Managing Stress After Cancer

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After cancer and chemo, I tell myself all the time that nothing matters more than your health.

cartoon drawing of cancer survivor and blogger, Rachel Martin

While I think many of us believe in that philosophy, it does not negate the other ‘stuff’ that does indeed, still matter. Because life isn’t just about the big moments and experiences; it’s also about the day-to-day management of families, households, careers and other important things.

After a clean six-month CT scan a few weeks ago, people have asked me how I’m doing and I’ve responded with a strong statement of ‘I don’t have cancer; nothing else matters’. In my head and my heart, I believe this. But even with all the reasons in the world to remain elated about my current NED status, I can’t seem to escape the stressors of everyday life. And that’s not a good thing.

I stress about the work I need to do for my job. I stress about the weather. I stress about whether or not there’s enough propane for hot water and whether or not my car has gas for my next trip. I stress when the kitchen is messy or my house feels ‘out of order’. So, when stressing about the small stuff starts to impact me, I start asking myself why I get caught up in the things that matter… but really don’t.

The cancer I was struck with was high-grade neuroendocrine. According to the Mayo Clinic, Neuroendocrine tumors are a group of uncommon tumors that start in specialized cells in your neuroendocrine system. These cells combine the traits of nerve cells and hormone-producing endocrine cells. They link your endocrine system, which manages your hormones, and your nervous system. Neuroendocrine cells are scattered throughout your body.

It’s clear to me that there is a direct correlation between my stress and my health. After an earlier diagnosis of DCIS (early-stage breast cancer) many years ago, I changed my habits to help me stay healthy. As a result, I already eat well and exercise often, and believe this lifestyle has led to faster surgical recoveries and better outcomes for me. Now I just have to nail this last requirement to manage my stress better. I wish it was easier than it is.

So whenever I find myself anxious about something, I start asking myself, ‘what’s a realistic scenario and/or what’s the worst that could happen?’

My work product may be delayed, but no one at work is pressing me for it. The weather may be fierce, but my house will likely stand up to the elements. If my hot water runs out, I can call my propane company for a refill. The likelihood of me running out of gas is laughable as my tank is rarely below ¼ full. And when dishes are in the sink, they’re actually doing no one any harm.

Logically, these day-to-day issues aren’t worth my anxious energy and could really impact whether or not my cancer returns. So I’ll just keep working at finding ways to keep my stressors that shouldn’t be stressors at bay.

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