How to Love Yourself Through Cancer or Any Other Terrifying Diagnosis
by Wendy Leeds, Tiny Buddha

"If you want to see the sunshine, you have to weather the storm." ~ Frank Lane

One minute your life is just humming along, and out of nowhere youíre hit with a devastating diagnosis. Cancer.

Believe me, I know what itís like to get the news you have cancer and to live with the trauma that follows, because Iím not only a licensed psychotherapist, Iíve been treated for both breast cancer and leukemia.

I know how that diagnosis changes everything. I know how the world around you can still look the same, but suddenly you feel like a stranger in your own life.

You have trouble getting up in the morning. You have trouble getting to sleep. When you finally get to sleep youíre jolted awake by nightmares. Or maybe you sleep all the time. You canít eat, or you canít stop eating.

Youíre drinking too much. Youíre smoking too much. Youíre terrified, exhausted, and have no idea how youíre going to get through the next few hours, let alone the days, or weeks ahead.

When I was going through chemo for breast cancer, I read all the books about surviving cancer I could get my hands on. I talked to my oncologist and to other women going through the same thing, trying to find the way to ďdo cancer right.Ē

I worried myself sick that I would get things wrong, until a friend said, ďYou know, everybody does things differently. Just find what works for you, and do that.Ē Those words changed everything for me.

I realized there wasnít ďa right wayĒ to do cancer. There was just the way that worked best for me.

I believe itís the same for you. No matter what kind of diagnosis youíre facing, itís up to you to find what works for you and do that.

To get you through those tough first days, Iím offering you some thoughts and techniques that worked for me. I hope some of them will work for you, too.

Be Gentle With Yourself
When youíre going through a tough time, you may not have the time or energy keep up your usual self-care routine. So, why not let the big things go and start looking for little things you can do instead?

If you canít get to the gym, go out for a ten-minute walk at lunch. If you donít have time to cook a nutritious dinner, add a salad or vegetable to your take-out order.

Instead of trying to check things off your to-do list, think of ways to make life easier for yourself. If you donít have time to do something yourself, hire someone, or ask for help.

Focus on whatís best for you, and that means speaking up for yourself. If you donít have the time or energy to do something, say ďno,Ē and donít feel guilty about it.

Find the Joy
Be sure to do something you love every day, even if itís just for a few minutes: sit on a beach, gaze at the stars, read a book, go for a walk, watch a funny You Tube video or TV show. Smile when you can and laugh as often as possible, because laughter connects you with the world in a way that eases anxiety and heals the heart.

Affirm Courage, Love, and Safety
What you say to yourself matters. And when youíre going through a tough time, positive self-talk can make a real difference in how you think and feel.

When I was struggling to find even one positive thought, I found it really helpful to focus on powerful affirmations instead. So, if you find yourself spiraling downward into the depths of negativity, try the following process to break that cycle.

Healing Affirmations
Begin by saying your name out loud. Then remind yourself that youíre safe and secure in the moment. Let that feeling soak all the way in to your belly and your bones.

Once you feel safe, affirm:

"I have the spirit, will, and courage to meet any challenge ahead."

"I can handle anything, one step at a time."

"I am always surrounded and protected by light and love."

"I speak to myself with loving kindness. I treat myself with loving kindness. I care for myself with loving kindness."

"I am always moving in a positive direction toward a positive future."

"I am safe."

End by promising you will always treasure yourself and honor your beautiful spirit. Affirm courage, love, and safety.

Nourish Yourself
Experts recommend eating well, and eliminating sugary and processed foods, alcohol, and caffeine when youíre under stress.

But maybe youíre having trouble eating anything at all. Or maybe youíre living on chicken noodle soup, pretzels, and chocolate doughnuts.

Please, give yourself a break. When youíre going through a traumatic experience itís no time to be following a strict diet or to beat yourself for not eating a balanced diet. Instead, focus on making healthy food choices when you can, and letting go of judgment when you canít.

If you find youíre having trouble eating, choose foods you can tolerate and enjoy smaller portions more often through the day.

If youíre over eating, try eating fruits and vegetables first. Commit to eating only when youíre sitting down. Focus on eating more slowly.

But if youíve tried everything you can think of and are still struggling with food, please let your health care provider know what Ďs going on. Theyíre there to give you support and help in all aspects of your health care.

Rest
A good nightís sleep is an important part of healing your body, mind, and spirit, but if youíre struggling to get enough sleep there are a number of things you can do.

Try going to bed an hour earlier each night. The extra time in bed can give your body some needed rest.

Once youíre in bed, do your best to keep your focus off your troubles. Relive happy memories, or imagine yourself vacationing in a place where you can relax and enjoy.

If you havenít fallen asleep after twenty minutes, get up and do something calming. Write in your journal, do a crossword puzzle, or sip a cup of herbal tea.

Finally, if you arenít able to get enough sleep at night, take a nap during the day. Make it a non-negotiable part of your daily schedule. If time is an issue, try scheduling all your activities and responsibilities before lunch, leaving your afternoon for napping or resting.

Seek Support
Itís important not to go through this alone. And asking for help is a sign of strength and courage, not weakness.

When things get rough, call a friend or a family member and ask for support and help.

If youíre completely overwhelmed and donít know where to turn, consider getting some professional help. Talking to a mental health provider can give you new insight, hope, and bring you peace.

Finally, you may also want to consider working with a support group. Thereís great power in knowing youíre not the only one suffering this kind of challenge. There are people who are in the same boat and know exactly how you feel. They may be able to offer comfort and advice in the days ahead.

Give
Giving is another powerful way to connect with the people around you. It reminds you of the gifts you still have, and that youíre not the only one going through a tough time.

There are lots of ways to lend a hand. Offer to drive a neighbor to a medical appointment. Walk the dogs at your local animal shelter. Write a check to your favorite charity or drop a few coins in the donation can as you pass by. Send a card or text to a friend to help them through the day.

If youíd like to make a longer term commitment, volunteer at your local library, food bank, or senior center.

And if you think you donít have any energy or time or left to give, give a compliment. Share a smile or a kind word. You never know how that one small gift could change a life.

Give Yourself a Healing Hug
Hugging is a way to give yourself comfort and peace in the middle of any storm. Acupressure is a powerful way to bring ease to both body and spirit.

I combine both techniques in what I call a healing hug, and highly recommend it to ease fear and panic that can be a part of these tough days.

Begin by crossing your arms over your chest. There are two important acupressure points located in the soft tissue just under your collarbones called the ďletting goĒ points.

Chances are that by crossing your arms, your fingertips have landed on those ďletting goĒ points. Take a moment and feel around until you find the spots, about two inches above your armpit crease and an inch inward.

Once youíre found the points, pull your arms close around you in a comforting, self-hug, and gently massage those ďletting goĒ points with your fingertips. Continue to breathe, noticing on each exhale how the tension and fear flow down your spine and out of your body.

No matter how difficult or scary your diagnosis, treating yourself with love and kindness will make the journey through the those first tough days easier, and give you a head start on enjoying the sunshine waiting for you on the other side.



About Wendy Leeds
Wendy Leeds is a psychotherapist and a cancer survivor. She knows what itís like to face anxiety and trauma, and sheís working on a book to share her experience and expertise. Wendyís CD, Creating A Calm Day, is available on Amazon here. Wendy offers the gift of her B.E.A.R. technique for handling panic on her website, wendyleeds.com. Join Wendy on Facebook at @WendyLeedsKeepingCalm.