Cancer Parents – Self-Care is a Must
When my son was newly diagnosed it felt as though the ground opened up and swallowed ME. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t stand. Shortly thereafter I couldn’t sleep. Food lost its appeal. It was a moment by moment struggle to fight off the demons of depression, guilt, shame, and rage. All this, and I wasn’t even the one fighting for my life. It was worse – I was fighting for my son’s life.
As the days, weeks, and months wore on, I continued to focus on my son. Utterly and completely on my son. I tried to stay connected to people in the physical realm but it was hard. We were living at the hospital, fighting off unnecessary medications, pouring in necessary nutrients, and providing other supportive modalities (most against the doctor’s better judgement). But he was THRIVING! So, what I was doing was working – how could I stop… even for a minute?
It was second nature to put my self-care on hold. I mean, my world had been turned upside down and I could no longer tell you what made me happy or filled my soul. Everything I was, became about saving my son.
THIS IS NOT OKAY.
Yes, it is a worthy thing to give your all to keeping your child alive! It is admirable. BUT, you cannot pour from an empty cup.
Very quickly the fervor with which you were once able to recognize a detail, address it, handle the situation, and move on is gone. It takes more intention to focus on that detail, even more time for it to register as something to address, etc, etc. How long does it take to get that fervor back? I don’t have an answer for you. Why? Because I’m still trying to get that fervor back for myself. I am slowly regaining my SELF. I can’t help but wonder if I would be struggling with this if I had implemented better self-care policies during my son’s treatment. I will never know.
Disclaimer: I speak from a mom’s perspective here. I in no way mean to diminish what fathers experience… I simply don’t have that viewpoint. So, when I talk about moms doing this or that I do not mean that fathers are absent or uninvolved. My world greatly revolves around cancer mommas and since I am one, that is the place from which I share. Moving on…
So, what self-care did I manage to practice? Well, I drank coffee or tea. Hey, it makes me happy and I will not feel guilty for those thousands of calories I drank over the years as I sought to hold onto ANYTHING that would make any part of me happy. Apparently my mouth was the easiest to satisfy.
I had a friend who was INSTRUMENTAL in helping my body not totally collapse under the crushing weight of stress associated with my child’s cancer journey. She is a massage therapist and her blessing to me was free massages as long as my son was in treatment. Oh, how I wish she had moved states with me. What a Godsend!
Another friend is a hairdresser and offered free hair cuts during treatment. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? But it was a HUGE blessing to know that I had that option available to me and I didn’t have to stress about the financial element of it either. Once my son was strong enough and I felt confident leaving him with my parents, I would sneak off for a date with my husband or even a date with a girlfriend.
I had to FORCE myself to go because the mom-guilt was always strong.
My main source of personal therapy came in the form of a blog. A log of the journey, if you will. While I would sit in the hospital room, monitors beeping, TV & Wii going, my boy sleeping… I would type. I would pour out my heart through the keyboard of my laptop. Some days the posts were dark, raw, transparent. Other days they were full of faith and Scripture and hope. Sometimes the post was solely photos so people could watch the journey unfold.
Regardless of the content, the daily habit of writing out updates was cathartic.
I had learned this technique 8 years prior when my family experienced a tragedy of another kind. The blog was a way for me to update everyone who was interested in one place at one time. I was not fielding calls and talking so much I lost my voice this time. Plus, now I have a log of the journey that I can revisit for many reasons. I have gone back to find facts about his treatment, emotions I dealt with during the various phases, and often times it serves as a way for me to continue grieving in a seemingly healthy way.
Transparent thought: it is still VERY HARD to look back and see that sweet little face facing the fight of his life and hearing that little voice share what was on his mind.
Toward the end of his treatment, I discovered MaxLove Project. I’ve mentioned them in previous articles so they might sound familiar by now. They were creating a pilot program called BE SUPER Boot Camp. It was a way for moms to connect online in a group and spend 21 days focusing on THEMSELVES.
The BE SUPER Plan had 7 points, each scientifically backed and shown to help reduce the effects of stress. Isn’t that what every cancer parent needs during a journey like this? Yes, yes it is. I lunged at the opportunity to be a part of this pilot program, a sort of beta test, if you will.
It was incredible. I was introduced to things I hadn’t considered and I was revisiting things that I was already aware of. It had the added bonus of creating a personal community of like-“lifed” mommas who got it. They knew what I was feeling. Many had very similar journeys – children with the same diagnosis. Others were walking a different sort of journey BUT OUR EMOTIONS WERE THE SAME.
At the end of the Boot Camp, I knew I needed to be more involved with this organization and this sort of life-giving community. I went on to become a Momma Mentor with MaxLove Project and co-led a Boot Camp for blood cancer mommas. The program was still in a beta phase and each “glitch” was a beautiful learning opportunity. I loved this group of moms just as much as I loved the original batch. I am still connected to many of them today. This kind of community is what is severely lacking on a national level. It is my goal to change that. More on that later.
Back to self-care.
KEEP IT SIMPLE.
Self-care does not need to look like a fishing trip off-grid for a week at a time or a lavish cruise in the Mexican Riviera. It can simply be curling up on the couch with a book for 20 minutes. Spending the time to blow dry your hair instead of throwing it up into a ponytail still dripping wet. It could be splurging for the large/ venti/ bigger cup at your local coffee/ tea chain.
KEEP IT FOCUSED.
Most people think of self-care in only the physical realm – does it feel good to my body? Example: manicures, massages, etc.
Do not forget about your emotional health. Does the self-care act bring you joy or anxiousness? We’re going for joy, in case you were confused. What about your spiritual health? Are you doing something that connects you to God? Prayer, meditation, worship music… all these can be self-care and they’re FREE. Your mental health. Does the self-care act require more mental energy? If you have to engage your mind a bunch your body will feel the effects and often not in a relaxing way.
What about your social health? Is the self-care act connecting you to the community that you may need to lean into for strength and support or is it pulling you further away which will make it harder to get help when you need/ want it?
These are just thoughts and ideas to get you thinking about how you can care for ALL OF YOU throughout the journey.
Each day has opportunities for you to care for a different part of you.
If you are struggling with how to care for YOU, let me walk you through 7 actions that you can keep on a back burner for when you need help directing your self-care thoughts.
- Positive thinking. I know this sounds gimmicky, but there is legitimate science to back up the importance and power of a positive mindset.
- Eating. Again, this can sound simple but this isn’t about comfort food. This is about nutrient-dense foods that fuel your body which will help ease the stress impact on your body, keep you healthy, and so much more.
- Sleep. You NEED good sleep. You need even more good sleep when you are stressed. Your body takes such a beating on a journey like childhood cancer parenting that your body needs all the time it can get to repair itself. Turn off tech, diffuse soothing essential oils, stretch before you try to fall asleep.
- Exercise. It doesn’t have to be CrossFit. It does have to be movement. A little spurt of something that gets your heart pumping and your lungs working.
- Meditation. This takes practice and it is one of the things that will positively impact you the most. Getting control of your mind is a huge task with great benefits.
- Community. Humans are social creatures and a cancer journey is a scenario that can easily pull us out and away from our community. Your community should be healthy, stable, strong… if you need to prune your community “garden”, so be it. Your thrivership is worth it.
- Detox your environment. You cannot heal in a toxic environment. Whether it be people, actual chemical toxins, or emotional toxicity… you need to address that, clean it up, and replace with cleaner options.
CANCER PARENTS: Go easy on yourself. If you are in this cancer journey you know how all-consuming it can be. Sure, you find a “new normal” and learn to walk in that but then you must allow yourself the grace and space to grieve the previous normal you knew. You need to acknowledge that this is NOT the way you saw your child’s life going and really walk through those emotions. You need a safe place to talk about the ugly with people who “get it”. There is power and encouragement in simply knowing you are not alone. If you desire that kind of community, or know someone who needs it, please reach out to Reimaging Healing and let’s get you plugged in… >Contact/ Support Group< to find out more information.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE! YOU CAN DO THIS! I BELIEVE IN YOU!
COMMUNITY MEMBERS: You are so important to cancer parents. You have a unique opportunity to serve a drastically under-served population who needs you more than ever before! Do you have a skillset or product that you could use to bless the parent(s) of a child fighting cancer? If yes, would you be willing to bless them? Please connect with Reimagine Healing (>Contact/ Cancer Parent Supporter<) and let us know what you are willing to do to support these parents.