Doris Cardwell received a life-changing diagnosis of inflammatory breast cancer in 2007. While undergoing treatment, she co-founded a mentor program for the cancer center treating her. She also created community events to educate, encourage and empower people regarding cancer. Doris was the first Survivorship Community Outreach Liaison for her local cancer center. She is an advocate, educator and encourager on issues facing cancer survivors. Doris is a wife, mother, empty nester, survivor of life and lover of all things coffee. An avid speaker and blogger, she is available at www.justdoris.com.
Supporting people with cancer can have an added dimension when you are a survivor yourself. Here are three ways a survivor and caregiver can practice self care.
There is a Bible verse in the book of Ecclesiastes that says it is better for two to walk together. It says when one falls down, the other can help pick them up.
It is always hard when someone you love receives a cancer diagnosis. You often feel scared, sad and want to support them in any way possible. When you are a cancer survivor yourself, there may be additional feelings that come into play.
Survivors may be really good at supporting others who are going through cancer because we understand. We have stood in those shoes. However, we must also realize that because we have stood in those shoes, we need to be self-aware. I have found that I need to take care of myself when I am supporting others. I experienced a time when many people I loved were facing serious medical issues. One time, I communicated with many of them in the same day. By the end of that day, I looked at my husband and said, "I am OK, really I am, but I can't hear one more sad thing." I told him my sadness meter had passed full, and I thought If I heard one more sad thing I would fall apart.
Over the years, I have learned that our desire to help others has to be equal to our desire to take care of ourselves. When you fly on an airplane they tell you to place your own oxygen mask on before you try to help others put theirs on. I, myself, am not always good at this concept. I understand it, but sometimes find it difficult to practice.
Here are some practical tips I have begun to use to help me improve in this area:
First, I schedule a little bit of down time into my day. Even if it is just sitting down quietly with a cup of coffee, those moments allow my mind to process what I am feeling. Maybe it's a five-minute yoga routine I find online. Maybe it's a short walk around the block — anything to allow my mind to process.
Second, I journal. When I journal, my mind can write what it can't think. There have been many times when I realize what I’m feeling through journaling. I see fear that my own battle with cancer might not be over, fear that I am going to lose another friend, stress that I don't know what to say, or a desire to be there for them that I can't make happen.
Third, I pray and meditate. It helps me stay focused. No one knows what will happen in any of our futures. It just seems that when you have had cancer, you realize that even more. That realization can either make us stronger or more stressed.
These three simple tips, when I remember to use them, make me stronger. They help keep me grounded. When I am grounded I am a better support to others and a better steward for myself.