In my role as a School Counselor, it’s important to me that people are at peace with themselves and have the skills and/or support to manage any kind of challenging situation. In short, I am the helper, the one providing the care and I know some of the many pressures facing teenagers these days. I realize that simply being happy and having enough energy to get through each day can sometimes feel pretty tough and it’s easy to get used to how you feel whether you like it or not. But, how do you take care of yourself?
Everyday you go to bed with the sunset and wake with the sunrise. You repeat this day in and day out. Routine gives you a feeling of comfort – a belief that you have some control over your life.
And then one day news comes that blows your world wide open – it may be that a relative passes away, a close family member is diagnosed with a serious disease, or that you, yourself, are diagnosed with a life threatening illness.
This is what happened to me.
I have always been healthy my whole life. I never visited the hospital and came to believe that I was immune to illness, especially one like cancer. That is until my world took a 180 degree turn the day I was told I had colorectal cancer. My world took another spin when my Oncologist told me that the cancer had spread to both my lungs and liver. After hearing this, I thought to myself that if only I had colorectal cancer it wouldn’t be so bad. Now I had a lot more to deal with.
Suddenly, I found myself on the other side of the fence. I was now the one needing care, placed at the center of attention of so many professionals. This was a very unfamiliar place for me to be. I felt the discomfort and vulnerability of being in this position, yet I had no choice. I needed help. I didn’t know the territory that I was dealing with and if I didn’t start opening to receive, I could die.
When my HausArtz wrote me off work for 6 months, I thought that that was a very long time to be away from my job. I couldn’t imagine it. Then 6 months rolled along and it was clear I was not coming back to school anytime soon. Dealing with all of the cancer treatments takes time. Cancer is not about rushing through to get better as fast as possible. I have learned that it is about pacing your body to deal with the stressors placed upon it and patience that knows no bounds. My Oncologist said, ‘it is like running a marathon, you don’t sprint the whole way.’
In order to finish the race, you must learn techniques and strategies for staying strong and healthy while in a grueling training program.
This is what I’ve been doing the past year; I have been in and out of hospitals; Onkozentrum clinics where I received chemo infusions; Radiotherapie treatment rooms; MRI clinics;and doctor’s offices for complementary care treatments like Hyperthermia, Physiotherapy and vitamin enriched infusions.
In all of the care facilities I have visited during my treatments, what continues to surprise me is the calm and peaceful atmosphere and the smiles and lightheartedness from the technicians, doctors, surgeons, nurses, and support staff. Even when I was in the ICU (intensive care unit), I could hear the nurses laughing together despite the challenging environment they were working in. Hearing these joyful sounds brought peace to my body. It made me realize that being happy is a choice even in the midst of tragedy.
Although many challenging life situations are not as distinct as life and death, they all hold the ability to ask for help, to open up to the help being offered, and to make choices that will support positive movement and growth at the center of them.
The biggest lesson I have learnt and am continuing to practice is how to truly open up my heart to the help that specialists, family and friends can provide. I have also learned how to welcome support even in my most vulnerable moments, to allow others to see me in an emotionally fragile state and to reach out to my family, friends, and caregivers and trust that this is a path we can walk together.
Accepting compassionate care from others helped me to experience a deeper inner strength and to discover greater compassion and kindness for myself. Self-Compassion is a blend of providing yourself with kindness, knowing that you do not suffer alone, and being mindful of what you’re feeling and thinking in the moment.
I have practiced these three aspects of Self Compassion over and over during my non-optional journey this year. Knowing that I was not alone when the pain from side effects was so intense was a comforting thought to have. Practicing different kinds of self care exercises was what powered me through tough times.
My own mindfulness practice of training my mind to not ruminate on negative thoughts and make up worst case scenarios has helped me to stay present with what is happening and to make decisions that can best support my health. Staying positive, affirming my desire to live and finding ways to take care of myself so that my heart, mind, and body feel cared for has been critical. Some days this might mean that all I can do is take a short walk, sit and do ‘mindful coloring’ and listen to music. Learning to accept what I am able to do gives a sense of peace and calm to my body. I’m learning to stop pushing myself: it’s just not helpful.
My Oncologist shares his wisdom with me from years of seeing people go through the toughest times in their lives. He says, that “it is important that a person continue to evolve regardless of their health situation and once healed, make everyday a “rehab day.” This is because no one is immune from experiencing a challenging health situation.
So, make everyday count. Be the best you can be. Reach out to others and smile; give them a hug. You never know what someone else is struggling with. Love others and most importantly, be kind and love yourself.
Leslie Peake (teacher)