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Rest Is Vital for Cancer Survivors


The value of rest for a cancer survivor is paramount.

There's a four-letter word that all of us should use on a daily basis and that word, is spelled R-E-S-T. Rest, as defined by the dictionary, means to cease work in order to relax, become refreshed or recover strength.

The health benefits of resting have been realized over time through many scientific tests and measurements. Relaxing helps our bodies by lowering blood pressure, decreasing anxiety, reducing pain, providing a state of calmness or improving concentration. Rest also allows our bodies to rebuild cells and perform repairs to the vital organs. Muscles recover from being overworked, the electrical impulses in our brains tend to fire more efficiently and waste products can be effectively eliminated.

In many cultures, the benefits of resting have been realized as they set aside a specific time of day for rest and relaxation. This daily rest time has proven to provide better health and has increased productivity.

Rest, though necessary for good health, isn't always easy to achieve. Some find it difficult to still their bodies and relax. I am one such person.

For a short time after being diagnosed with breast cancer, my body cried out for rest. It took time to realize my body had been traumatized and I was unable to perform as I did before cancer. Though I did my best to do all the things I'd done before surgery, my body balked. I just didn't have the same level of energy as before.

Resting was mandated by my doctor and he reminded me, "Major surgery requires a period of rest for complete healing to take place."

So, I rested. It was very difficult at first. But my body felt unhealthy and weak. I knew I had to make time to relax.

As I grew stronger and continued healing, I began adding more and more activities to each day. I felt better, so I began doing more. For some reason, I took on the mindset that I'd been given a second chance at life and that I'd better do all the things I wanted to do before it was over. The fear of a cancer recurrence was always in the forefront of my mind and it became a driving force in my life.

Pushing harder and harder to do and be and accomplish, I found myself packing so many things into my days that soon, I was unable to sleep. My mind constantly raced with thoughts of tomorrow. I was always planning the next thing.

Every day became busier than the one before. Often, I had so many things on my plate that I wouldn't even think about going to bed. When I did go to bed, I was unable to keep thoughts from running rampant. My mind would not turn off and that led to night after night of insomnia. Knowing that sleep was an important part of the body's rejuvenation process, I called the oncologist and asked for something to help.

At first, he didn't want to prescribe anything. He asked if I'd tried natural remedies like melatonin, setting a routine before bedtime, etc. I assured him I'd done all of those things, but nothing was working. Finally, he agreed to give me medication to use on a short-term basis. He warned there was the possibility of becoming dependent and that frightened me.

The medication did help, and I found, after the first night of taking it, I awoke feeling rested and refreshed. The goal was to train my body to return to a normal sleep/wake cycle.

Sometimes, it's necessary to talk with your doctor if you're unable to rest and relax. Often, medications can be prescribed to help. For the cancer survivor, rest is of utmost importance. As our bodies recover from treatment and build new cells, we must find time to get good rest so we can heal.

A cancer scare can definitely make one feel there's a limited time available to accomplish plans and goals. That feeling is the natural result of facing a brush with death but there's no reason to push so many things into a day that it causes stress related illness or sleep deprivation.

If you're struggling with the post cancer syndrome of "Gotta get it done because time's running out," try to remember that none of us are promised tomorrow. Today is all we can handle. Tomorrow has enough problems and concerns of its own. There's no reason to wear yourself out trying to cram as much as possible into the minutes, hours, and days you have left. Just take time to be present in the moment and enjoy life.

A good way to relax involves conscious breathing. This is a process of focused breathing. As a person concentrates on breathing, the body begins to relax and stress melts away. There are many websites that offer instructions on this type of relaxation technique.

Rest doesn't necessarily mean sleep. It does, however, mean ceasing from strenuous work. Taking time to read a book, pet an animal, listen to peaceful music. meditate, pray or whatever helps you find a sense of peace.

If difficulty relaxing is plaguing you, remember your body. If you've undergone chemotherapy or radiation treatments, your body has toxins that need to be eliminated. Resting will help the body cast off these unwanted byproducts but without adequate rest, the body will suffer.

Rest is vital to recovery. Remember to take time for yourself. Even a short rest period will do wonders. Listen to your internal body clock. When it says it's tired, that's your que to stop and be still for a period of time. It doesn't have to be a long rest. Even five to ten minutes of stillness can help strengthen the immune system.

Never feel guilty about resting. It's OK to take things a little slower and your body will thank you for it.

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