I work in Oncology. I know life isn’t fair. I know suffering is a senseless part of the human equation. Denying the inevitability of suffering isn’t going to get us anywhere.
Brio is what I created as a denominator in the equation, a little something to divide the impact of cancer on your life into tidy, manageable parts so you can take them and rebuild, make them into something better than you could have imagined before.
Cancer survivors are no strangers to worry.
I’ve dedicated a lot of time to the topic on the blog this month because anxiety and worry are essentially a universal part of the survivor experience. Anxiety should be acknowledged, treated, and monitored carefully. You, cancer survivor, deserve at least that.
But in this post, I’d like to take a different approach to worry and anxiety because sometimes, I wish you would let your cancer care team worry about your cancer recurrence risk so you can worry about something far more important.
Mindfulness practices are a real bargain for cancer survivors - If you spend just a few minutes of your day in meditation or yoga, you’ll glean multiple physical and mental health benefits. I encourage you to read this post to gain an understanding of how a regular mindfulness practice can make you feel great after cancer.
A whopping 18-25 percent of long term cancer survivors report anxiety symptoms. That’s a large percentage. What that number tells me is that we’ve got to do better taking care of the mental health of cancer survivors.
Preparing you for the anxiety that happens AFTER cancer is one place to start. So let’s talk about how it looks for cancer survivors with anxiety.
And if you’ve got some anxiety you’re dealing with after cancer, I’d like to give you one simple technique you can start using today that might help you create more calm in your life.
I’ve been reflecting over the past few days about what Brio IS right now. The Brio Blog opened one year ago this month and you have made it so much more than what it was a year ago. It started as a place to spread enthusiasm for using wellness - good food, mindfulness, and movement - as an empowering “medicine” to create vitality after cancer.
And what is it now, about 365 days later?
Brio is a community of motivated, hopeful cancer survivors who want not a new normal after cancer, but a new extraordinary, a community of people who will do everything it takes to get well and stay well after cancer.
The big day has finally arrived. The program I’ve been working on for a year is ready for you, Brio Survivors.
I talk a lot about cancer survivor fatigue on this blog. I created Brio to focus on tackling fatigue in cancer survivors because it’s a common symptom and it’s a disruptive symptom, but it’s also symbolic of the cancer experience.
I’ve worked with so many exasperated cancer survivors who’ve essentially given up hope of having energy after cancer. They feel they’re destined for a life of chronic fatigue, of being less than they were before.
They’ve given up hope because everything they’ve tried hasn’t worked - they’re still tired, weak - and they’re convinced that nothing else will.
So let me extend an olive branch here, a gesture to encourage inner cancer survivor peace, and list a few things that don’t help you.
The internet is part of our world now, and for Cancer Survivors, that’s a great thing.
The medical research shows that online education is good for cancer survivors. The fact is, there will be 50 million cancer survivors by the year 2050. The more ways those survivors can access great health information to help themselves feel fantastic, the better!
Finding a new normal is more than getting your energy back, recovering physically, or getting back to work and family, back to life after cancer.
It’s creating meaning in who you are today, who you have become, finding your people, taking them with you, and riding a sapphire wave to your next destination.
Exercise is well documented in the medical research to be one of the best “treatments” for cancer survivor fatigue. But how does physical exertion actually give you more energy?
Here are a few reasons exercise has this miraculous effect.
Cancer survivors are at high risk for fatigue and malnutrition after cancer treatment. As a matter of fact, fatigue and malnutrition are closely linked.
Let’s explore this link because understanding how your nutritional status influences your energy levels will help you nourish your body. And a well nourished body is essential to reaching the level of vitality you want after cancer.
I’ve worked with and surveyed countless cancer survivors over the past months and years. I’ve asked you what your barriers are to healthy living. Wanna guess what one of the most common answers is?
Yup - time.
If there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that cancer makes many things about your life crystal clear, not the least of which is the knowledge that good health is downright precious. The experience of surviving cancer leaves you weary, grateful, and ready to do whatever it takes to get healthy in every way. Using this moment of clarity to make meaningful change just makes sense.
We’ve talked about the awesomeness of mindfulness on this blog many times. But it’s true that meditation is trendy in the wellness space right now - have you noticed? I’m fine with trends when they are rooted in science and can really help people. You know me - I want to know the why behind everything, like exactly how meditation changes the brain and if those changes can really help people after cancer feel better - less fatigued, more calm, and able to live their lives in the healthiest way possible.
It’s my deepest hope you’re getting all the tools you need to take care of yourself after all you’ve been through. I know your team wants that for you. But if you’re not getting it, I bet you’re frustrated as to why.
After treatment, many cancer survivors are underweight due to muscle wasting and poor nutrition. It can be a challenge to find sources of protein to rebuild while you are still dealing with decreased appetite and altered taste. A big juicy steak just doesn’t sound good at this time in your life.
Cancer survivors are strong by definition, but your muscles need to be strong too. People with cancer who undergo treatment are at particular risk for losing lean muscle mass. Strength training can help you restore lost muscle mass and benefit your overall health.
Cancer survivors can certainly benefit from applying the components of self compassion. I think of the cancer survivors I work with who punish themselves for “feeling lazy” due to their fatigue. Or who are ashamed of physical changes they’ve experienced due to cancer treatment. Or blame themselves for having cancer in the first place. They sit in judgement of themselves when they really deserve to pat themselves on the back, acknowledge their mistakes as part of being human, and just feel proud of doing their best.
I talk to cancer survivors every day who are pumped on getting well. And every day they ask me questions about the latest wellness trends they’ve heard about in a corner of the internet. Some of these trends are totally off base and I’ll be honest - there are times I’m dismayed at the money survivors spend on snake oil, gimmicks with no basis in scientific fact. The peddlers of medical lies are making a vast karmic mistake at the expense of a vulnerable group of people.
Healthy eating during the holidays can be challenging. There are so many goodies circulating at parties that pounds can creep on without any warning. As we’ve discussed in previous posts, obesity and high sugar foods can be detrimental to cancer survivors’ health outcomes. Because this blog is all about cancer survivor wellness, I thought I’d give you some alternative, healthy ideas for your next holiday baking session.
So, you’ve probably planned a wedding successfully, right? Or another large event that required lots of effort and forethought? You’ve done everything necessary to pull it off in the past, why not do the same for your cancer survivior wellness party? You can do it, and the stakes are higher than ever to pull this thing off.
“Objective health benefits, things like a healthy heart and a healthy weight, depend not just on what we’re doing, but what we think about what we do.” You can “do all the right things” for good health, but if you don’t have a mindset to match, you short change yourself by minimizing your body’s natural ability to thrive and heal.
I started the blog in April of this year and thanks to you, it’s grown so much. I tackled many relevant topics early on and because I’m not sure how many of you go back into the archives, I decided to take advantage of the holiday and highlight a roundup of five useful posts from the last six months you may not have read. Just something for you to chew on after your turkey dinner!
I hear these statements over and over again, almost to the word. This is what inspired me to create a system to address cancer related fatigue, because if that many people are struggling with the exact same issue, something needs to be done.
But what I also hear in those statements are echos of catastrophe and wandering, a lack of confidence in and focus on how to move forward. Setting goals is a difficult task when you’ve never been here before, never been so tired you couldn’t think, and not quite knowing where you’re going.
Cancer Survivors often feel helpless when faced with fatigue after cancer. You make the decision to undergo aggressive treatment to cure your cancer, which for many is an easy decision to make. After all, it’s the path with the best chance of giving you more time with your family, more time on this sweet earth, more time to finish what you are meant to do.
Ideally, people with cancer are educated about the potential side effects of treatment before they begin their therapy, some of which are potentially permanent. But until you’ve gone through it, until you really know what it feels like to have unrelenting fatigue, it’s hard to fathom.
The best part of my job is having the privelege of hearing my patients’ stories. Learning about the details of their lives, what they do every day in their work, adventures they had when they were young, about their families, their deepest fears and joys, is what makes my job as an Oncology Nurse Practitioner great. Your stories enrich my work and life.
Let’s face it - women are engaged health and wellness consumers because they know the benefits of keeping themselves and their loved ones well. Women are the carers in our society, the center of the family, and the people in our lives who know how to get things done and make us feel safe. Breast cancer is the most common malignancy affecting these women in the United States. So I don’t know about you, but I’m going to do everything I can to take care of them, as best I can.
I love the idea of cancer patients bouncing back into shape like the super heroes they are, hairless Elasticmen and women expertly lassoing the ultimate villain with magic IV tubing, compelling their tumor to tell the truth.
I’m featuring fatigue in The Pink October Series because it’s such a pervasive issue for breast cancer survivors; approximately 30 percent of breast cancer survivors experience moderate to severe fatigue after completion of initial treatment. Persistent fatigue in breast cancer survivors has been shown to persist up to ten years post diagnosis. It goes without saying - but it must be said - the negative impact of this fatigue on your quality of life can be severe.
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