"Our Bodies Are Our Vehicles": Self-Care With Advanced Breast Cancer
There is an old expression that goes, ''Our bodies are our vehicles'', meaning that our bodies are what will drive us through life. Just like a car, how we care for our bodies often dictates how far we will go. Prior to my cancer diagnosis, I took this concept seriously. This was illustrated in every aspect of my life; my diet, exercise, attitude. Nevertheless, I got cancer anyway, which was enormously frustrating. I would see people eating fast food, or smoking cigarettes, or sitting around doing nothing and think, "Why me and not them?" I was all about self-care!
After my MBC diagnosis
I found myself rebelling against this ideology after my cancer diagnosis. When I once cooked vegan dinners, I went to Five Guys for burgers. When I once walked three miles a day, I sat down and binge-watched Netflix. When I once drank warm lemon water with turmeric, I cracked open a bottle of wine. I was dying anyway, right? I tried the healthy route and all it got me was an incurable cancer diagnosis. May as well ditch the kale and have some fun! Or so I thought...
Healthy life style
The thing is, my healthy lifestyle may not have staved off cancer, but it kept me strong to fight it, to endure the treatments, and to have a better quality of life. When I find myself eating poorly, not exercising, and feeling sorry for myself, you know what? I feel terrible. My side effects are worse. I feel unhealthy. I have learned to strike a balance, a happy medium if you will. This is accomplished by a blend of eating well, exercise, positivity, and self-care.
I started working with a dietitian at my local cancer center who specializes in oncology patient diets. She recommended a Mediterranean diet of dark, leafy greens, grilled chicken and fish, and fresh fruits and vegetables. I eat this way often, but also indulge in the occasional curry, burrito, or burger! I also made simple changes as per her advice, such as swapping out dairy products like milk and butter for plant versions.
Up until this year, I went to the gym a few times a week. That morphed into at-home yoga and neighborhood walks. I soon added an exercise bike to use at home. Recently, I have ordered an adult tricycle to ride around my new bike-friendly city with my preschooler. My body hurts a lot from chemo and I often feel sore, so I am gentler with myself these days. Some days the only exercise I get is walking down to the basement to do laundry, and that is okay!
No, no, not the toxic kind! I have my moments where I am anything but positive, just like anyone else. What I mean by positivity is that I try to keep things positive and harmonious in my life. I found at the times I felt my worst, it was not just poor diet, inactivity, or cancer treatment that was to blame, it was also attitude. And not necessarily my own, but those around me. I found being around certain people and their constant negativity, complaining, stress, and drama made me feel exhausted and negatively impacted my self-care. I learned to recognize when this would occur and how to step away as a means of self-preservation. The reality is, I am not able to bounce back as quickly as I used to, and I need to keep things in my life as easy, positive, and harmonious as possible.
Self-care isn't just about diet, exercise, and keeping the energy vampires in your life was bay. It is also about feeding your soul with what makes you feel good! Upon a lot of careful reflection, I realized I did not do anything fun anymore. I was so busy surviving, this somehow slipped through the cracks. Sure, I did fun stuff with my children all the time, but it was more of their idea of fun. What does 37 year-old me like to do for fun? Sometimes it's a simple candlelit bath, other times it's browsing a used book shop, having lunch with a friend, or creating something. I find that I feel much better when I stop and make time to have fun again.
A cancer diagnosis
Our bodies are our vehicles, they drive us through life! My "vehicle" may have cancer and go a lot slower than it used to, but it still goes, and I am grateful. I make sure to feed it what it needs - physically, mentally, and emotionally - when it needs it. I make the time now for things that mean something to me, for fun, while also not taking it all so seriously. I recognize the significance of harmony and positivity and know when to step away from certain people and situations that do not foster those things.
What are you putting into your "vehicle" to keep it running as well as possible, for as long as possible?
Caregivers: Do you practice self-care?