Dr. Wendy Harpham is a doctor of internal medicine, cancer survivor, and award-winning and best-selling author of books about cancer: Healthy Survivorship, recovery and late effects, and raising children when a parent has cancer. She is also a public speaker, patient advocate, and mother of three.
One discussion that is in the "Top 10" difficult topics for Healthy Survivors is sex. So this Sunday, February 1, 2009 Selma Schimmel of "Vital Options" will host an in-depth discussion entitled "Sex, Intimacy and Cancer" on her radio show, The Group Room.
Lance Armstrong is training in Australia for the "Tour Down Under." As NYTimes writer Christopher Clarey wrote in his January 17th article, "Armstrong reaffirmed that he is, above all, interested in making seasonlong use of his bully pulpit to promote the worldwide fight against cancer."
Ooops. I promised to tell you how you know if you have a thousand pounds of pickles under your bed. But I was focused on writing the blog, and I forgot. I'll tell you in today's post. The forgotten punch line provides a perfect introduction to Step #4 for shooing away hope-draining thoughts.
Your mind can focus on only one thing at a time. Sure, you can multitask (well, if you don't have alzheimer's or some cognitive deficit, that is). But you aren't focusing on anything when you are doing two or more things at once.
Step #4: Choose a better focal point. That's why Lamaze breathing helps with the pain of delivering a baby. If you can find something to focus on - preferably something positive, but something neutral can work well, too - the unpleasant thoughts automatically get pushed into the periphery. And the feelings triggered by the thoughts will follow, calming down or disappearing.
Writing something to help someone else has been a reliable focal point for helping me through my own pain. I have an assortment of other "focal points," too, which I'll share in future posts.
If you can't think of any focal points and need one right away, close your eyes and imagine a thousand pounds of pickles under your bed. Even if it doesn't work as a focal point for you, you'll have the answer to my riddle: You are closer to the ceiling!
Doug Ulman, President of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, talks about his fear of flying in an interview for the New York Times. Doug, whose fear of flying predates his diagnosis of cancer, chalks up the intense anxiety he feels to "a control issue" and deems it irrational. Especially in light of the discussion we're having about detoxifying fears, I'd like to offer a different explanation.
At the end of my last post, I promised to use this post to blog about how Healthy Survivors balance their hopes for cure with their other hopes. But Ronni responded to the post with a request: "Hey could you send me a few pointers on keeping the mind away from worst-case-scenarios?" Sure, Ronni. Anything that might help you as you prepare for your third stem cell transplant.
I've been blogging about the situation when a patient has no more treatment options. I suggested to Sara that Healthy Survivors can accept the statistics ( i.e., accept the reality that recovery is unlikely) and, at the same time, hold onto hope of recovery. How?
Sara asked me, "How do you give up on someone who from all outward appearances is healthy and strong? How do you accept the ending for someone who eagerly anticipates so much more life?" In my last post I discussed the role of obtaining knowledge. But now let's address the key issue: hope.
Sara commented on a recent post that her father has leukemia, and "they can't do anything more to make him better. Medically speaking, we're supposed to give up. How do you do that? Just give up? How do you give up on someone who from all outward appearances is healthy and strong? How do you accept the ending for someone who eagerly anticipates so much more life?"
One day "high fat diet is good." The next week, "high fat diet makes no difference." Hence the punchline to a joke about not wanting to follow a particular health recommendation regarding diet or exercise: "Don't worry about it. Wait a week, and the recommendation will change."