Tools for Getting Through It
Getting through cancer treatment takes physical, emotional and spiritual strength. Even before you have finalized your plans for treatment, consider which activities and resources will help build and maintain the strength you’ll need to see it through. Seattle Cancer Care Alliance has many options available.
What’s In Your Toolbox?
Consider supporting yourself with these items or approaches:
- A pen and a pad of paper
- Group of people talking
- Running shoes, barbells
- Yoga mat
- Books and tapes
- A therapeutic counselor
- A puppy or kitten
- Tea pot, herbs, etc. (complementary therapies)
Also check out our wellness programs.
Writing is incredibly therapeutic. It can take the form of a journal, poetry or a website where you post entries for family and friends to read. You may even want to publish a hard-copy account. Writing helps you process your experiences, and it gives you a written record to look back on. It doesn’t have to be a solitary experience; there are journal writing groups and classes where you can write and share your story.
Support groups are a safe haven for many people. Most groups have only one rule, and that is not to talk outside the group about what went on during the group meeting. Support groups are considered a form of mind/body medicine and have gained mainstream acceptance. A Stanford University Medical Center study found that breast cancer patients who joined a support group survived on average for twice as long as those who did not. Many local hospitals run support groups and you can join whether or not you were treated at that hospital.
One of the most common side effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatment is fatigue. Paradoxically, rest is not the best thing for dealing with fatigue; exercise is. A 15-minute walk outside in the fresh air can work wonders. Exercise fights fatigue, right down to the cellular level.
Team Survivor Northwest (TSNW) is a nonprofit organization founded in 1995 by Dr. Julie Gralow, MD, an SCCA oncologist. TSNW provides health education and exercise programs for women in all stages of cancer treatment, recovery and survivorship. Their programs include indoor training, fitness walks, biking, dragon boat racing, hiking, snowshoeing and rock climbing. A TSNW team runs the Komen Race for the Cure every year. Most programs are free. You can get more information by calling (206) 732-8350.
Yoga helps many people recover from chemotherapy treatments faster and provides a calming, relaxed effect on the mind and body, especially on treatment days. The experts say yoga, which combines exercise and meditation, can improve overall physical fitness and help with problems like depression and anxiety, and it feels good. SCCA has a therapeutic/gentle yoga class for patients and caregivers that meets every Thursday, 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. in rooms 3100. This program is sponsored by the Living Well with Cancer Program of University of Washington Medical Center.
Some people with cancer want to read everything they can about their disease. Others can’t bear to add to the information overload by seeking out new information in addition to what their doctor is giving them. Other people feel one way on one day and another way on another day. If you are interested in learning more, check with the SCCA Patient & Family Resource Center for books, information on classes and support groups, and other health information. The Resource Center is on the third floor, next to the reception desk in the main lobby at SCCA. Drop by, or call (206) 288-2081. The Resource Center also has computer workstations with Internet access so that you can search the web for health information, send and receive e-mail, or set up a new e-mail account.
Mind/Body Books and Tapes
Used for information or as a way of meditation and visualizing a healthy you, mind/body books and tapes can provide comfort on a very personal level. “The Exceptional Cancer Patient,” a tape by Dr. Bernie Siegel, tells the stories of cancer patients who have recovered. For others, the Resource Center at SCCA is a good source for other forms of inspiration.
Many people cannot imagine facing an illness like cancer without the help of a good counselor. You may prefer a professional therapist or a minister; either way, counseling really helps. Seeing a counselor at least once every two weeks through treatment and recovery can help with tough issues, like keeping your kids’ lives as normal as possible or handling a bout of depression that make come along, and other life issues that are common, or not so common, during this focused period of time. SCCA has social workers whom you may contact for assistance.
And then there’s “kitten therapy.” It’s pretty hard to feel unhappy when two kittens are attacking your ear. Or when they’re cuddled up under your chin and purring. For more information on the value of pets during a crisis such as cancer treatment, go to the website of the Renton-based Delta Society. Research quoted on the Delta Society website says that companion animals help cancer patients feel better. A dog will get you out for a walk when you otherwise might stay in bed, for example. If you don’t own a pet, borrow one from a friend to take for walks, or just to cuddle when you’re feeling tired.
There are many complementary therapies out there: aromatherapy, acupuncture and various vitamin and herbal regimens, and many people use them during cancer treatment. The most important thing is to get your doctor’s approval before trying any complementary therapy. Some are OK, but some, like extra vitamins and antioxidants, can actually interfere with your treatment.
Acupuncture seems to help fight pain and nausea during chemotherapy, according to an expert panel convened by the National Institutes of Health.
Lavender and citrus aromatherapy oils are used for relaxation. Full-spectrum light (both light boxes and full-spectrum light bulbs to screw into a regular fixture) may help you feel more energetic.
All of these things may help, but the one that many say helps the most is the company of family and friends, to talk to or watch a video with or take a walk with. Welcome visitors, even when you aren’t feeling at the top of your game and even when the house is a mess. (Besides, if you ask, someone will probably clean it up for you!)
Despite the old saying, “Laughter is the best medicine,” do people really consider the healing power of laughter?
Laughter releases endorphins in your brain, the “feel-good” chemicals that will boost your attitude while possibly boosting your immune system. It’s known to improve heart functioning and reduce stress levels, and it’s now being studied for other medicinal qualities. Some believe laughter has the power to heal relationships. Because of its many health benefits, laughter can indirectly help manage chronic pain and speed recovery from injury.
If you can’t find anything to laugh about or to laugh at, try renting some funny movies, or check out a local laughter club—yes, there are clubs where groups of people just get together to laugh. It’s a lot of fun!