caringbridge site to be a huge source of support.

    6. Counseling. Fortunately for me, this was available through California Cancer Care where I received my treatments.

    7. Laughter! I didn’t do “laughter therapy” (whatever that is…I haven’t tried Laughter Yoga but I have a friend who’s into it and loves it) but at the time I was diagnosed I had been attending a comedy improv class every week, and I made sure to continue. I timed my chemotherapy so I would be up for my class, and I didn’t miss a single one! Even after my surgery, I couldn’t play, but I could watch. I’m convinced that laughing my head off every week was very good for me.

    8. Exercise is very important! I took advantage of the “Living Strong, Living Well” program at my local YMCA and did weights, cardiovascular exercise, and whatever else seemed like fun. I also did yoga at home, and some chi gong. I had a couple of videos and they worked well for me. I have a chi gong video that offers a 10 minute sequence for cleansing, called simply “chi gong for cleansing”. I am convinced that my complete recovery from surgery with my range of motion intact is because I did yoga.

    9. Nutrition: My doctor told me, “Eat what looks good to you”. I wanted to be a martinet about what I ate, but I had decided to accept all help so I indulged in comfort food when it was offered. What I did do is create a smoothie that covered all the bases, and I had that every day during chemotherapy. Now I’m a bit more careful, but not super strict. I find the information on “Food for Breast Cancer” useful and I read the research they publish.

    10. Cultivate hope, actively. I read everything I could get my hands on about recovering. The book “Remarkable Recovery” was my constant companion. I read the stories over and over, especially if I was feeling worn out by it all. The gist of what I got from it was that beating the odds was about doing it how you do it best, and it’s different for all of us.

    11. Self expression and creativity. Everybody has her own way to do this. I found blogging, and loved it. I also got tons of support online, which was a huge help. I picked up a paint brush for the first time in 20 years or so. As I went through radiation, I was also rehearsing for a musical, again for the first time in 20 years. For you it may not be this sort of stuff, it may be something else, but whatever it is, it makes your spirit hum! If you’ve forgotten what that is, it’s time to discover it again!

    12. Prayer. Whenever anyone offered to pray for me, I said yes, by all means please do! Acknowledging that my life was worth praying for, and allowing total strangers to pray for me (I was on a ton of prayer lists) was an important act of self love. There is research that supports the effectiveness of prayer, and I believe deeply that true self love sets all kinds of positive cellular happenings in motion.

    13. Substitute “Feel Everything” for “stay positive”. I heard that stay positive stuff all the time from well meaning people. Being a Pollyanna does not help. Neither does denial. What does help is honoring what you feel, give it expression, and keep things moving. I didn’t elevate my lousy mood by pretending I didn’t have it. I blogged, “feel like crap, going to bed” and then later absorbed the messages of hope from my friends on my guestbook. I cried my way through a few infusions, and then felt better. After I cried I could make art or settle into my warm bed with some hot chocolate. Everything is allowed!

    There’s my first stab at it ladies, for my dear IBC sisters and anyone else this may help. If you have any questions about what’s here so far, or want me to elaborate some more, please send me an email at elizabethdanu@rocketmail.com. What you tell me you want is what will be in Part Two. In the meantime, I am sleuthing out links and resources.

    I hope this helps!

    Love,
    Elizabeth

    Today I realized that I had neglected my self care. I knew this because I discovered that I had become out of touch with myself. This discovery came when I took the time to settle in again.

    Self care is not something I do because it is the right thing. I don’t do it because I am terrified of recurrence, which is of course a legitimate fear. I don’t do it because somebody wags a finger at me and says, “please take care of yourself!” It certainly is a challenge to do it. I do forget, lose track, neglect my own needs for something I feel to be more important, like an idea that has run away with me, handling some kind of family upheaval (my children are at each other’s throats again) or omigod so much to peruse on the internet that can’t wait until tomorrow.

    So why? Why is self care so important, if not for the reasons I have just stated?

    Some months ago, some of my survivor friends and I were discussing self care and why it is so hard to do, why we fight against ourselves to do it. All kinds of reasons came up for not doing it. We were all aware that it was vitally important if we wanted to stay well. We decided to do some guided imagery. We entered into our heart space to explore. What came out of that journey is the picture I’ve included in this post.

    For me, self care is love in action. When I care for the temple that houses my spirit, my spirit is happy. When my spirit is happy, I will expand, take risks, be creative, give back. When my heart is open I will find my own treasures there, and share them. When my body is rested, well fed and tranquil, my mind is not so cluttered and I can be patient and focused. In this way I have more to give to others and to myself. In this way everything I give to others is mine also.

    “self care is the key to the treasures of my heart”

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    Reading that old Caringbridge entry reminded me again of how grateful I am to my strong, resilient body.  It took such good care of me for so long.  I was under duress for so many years, I really can’t blame my precious body for letting in that intruder.  I met him in a dream, and he was wild.  Not smart, but crazy, aggressive, and scary as hell.  He was in my house, waving a broom to bludgeon me with.  He was only in the front hall.  He hadn’t made it upstairs, into the living room, or the kitchen.  In my dream, I ran outside in terror to get reinforcements.  I knew I couldn’t get him out myself, but I knew that the four men outside would come in and carry him out.

    I had that dream in the morning on the first day of chemotherapy.  I hadn’t had my PET scan yet, but after the dream I was confident that I was safely at Stage III, only locally advanced.  Steve suggested that I attack the wild man with fierce little monkeys.  Always ready to run away hand in hand with my imagination, I decided that I didn’t even want to see the scary bald man with the sharp teeth in my house.  I imagined him in a vast, empty white space, being slowly put to sleep until he was in a coma.

    Then, I changed the image to a beautiful landscape, vast and green, with dozens of little waterways running through it.  Marring this scene was a huge, ugly gray slag heap, with two smaller ones next to it.  As the Adriamycin and Cytoxan entered my veins, an army of busy little purple Ewoks, chattering and busy, marched in and went to work on those slag heaps.  I decided that they needed some bigger, stronger help, so I called in the Wookies.  It was a busy scene there!  They loaded up the mess that came off the heaps into barges, which were carried away.  Every time I had an infusion, there would be a couple of days when my breast would flush, and be extra red.  Then it would subside and the sheet in my breast would feel softer and smaller.  These tumors went from 11 centimeter and 2 plus centimeters to half a centimeter and less than a millimeter by the time I had surgery.  This was the AC.  I came up with different visuals for the Taxol and herceptin when that time came.

    I was of course concerned about white blood cells.  I watched another man get sent home, unable to have his treatment, because his white blood cell count was low.  I knew that I could not allow that to happen to me.  I could not give the aggressive cancer I was fighting any opportunity to regroup and become resistant.  Not one bad cell could survive!  So I needed those white blood cells and I needed plenty of them.

    Oh, they were so beautiful!  I love my white blood cells.  They emerge from the rich brown earth (my bones) and take shape in pairs.  They are strong and powerful, a male and a female sent out into the world of my body to keep it safe.  They look like greek gods, dressed in tunics of white and gold.  They are very tall, and they have wings.  They are noble, and they are relentless.  Any intruder is destroyed immediately with a beam of gleaming light like a thousand suns that comes straight from their hands.  If two of them are not enough, they communicate telepathically to other pairs of guardians, until there are enough to surround the threat completely.  I still to this day am aware of, and grateful to these majestic and fearsome protectors of my body.

    By the fourth infusion, my neulasta dose was cut in half.  When I started Taxol and it was neupogen (a slightly different medicine) I needed a reduced dose of that one as well.

    I met my objective.  My treatments were uninterrupted.  My body stayed the course, and I will always appreciate my body for it’s loyalty and patience.  I admire it so much for not allowing that terrifying breast cancer past my lymph nodes to escape into my organs and bones.  I am amazed and grateful that it withstood years and years of relentless stress before succumbing to a persistent invader.  Even then, my body was still there for me, and I finally learned how to be there for her.

    My beautiful white blood cells are still there, protecting me.

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