While there is a difference between cancer and mundane medical crises, the mundane counts. Try to be holistic. Survive flu season as well as cancer. Practice wellness.
Felicia Mitchell is a poet and writer who makes her home in southwestern Virginia, where she teaches at Emory & Henry College. She was diagnosed with Stage 2b HER2-positive breast cancer in 2010. Website: www.feliciamitchell.net
After something like cancer, you would think that we would be ideal patients. Maybe you are, but I am not. For example, although my cancer follow up is like clockwork, I do not always seek immediate attention for other matters. I attribute this reluctance to patient fatigue.
Patient fatigue means you have reached your limit. All the poking and prodding that goes with cancer feels like enough. Wanting to be healthy, sometimes you ignore the obvious. You might fracture your elbow in a fall and return to your office, ready to go through the pile on your desk. What is one more ache when you live with chronic pain? What is a bruise when you are scarred?
Truly, while there is a difference between cancer and mundane medical crises, the mundane counts. Try to be holistic. Survive flu season as well as cancer. In fact, since cancer is not always curable, pat yourself on the back when you come down with something that is. Here are a few tips to help.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Getting caught up in oncology checkups and scans, it is possible to forget to schedule routine physicals, eye exams and dental checkups. All of the above are important. Physical therapy checkups are good to help you to tweak exercises for post-surgery pain or lymphedema. While cancer surgeries and treatments have side effects (like losing a tooth or getting arthritis in the rib cage), there is support to help us monitor how well we are surviving the cure. Take advantage of it.
Keep up to date on shots.
After multiple infusions and other routine blood work, even with a port-o-cath, another needle stick might seem daunting. Look on the bright side. A flu shot is a one-shot deal once a year. Get it (unless it is contraindicated). My physician recommended a pneumonia shot, and I got that too. Shingles? I was holding off until 60 so, of course, I ended up with shingles six months short of 60. With my medical history, I wish I had taken the shingles shot earlier. (I also wish I had not self-diagnosed with poison ivy.) Talk to your doctor. Schedule in routine and other inoculations.
Do not ignore the obvious until it abscesses.
Some wounds need basic home care. Others require more effort. Learn to recognize an infection before it hunkers down (deep down). I took a spill on a rickety board crossing a boggy area on a hiking trail. I was so proud of myself for pulling out my own splinter that only on the way home did I come to my senses and double-check my handiwork with a healthcare professional. Long story short, I ended up with a lecture on bacteria and a round of sulfa drugs. You need not leave your house, however, to hurt yourself. As a friend said another time after I tripped over a storage box, “a little infection is infection.”
Learn to acknowledge pain.
Some years before cancer, I had a kidney stone. It was so painful that the security officer at the ER came out to see why I would not leave the car. After that experience, I knew when another kidney stone arrived. While I did decide to go to urgent care only seven hours after the symptoms started, I let the pain (thus the kidney stone) linger for months before following up with a urologist. After cancer, a kidney stone just seemed infinitesimally insignificant in the big picture of things (or tumors). When you have a high threshold for pain, one side effect of being a survivor, you need to be objective. Take good care.
Celebrate relatively good health.
The body is an awesome organism. If we are lucky, we watch it age. As a person who is surviving cancer ages, there are multiple worries, from relapse to metastases to side effects from radiation, surgery and chemo (including other cancers). Try not to get bogged down in the worries. Not every cough means you have metastases to the lungs. In addition, only your doctor (not Google) can diagnose that. Eat right, exercise, keep a journal, meditate. The best thing about my cancer treatments was going into the process in otherwise good health. Knowing I might not live as long as the next person, I could eat cookies all day long or enjoy carrots and cashews instead.
Perhaps these tips can help inspire you to share your own suggestions about routine body maintenance after cancer as well!